It was more than a year ago that David Lane, the founder of the American Renewal Project, said he wanted to recruit 1,000 Christian pastors to run for public office (each with hundreds of Christian volunteers). If he succeeded, it would be a way to roll back LGBT rights, women’s rights, and many other progressive victories.
His unbelievable reason for doing this was that “For too many decades the Church has accepted the outlandish idea that it is not to be involved in politics.”
Which is news to all of us who see a Congress that’s 92% Christian and 0% atheist.
How’s his plan shaping up? The recruiting is well underway and the pastors are making sure their congregations are *wink wink* registered to vote.
So far, roughly 500 have committed to running, Lane told Reuters.
“This is a fundamental shift in strategy,” said John Fea, a history professor at Christian Messiah College, who is nevertheless skeptical the effort will produce the desired results. “Rather than forcing this from the top down, this is about a grassroots approach to changing the culture by embedding ministers in local politics from the ground up,” he said.
In some instances, pastors are trumpeting their candidacies or those of other evangelicals directly from the pulpit, in violation of Internal Revenue Service rules governing tax-exempt churches. Some are launching church-wide voter registration drives.
One, Brad Atkins, pastor of South Carolina’s Powdersville First Baptist Church, said he has just finished registering every eligible voter in his church of 300. “I even lick the envelope and stick on the stamp for them,” said Atkins.
We thought it was a problem when pastors endorsed candidates from the pulpit while the IRS looked the other way? Now we’re seeing pastors use the pulpit as a perpetual campaign commercial. Every sermon is another call for votes.
Part of me is just jealous that atheists don’t have the numbers, money, or organizational skills to pull off something like this. But I also don’t want people elected to office on the sole basis of their (non-)religious affiliation. It’s naïve to think every atheist would fall in lockstep with, say, the Democrats in the same way that Lane’s Christians just accept the conservative agenda.
Even if these pastors don’t get elected to Congress in 2016, though, they’ll undoubtedly get some victories since one of the biggest hurdles for any movement like this is simply getting people to run. Reuters even points out that Pastor Rob McCoy failed to win a seat in the California State Assembly, but later got elected to the Thousand Oaks city council. It’s still a way to have a political influence and it’s a title that could springboard him to higher office in future years.
Lane may not achieve everything he set out to accomplish, but like someone who tries to lose 10 pounds by actually aiming to shed 15, he’ll be successful even if he reaches just part of his goal.
***Update***: An article at Right Wing Watch notes that the number of pastors Lane has actually recruited is probably much smaller than 500. Even a fraction of that would be very troubling, though.