How the Religious Right Is Turning Pastors into Politicians

The Texas Renewal Project, part of a web of state-based organizations designed to drag churches into partisan politics, has a new project for turning pastors into politicians.

On Wednesday we saw an email invitation asking pastors to attend an event on August 24-25 at the downtown Hilton Hotel in Austin. The two-day gathering will feature prominent religious-right speakers, including presidential candidate and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s father, Rafael Cruz, as well as a session called “The Men and Women of Issachar Training.”

Journalist Sarah Posner has written about how these trainings, named after a biblical figure from the Book of Genesis, are designed to teach pastors how to be politicians. Posner tells about how David Lane, the primary organizer for Renewal Project events around the country, explained the purpose to reporter David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network:

The training was held in Baton Rouge the day before The Response, the Christian prayer rally organized by the American Family Association and Lane’s American Renewal Project, and promoted by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. According to the Christian Examiner, Jindal wrote a letter promoting the training as well. “There is a great need for the kind of leaders we read about in the Old Testament, ‘The Men of Issachar’ (1 Chronicles 12:32),” wrote the governor and potential presidential candidate. “We need such men and women of wisdom today who will accept the challenge to restore our Judeo-Christian heritage in America.”

The “Men of Issachar” to which Jindal and Brody refer are members of the Tribe of Issachar, one of the lost tribes of Israel. In Jewish tradition, the Tribe of Issachar is known for dedication to religious study – not to politics, and certainly not for any commitment to “restore our Judeo-Christian heritage in America.”

Lane tells Brody that if each pastor running for mayor or school board or county council recruited 300 volunteers, then in 2016 “300,000 grassroots, precinct-level conservatives” would change America. “Somebody’s values are going to reign supreme,” Lane said. “Our values or somebody else’s values. It’s our goal to bring spiritual men and women into the civil government arena.”

This new training program is part of a long-term movement to mobilize right-wing pastors and their congregations as key parts of a partisan political machine — a machine clearly designed to benefit Republican electoral candidates backed by religious-right groups.

The Renewal Project itself is the successor to what were once called Restoration Projects. The Texas Restoration Project got its start in 2005 by hosting “Pastor Policy Briefings” at the Austin Hilton downtown. Hundreds of pastors and their spouses got free lodging and meals at the “briefing,” which featured speeches by prominent religious-righters as well as Rick Perry, who was preparing to run for re-election as Texas governor. Hundreds of others attended a second “briefing” in Austin as well as similar events in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Fort Worth later that year.

The names for participating pastors have made up a large and growing contacts list for the Renewal Project. Those names have been used by electoral campaigns, including Perry’s election campaigns. In fact, TFN later discovered that major donors to Perry’s election campaigns had provided the more than $1.2 million spent on hosting those events in 2005.

The Restoration/Renewal Project — now wrapped into an umbrella group called the American Renewal Project — has continued to hold “pastor briefings” periodically in Texas and elsewhere, especially in presidential battleground states like Iowa and Florida. David Lane continues to serve as the primary organizer.

At each of the Renewal project events, speakers encourage pastors and their spouses to politicize their congregations after they return home. The list of speakers and what they say do little to hide the desire that congregations be encouraged to support select Republican electoral candidates who oppose abortion, LGBT equality and — more broadly — separation of church and state.

And as we see with the “Issachar” events, the political training for these pastors is becoming increasingly sophisticated. You can read Posner’s full article about such efforts here.

25 thoughts on “How the Religious Right Is Turning Pastors into Politicians

  1. This is NOT what pastors need be doing. If they want to go into politics then go into politics. If they want to be in ministry then be in ministry without politicizing the Bible. The Bible speaks for itself. Teach the Bible. This is why some Christian come off as lunatic fringers.

      1. Doc,

        Thank you but I bet we agree on more than you might think. While I can hold to my views, I do believe that men and women are agents of will. That said if they are doing something wrong, then my view is quite simply that I need to let God be God.

        1. I can’t agree more with you. The propaganda that too many “churches” are still trying to convince their people that this is not a secular state.
          It is impossible to get the to understand that the founders, for the most part, were not Christians but were deists.
          The funny-mentalists will wind up destroying this country if they get half a chance.

    1. Christiane ARE lunatic fringers, ever wonder why the conspiracy theorists are populated by Conservative Christians? It’s because the bible breeds them. You have to be a special kind of stupid to think a man walked on water and arose from the dead to save your “soul” 2k years later. Taking that STORY literally opens the door to all types of logical fallacies, like Obama the “antichrist” ushering in the endtimes. Stupid. It’s amazing we recovered from the Christian Dark Ages at all.

      1. “It’s amazing we recovered from the Christian Dark Ages at all.” Who ever said that Christians ever got out of the dark ages? They still believe in the deity of Jesus. Humans do not become gods nor to gods become human.
        I do not hate Christians, but I despise what some of them are attempting to do to humanity. They are still trying to Christianize the United States. Some imbeciles have gone so far as to demand that anyone immigrating to the U.S. first convert to Christianity and non-Christians be forced to convert.
        WHOA! They do not bother to read their bibles nor do they read the CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES. I loath those people with every cell of my body, they are traitors to our SECULAR SOCIETY.
        They should be packed up and sent to some Arab countries that know how to handle them. Sigh…

  2. The Religious Right has ALWAY made pastors politicians! Isn’t that the very meaning of Religious Right?! – “Right” meaning right-wing or conservative and “Religious” meaning … Well Religious.

  3. Obviously this is plain wrong, and probably unconstitutional as it flies in the face of separation of church and state.

    The only thing left to do would be to remove the tax exempt status of all churches.

    I had no idea this existed so thank you again, for all you do.

  4. The IRS needs a special task force to monitor any church inolved with the Renewal Project for any political endorsement issuing from the church. Such churches should then have their tax-exempt status revoked as they are now partisan organizations and, as such, must pay taxes.
    But there aren’t IRS resources for such — and the churches are very slippery. In the 2012 election, Hagee’s church had “Vote the Bible” signs all over the place (including the church’s website). That was code for “Vote for Mitt the Righteous not Obama the Progressive.”

  5. TAX THEM! What angers me is that they sign an agreement to NOT preach about politics. The Federal Government is too yellow to enforce the taxation of those “pastors” who tell their congregations who to vote for.

    Of course, they are always going to have creeps like Cruz and other WAY FAR WRONG to inspire them.

    I am so grateful to not be a Christian. They are so filled with hate that it is no wonder that church attendance is dwindling. There are still a loyal baseline, but the younger folks will not be screamed at.

    NOBODY tell me for whom to vote, I have too much intelligence to figure out who is screw the people and who isn’t.

    The HATE and disregard Cruz has for people nauseates me. He has no respect for the people who voted for him. I’m very happy I wasn’t one of them.

  6. “Restoring Christianity” was a central theme of every speech Hitler gave before the Nazis took total power in Germany. The key to the power of the Christian Nationalists is voting. They vote in every election, meanwhile various tactics are employed to suppress or depress voters who don’t agree with their agenda. The pols and the media play right into it with “false equivalency”, the meme that “there’s no difference” between the parties, etc. Ultimately voter turnout will decide this battle. Either the Democratic party can start energizing voters and ensuring turnout or the religious right minority will rig the system permanently for their demagogues, and their corrupt “crony capitalist” friends. It’s all about money. Money and power.

    1. Here’s what is happening summed up. Both the TEAliban and the “religious wrong” are trying to team up to break the law concerning the separation of church and state which they simply ignore.
      Their goal? Simple. TREASON AND FASCISM.
      Treason because they give the finger to the Federal Government. Fascism because they want all people to march in sync.
      Those who refuse to bow to their demands will find themselves behind barbed wire waiting to be executed.
      Yes, it can happen in this country, we are not immune to the total destruction of everything non Christians cherish.
      For way too long the Xians are sticking their noses where it has no place being. I’ve watched as church after church lie that we are a Christian Nation. WE ARE NOTHING OF THE SORT.
      Jew hate is being preached, white supremacy is being preached. They claim to know what God said and what he didn’t say.

      Senator Bernie Sanders is our LAST OPPORTUNITY to turn this country around. Can you imagine a President Cruz? He is one of the members of Congress who hates America the same way his father hates America. Trump? Dear God! There is not a single TEAliban congress critter that does not like this country.
      Be aware, Americans, be very aware.

  7. I am truly surprised at so many of these untruthful and hate-filled statements about these periodic briefings. Ministers are not being made politicians, but are being briefed on current events. Churches are not being dragged into politics. The article contains loaded words designed to immediately make the reader feel that the briefings are bad. This is OK if the author wants to make the article do this, because we have free speech in this country, and that free speech allows us to conduct these briefings. I just wish that, though the readers of this paper disagree with the position held by the Renewal Project, this disagreement would not be expressed in such ugly language. Contrary to statements found in some of these blogs, these attendees and speakers at the Renewal Project meetings love the Bible and Constitution. They read both and encourage others to do the same. It sounds as though your writers have little to do with either the Bible or the Constitution.
    I am sorry for the bitterness and hatred that emerges from most of these blogs. Such will not, I believe, and should not come from the Renewal Project meetings.

    1. Jacob,
      Actually, we’ve heard plenty of “bitterness” and “hatred” expressed at these Renewal Project events over the years. For example, a minister speaking at one event suggested that God sent Hurricane Katrina to destroy New Orleans because of the city’s tolerance for gay people. What a horrible thing to say, both for the victims of that tragedy as well as for gay people, who had nothing to do with it. We’ve also heard speakers mislead pastors. Last year, for example, speakers suggested that the nondiscrimination ordinance in San Antonio imposed fines and other punishments on pastors simply for preaching their faith and speaking out in opposition to homosexuality. Not true. That kind of fear-mongering is deeply bitter, hateful and terribly divisive. Pastors certainly have the right to attend such events if they choose, and they don’t and should never suffer legal penalties for doing so. But the organizers and speakers at these events have no right to be free of criticism for the deceitful and divisive things they say and do there.

      1. Dan,
        FYI. Some East Texas Pastors are rallying for a demonstration for traditional marriage. This bothers me and I won’t be a part but how can I support my TFN friends in this matter.

        1. The best way anyone can help on this is to speak out — to family and friends, to elected officials, to your own pastor and in public forums like letters to the editor. The most influential voices on almost any issue are those of people we already know and respect.

      2. I agree that there is language of both hate and bitterness on both sides, neither of which should be condoned. My thought is that the individual speech should be judged on its own, and that the event should not be judged on the basis of an individual speech. I am not going to judge TFN on the basis of some of the ugly blogs I have read on tis page, nor should I. Also, just because a person disagrees with me does not mean that he or she is being bitter or filled with hatred. I notice conservatives are being labeled the “extreme wrong.” Why do we have to put labels of ugliness on those that disagree with us. And when conservatives put ugly labels on liberals it is just as bad. We live in a country where we have freedom of speech, but why–whether conservative or liberal–do we have to be so disagreeable when we express our differing opinions?

        1. Jacob,
          We encourage you to take that message to the Renewal Project event (if you’re planning to go). But our guess is the speakers there will be (as they have been before) intent on using faith as a political weapon to attack people they don’t like or agree with.

    2. ANY preacher who preaches about politics should immediately lose their tax exempt status. IT IS THE LAW, DAMMIT, but apparently the IRS hasn’t the guts to actually do what the law says.
      Religion seems to be the root of all evil in this situation.
      We are a secular nation and it is beyond time that our idiotic government begins to recognize it.

    3. Yes, they are a gathering of people who are supposed to be Christian ministers but are fixin’ to preach politics.

      A good friend of mine who is a minister went to one of those gatherings. He lasted less than a day, he had to leave because of the hatred that was being spouted.

      Their goal is to elect only those candidates for various offices who are as messed up as they are.

      I’m not a Christian of any brand, but somehow they have to get it through their heads that this is a SECULAR NATION and that the founders had no intentions of having yet another Christian nation. Most of them were not even Christians themselves.

      Most early Americans had too much going in their lives, such as surviving, to bother going to a church. It is estimated that fewer than 10% went to a church on a regular basis.

      One of the founders and the author of the Declaration of Independence, John Adams and our second president said that this country was in no way founded on the Christian religion. I will believe a founder over a funny-mentalist whose claims are as wrong as they can be.
      One of the worst things that this country needs is a bunch of Christians being in offices that write our laws. I think of Louie Gomert who is anti-science and pretty much a moron who is a representative in Congress. WHY he was ever elected I have no idea but he says things that are so outrageous that they are funny.
      Can you imagine what would happen to the international laughingstock we’d be in if the entire bunch of Congresscritters were like Louie?
      Although 99.7% of all scientists agree that Global Climate Change is occurring right now he goes for the 0.3% of the anti-climate bunch.

  8. Most Christians would assume that I speak with hate. Not true. I just point out what they are doing and they take umbrage at what I say.

    Most Christians have never read or understood what they have read in the bible. The proof of that is the word “abomination” is used to decry homosexuality but don’t use it when it comes to them eating shell fish or fish without scales and fins.

    They think they know what the English version of the bible is what was REALLY said because they do not understand that it was written in Hebrew, not English and the word abomination does not mean what the Hebrew word means.

    Christians also never bother to figure out the context of who was being addressed and why it was said.

    The new nation of Israel was being addressed and the message was “we do not do this.” It does NOT mean what it means today “intense aversion or loathing; detestation.” Yet Christians will gladly scarf down ham, meat with milk, gobble down lobster, oysters and other shellfish all of which are considered an abomination, but obviously they are not experiencing intense aversion or loathing are they?

    Abomination = This is not what we do. Nothing more, nothing less. But Christian or non, too many people think that God is telling them that ONLY homosexuality is horrible when that is NOT what was said.

    Christians also never read the Greek in their bibles. The difference between the Greek and the English are astounding.

    See, no hate, just facts. Christians really should not have anything to do with the Hebrew and Aramaic Tanach. And if they do not know what Tanach is…well, that just proves my points, doesn’t it?

    1. Beverly,

      I don’t believe you speak with hate. I just believe that you are passionate about what you believe. Sometimes I find myself agreeing with you more than you realize but I can still respect your feelings. Sometimes I have trolled things just to stir the pot and I have decided against ever doing that again.

      The problem is that Christians forget that they are called in the New Testament ambassadors, not warriors. They forget that God is capable of handling things and that it is a sin that they are judge jury or executioner.

      Christians need to remember that we are all sinners saved by grace. and that making unnecessary enemies is sinful. The Bible says “as much as life in you be at peace with all men”. Not those that share your values, not those that believe in traditional marriage or such things but all men.

      When I work with my English students on writing argumentative papers I tell them I don’t care what they believe just be able to articulate with passion but stay objective.

      Many time people become the message instead of the messenger. Doesn’t matter the subject.

      People who always live in extremities to me are really the most unhappy. On some issues I am very liberal, some I am moderate but some conservative. As time progressed, I have changed some of my viewpoints.

      As far as the ham and foods and such, God declared all things clean and told Peter, What I have called clean, don’t you call unclean. Christians need to really let the Lord handle some of these issues if they believe and trust in Him like they say they do.


      1. And Shalom to you too!

        Yeah, I know that there are too many times when I go slightly overboard. Uhhh…okay, I stay on the bottom of the sea. Without Scuba gear. Hugging on an anchor.

        So you’re an English teacher, that’s great. I’d be a grammar cop but I just have to let things like that ride.

        I am an Independent voter but refuse to vote for a member of what I call the TEAliban. Their desire is to destroy this country by replacing it with a fascist state. The funny-mentalists and the GOP are the enemies of the Constitution.

        Although I was a computer scientist, my minor was in PolySci. I love politics, but am in no way in love with the TEAliban.

        When it comes to religion, I could care less what a person believes. HOWEVER, when someone tries to force their beliefs down my throat I will go off the deep end.

        Since I do not accept any part of the Christian books, GOD made the rules and no human can change that. I cannot be 100% kosher, which has many meanings, because it is not available in my part of Texas. If GOD says something, no man can turn around and say, “Oh that’s okay, that was in the “Old Testament.” There IS no such thing as the OLD testament. God made a permanent testament with Abraham which will last through eternity, so the New Testament cannot be unless eternity has been completed.
        Again, I’m speaking as a Jewish woman, not as a theologian.
        If someone believes in Jesus who am I to say they should not? The last time I looked I was not the world’s dictator.
        I’ve met precious few real Christians in my life, but they are wonderful to be with. They live what I’d call a Godly life and actually DO what Christians are supposed to be and do.
        Anyway, m’friend, I can discuss religion without having to get into an argument.
        I try to love my neighbors as I love myself. I don’t judge people because that isn’t my job in life. I do render to God the things of God and pray that all of the liberals will get together in November 2016 and vote for Bernie Sanders.
        I’ve lived most of my life modestly because I’ve never earned a fortune but don’t consider myself poor. You and I are blessed way beyond what kings and others a couple of hundred years ago. Air conditioning, electricity, reliable food, decent clothing (I love wearing scrubs), and all the advances we’ve come to accept as normal…even the richest folks a couple hundred years ago didn’t have it so good.
        Take care and have a fun week. Since I’m retired I have no weekends, no vacations, no time off, no medical leave…and I love it!

  9. Dark Ages? That was the Catholic Church at the time and Catholics are not Christians, they are Catholics. They believe a different Gospel and a different way of Salvation.

    1. Amazed, it is amazing to me that folks still argue whether or not the Catholics are Christians. As far as I’m concerned if they worship Jesus, they are Christians.
      I have zero to do with Christianity; I am not a Christian of any brand.
      I have had missionaries try to get me become one, but I’ve my reasons starting with the fact that I am Jewish.
      When Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was he answered with the Shema–the central declaration of Jews. He said, “Hear, Israel, the Lord our God is ONE.” The Hebrew word for ONE means an indivisible unity. So how could J be God?
      There’s a lot more, but I leave it alone unless someone asks directly.

      Happy Monday…Bev