Manipulating the Faithful

by Dan Quinn

You have to wonder how religious-right activists justify breaking the biblical commandment against lying so often. Dave Welch of the Houston Area Pastor Council seems to play fast and loose with the truth almost routinely. The latest example: Welch’s group is disingenuously warning Houston voters that a streets and drainage measure on the city ballot in November is really a political attack on churches. The Texas Freedom Network takes no position on the measure — it is outside our mission — but we once again note Welch’s efforts to manipulate people of faith with grossly misleading charges.

Proposition 1 is a charter amendment that would create a dedicated drainage and street renewal fund in Houston. If approved by voters, the measure would allow the city to fund drainage and street renewal projects through a fee paid by nearly all property owners. Apparently, under state law institutions of higher education (such Rice and the University of Houston) as well as state and federal property would be exempt. But pretty much all other property owners would be subject to the fee, certainly not just churches. You can read more about Proposition 1 here, here (for) and here (against).

Regardless of the facts, apparently it’s too much to expect that people like Welch would not yet again drag faith into a political debate. Rather than resist such temptation, in fact, Welch seems to relish another opportunity to manipulate voters into thinking that their faith and houses of worship are under siege by unnamed dark forces. His Pastor Council has been doing so in e-mails to activists suggesting that Proposition 1 is simply an attack — in the form of a tax — on churches:

“(A)re Houston politicians and special interests again targeting churches to raise millions of dollars rather than exercise fiscal restraint and wisdom?

This isn’t the first time Welch has tried to manipulate people of faith on a political issue, of course. He regularly attacks the faith of anyone who disagrees with him on almost any issue. Last month, for example, he viciously criticized clergy who opposed an anti-Muslim resolution by the Texas State Board of Education, saying that those faith leaders “disgust me” and suggesting that they aren’t “real pastors.” Last summer Welch castigated Christian pastors who refuse to politicize their houses of worship, arguing that clergy who disagree have an “incomplete” worldview and a “fragmented” theology. He calls Christians who don’t share his ideological opinions “Christians in name only.” And after failing to bring about the electoral defeat of Houston Mayor Annise Parker, whom he calls a “sodomite,” Welch argued that Christians had failed in their duty to oppose her. He has gone so far as to call President Obama, a self-professed Christian, “anti-Christian,” charging that pastors who meet with the president allow themselves to be used as props. (In the same essay Welch compares President Obama to Adolf Hitler, charging that the president manipulates churches just as the murderous Nazi dictator did.)

In many ways Welch is a minor figure in the religious right. He pretends to be a a power broker, yet his political efforts often end in complete failure (as with his vile, if pathetic, efforts to bring about Mayor Parker’s defeat last fall in Houston). Yet Texas Gov. Rick Perry has played political footsie with Welch’s group in the past. And Welch has been warmly welcomed and praised by far-right State Board of Education members when he has testified before the board on various issues (opposing, for example, the science of evolution and suggesting that social studies textbooks are anti-Christian and pro-Muslim). So Welch clearly has an audience among some public officials who share his desire to use faith as a political weapon to divide voters. That’s a real tragedy for Texans of all faiths.