The Wall Street Journal this week published a fascinating piece about how conservative evangelical Christianity is changing in America today, particularly in its approach to politics and the decades-long “culture wars” over issues like abortion and gay rights. The article focuses on Russell Moore, who has replaced Richard Land as the leading spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention:

Since the birth of the Christian-conservative political movement in the late 1970s, no evangelical group has delivered more punch in America’s culture wars than the Southern Baptist Convention and its nearly 16 million members. The country’s largest Protestant denomination pushed to end abortion, open up prayer in public schools and boycott Walt Disney Co. over films deemed antifamily. Its ranks included many of the biggest names on the Christian right, including Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.

Today, after more than three decades of activism, many in the religious right are stepping back from the front lines. Mr. Moore, a 42-year-old political independent and theologian who heads the convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, says it is time to tone down the rhetoric and pull back from the political fray, given what he calls a “visceral recoil” among younger… Read More

The chief organizer of so-called "pastor policy briefings" in support of Texas Gov. Rick Perry's re-election bid in 2005 is now calling on Congress to enact legislation "reestablishing the Bible in public schools." In an email to recipients on his American Renewal Project list today, David Lane calls for congressional legislation reversing the U.S. Supreme Court's 1963 ruling against state-sponsored prayer and devotional Bible study in public schools. That "foolish" ruling, he writes, "gave control of education to the secularists, who have imposed their values, their views, their politics, and their laws on America's Christian heritage and Christian culture." Lane served as the executive director of the Texas Restoration Project in 2005. His organization, funded with $1.3 million in donations from major Perry campaign donors, hosted six "pastor policy briefings" in Austin, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio that year. Thousands of pastors and their spouses got free hotel lodging and meals so they could hear Gov. Perry and his political appointees and supporters give speeches in the run-up to Perry's 2006 re-election campaign. The not-so-subtle message to pastors was to return home and essentially turn their congregations into parts of the governor's re-election campaign. They were also encouraged to support a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in Texas. Voters approved that amendment in the fall of 2005. Lane has organized similar pastor gatherings in presidential election battleground states around the country, with each of the gatherings featuring speeches by selected Republican politicians like former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Pseudo-historian David Barton, head of the Texas-based organization WallBuilders, and other religious-right leaders have also spoken at those events. The umbrella organization American Renewal Project, which Lane runs, has been facilitating the events. All of those events, including Gov. Perry's 2011 prayer extravaganza at Reliant Stadium in Houston that Lane helped organize, have contributed to a massive list of pastor email addresses from around the country. Lane's periodic messages to the pastors on that list promote a militant vision of a Christian America -- a narrow and deeply politicized vision not shared by many mainstream Christians, other people of faith and, of course, nonbelievers. In his email today, Lane promotes public school Bible study as a way to reverse what he sees as America's decline since the Supreme Court's 1963 ruling (emphasis in original): The false gods of multiculturalism, political correctness and secularism have produced: red ink as far as the eye can see, homosexuals praying at the Inauguration, 60M babies killed in the womb, the U.S. Supreme Court imposing homosexual marriage on America...judgment is on us; and like Israel, "The sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth. Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, so that He sold them into the hands of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia; and the sons of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years....". Judges 3:7-8 You see this, right? The "adversary" of a Christian nation disconnected the Bible and prayer -- the tie-in to God -- from public education and America's children in 1963. Reestablishing the Bible in public schools is a first step toward regaining our Christian heritage and restoring a Christian culture. God will defend himself. Lane then asks for help in finding "10 Congressmen who will sponsor a bill that calls for the return of the Bible, as a component to the curriculum, in public schools." This isn't a call for an academic study of the Bible's influence in history and literature, which the courts have said is constitutionally permissible in public schools. Lane's purpose clearly is evangelical and political in nature: America  -- having exalted and deified the false gods of multiculturalism, political correctness and secularism -- is ripe for the taking. A pagan prostitute with an ounce of faith believed God and it was accounted to her for righteousness. Rahab surrounded by a "hostile and intimidating environment", a perverse worldview imposed by a secular society, could see nothing with her eyes which would indicate the fall...she stood for the unseen against the seen, "Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God." Will a Gideon or Rahab the Harlot please stand. Texas, of course, already has plenty of experience with Bible courses that turn public school classrooms into Sunday school classrooms. Lane wants to see Congress essentially mandate the same experience in schools across the country. Lane's full email is after the jump. Read More

A national organization that focuses on recruiting conservative evangelical pastors and their churches into partisan political warfare is gearing up for the 2014 midterm elections, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry will be a speaker at one of its first events this year.

A report from the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) provides a broad overview of the American Renewal Project’s plans over the next two years. Those plans includes voter registration drives and a series of “pastor policy briefings” in 12 states. The briefings follow the model of the Texas Restoration Project, which in 2005 hosted six such “briefings” for thousands of pastors and their spouses in Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. Gov. Perry was the featured speaker at each of those events, all held the year before the governor ran for re-election. The Texas Freedom Network later discovered that the events — including venue rentals as well as food and lodging for pastors — were secretly bankrolled by major Perry campaign donors, including voucher sugar daddy James Leininger of San Antonio.

The CBN article reveals that the American Renewal Project is housed within the right-wing American Family Association (AFA). Gov. Perry asked AFA… Read More

The people behind religious-right activist David Lane's Restoration/Renewal Projects are getting plain lazy to the point where they're just hitting "copy-paste" on old material and distributing it in support of yet another Rick Perry political campaign. The Iowa Independent reports members of the Iowa faith community recently received invitations from the Iowa Renewal Project to attend a "pastors' policy briefing" to be held next month in Des Moines. The date will be less than two months before the state's first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses at which Gov. Perry will rely heavily on votes from conservative evangelicals if he is to have a viable shot at the Republican presidential nomination. TFN has for years been documenting the activities of the Texas Restoration Project, which was also organized by Lane appears to be almost a carbon copy of what the Iowa Renewal Project is now attempting. Restoration, Renewal, potato, po-tah-to. Read More

Mormonism, or the attacks on it, is in the news again this morning following a story in The Daily Beast that cites emails between a Christian radio executive and well-known religious-right activist David Lane. The emails between Lane and Dick Bott of the Bott Radio Network seem to indicate the two were in cahoots to advance the anti-Mormon narrative that became controversial when Dallas pastor and Gov. Rick Perry supporter Robert Jeffress called the faith of Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney a cult and non-Christian. The story posits that because Lane a long history as an important Gov. Perry supporter, perhaps the coordinated efforts were not between Lane and Bott alone, but also with Gov. Perry's presidential campaign. We're not quite ready to take that leap. As Sarah Posner points out in another story published today in Religion Dispatches, the evidence for coordination between Gov. Perry's campaign and Lane on this issue is thin right now. But there are other reasons to be distressed by these emails. Read More

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