by FRANCES FITZGERALD
Ohio’s gubernatorial race tests the power of the Christian right.
Issue of 2006-07-31
Pastor Rod Parsley stood on a flag-bedecked dais on the steps of Ohio’s Statehouse last October and, amid cheers from the crowd below, proclaimed the launch of “the largest evangelical campaign ever attempted in any state in America.” A nationally known televangelist and the leader of a twelve-thousand-member church on the outskirts of Columbus, Parsley had gathered a thousand people for the event, and attracted bystanders with a multimedia performance involving a video on a Jumbotron and music by Christian singers and rappers broadcast so loud that it reverberated off the tall buildings south of the Statehouse. TV crews from Parsleyâ€™s ministry taped the event. “Sound an alarm!” he boomed. “A Holy Ghost invasion is taking place. Man your battle stations, ready your weapons, lock and load!” In the course of the performance, Parsley promised that during the next four years his campaign, Reformation Ohio, would bring a hundred thousand Ohioans to Christ, register four hundred thousand new voters, serve the disadvantaged, and guide the state through “a culture-shaking revolutionary revival.”
Among those who spoke at the rally were Senator Sam Brownback, of Kansas, and Representative Walter B. Jones, of North Carolina, both Christian conservatives, and J. Kenneth Blackwell, Ohio’s secretary of state, who is now the Republican nominee for governor. All talked about the need to bring God and morality back into government. “We refuse to give up or back up or shut up until weâ€™ve made a better world for all,” Blackwell said.
For the past two years, the religious right in Ohio has been on a victory march. In 2004, a coalition of conservative Christian organizations campaigned statewide for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, enlisting hundreds of pastors and collecting half a million signatures. The ballot initiative, known as Issue One, passed with sixty-three per cent of the vote, and many concluded that this effort to bring out “values voters” won the state for President Bush, and returned him to the White House. Parsley and another megachurch pastor, Russell Johnson, of the Fairfield Christian Church, campaigned hard for the initiative, as did Ken Blackwell, whose role in overseeing the election procedures caused a controversy of its own, and who was the only Republican leader in the state to join them. Subsequently, the two pastors formed organizationsâ€”Reformation Ohio and Johnsonâ€™s Ohio Restoration Projectâ€”to get out the vote in 2006 and beyond. This year, there is nothing like Issue One on the ballot, but Blackwell, who carries the standard of the religious right, could become governor of Ohio.