Ohio Players

Christian evangelical ministers
in Ohio are teaming up to form a network intent on building on their
constituency’s extensive contribution to President Bush’s
victory in the 2004 election. They are also working to defend Issue
1—an amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage—and
help Christian conservatives take over the state’s Republican
party. Reverends Rod Parsley and Russell Johnson are key players
in the effort to wrest control of the GOP from so-called Party moderates.
Their job has no-doubt been made easier by the fact that Republican
Party officials have been enmeshed in a series of political scandals
that even include the state’s Republican governor, Bob Taft. 

Americans must be “Christo- crats”—citizens of both
their country and the Kingdom of God—Parsley told his congregation
at his World Harvest Church, located just outside Columbus, Ohio.
“And that is not a democracy; that is a theocracy,” he
said. “That means God is in control and you are not.”

Headed by Parsley, a 48-year- old televangelist and author, the
World Harvest Church, described recently by the Columbus Dispatch,
as “a nondenominational congregation with a regular weekly
attendance” of between 10,000 and 12,000, is one of many politicized
megachurches popping up across the country.  

The World Harvest Church’s Center for Moral Clarity recently
launched a three-year project called Reformation Ohio. “Its
goals,” according to the Dispatch, “are to register
400,000 new voters, organize black Ohioans who share conservative
views on issues such as gays and abortion, and conduct get-out-the-vote
rallies, all while leading 100,000 Ohioans to Jesus.” 

In suburban Columbus, Johnson, the senior pastor of the evangelical
Fairfield Christian Church, is recruiting 2,000 “Patriot Pastors”
to get out the evangelical vote for the Ohio primary in May 2006.
According to the Cleveland Jewish News, Johnson sees “the
2006 election as an apocalyptic clash between a virtuous Christianity
and the evildoers who oppose Christ- ianity’s values.” 

“Before the 2004 presidential election,” the Cleveland
Jewish News
reported that “Johnson denounced tax-supported
schools that have banned the teaching of creationism, Bible reading
and prayer. He blasted the ‘pagan left’ for its warfare
against the very definition of marriage. He decried ‘homosexual
rights’ that will come with ‘a flood of demonic op- pression.’” 

Johnson envisions “reclaiming the teaching of our Christian
heritage among America’s youth is paramount to a sense of national
destiny that God has invested into this nation.” 

Both Parsley and Johnson are close to J. Kenneth Blackwell, the
controversial Ohio secretary of state who was entangled in a series
of controversies revolving around the November 2004 presidential
election. Since Governor Bob Taft cannot run for re-election due
to term limits, Blackwell has declared himself as one of several
Republican candidates for the state house. 

Health and Wealth Theology 

Rev. Parsley is not a newcomer to politics.
“In the late 1980s, his church picketed the Bexley Art Theater
for showing what Parsley said were obscene films…[and] World
Harvest members protested when the gay advocacy group Stonewall
Union was allowed to hand out literature at the Ohio State Fair,”
the Columbus Dispatch reported. During last November’s
election, Parsley “took a leading role in the push to pass
Issue 1, the state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.” 

advocates what some call ‘health and wealth’ theology,”
the Columbus Dispatch reported. His theology “emphasizes
that the Bible teaches that God wants people to prosper financially
and physically. The latter is tied to belief in the power of God’s
word to heal.” 

Operating on an annual budget of $38.5 million, Parsley’s ministries
include his nondenominational church, a school and Bible college,
his television show “Breakthrough,” the Center for Moral
Clarity, a mission program, and a ministerial fellowship. According
to the Dispatch’s survey of the auditor’s records
of Franklin County, “The church/school complex has been appraised
at about $26 million, and the nearby Bible college campus is worth
nearly $2 million.” In addition, according to Fairfield County
auditor records, Parsley’s estate, which also includes the
home of his parents, is appraised at nearly $2 million. 

Parsley has refused to reveal his own personal wealth and the church
has not responded to requests for financial information from Ministry
Watch, a North Carolina-based organization gathering “financial
information on religious organizations that solicit money nationwide.” 

Rod Pitzer, the research director at Ministry Watch, told the Columbus
“World Harvest’s refusal to provide financial
data should be a ‘red flag,’ and he urges people not to
donate to Parsley.” Of the slightly over 500 ministries currently
being profiled by Ministry Watch, only 29 have refused to cooperate.
Among the 29 are some big name ministers, including Benny Hinn,
Kenneth Copeland, Tim LaHaye, and Kenneth Hagin. 

Ohio Restoration Project 

In late March, the New York Times reported
that the newly established Ohio Restoration Project was “planning
to mobilize 2,000 evangelical, Baptist, Pentecostal, and Roman Catholic
leaders in a network of so-called Patriot Pastors to register half
a million new voters, enlist activists, train candidates and endorse
conservative causes in the next year.” 

“In Ohio, the church is awakening to its historic role as the
moral voice in the community,” Colin A. Hanna, president of
Let Freedom Ring, a conservative group based in Pennsylvania that
trains ministers in political activism, told the New York Times.
“Ohio is in the vanguard of that nationally. I very much want
Pennsylvania to be with them.” 

As stated earlier, Rev. Johnson is behind the mobilization. In a
letter originally posted on the website of his Fairfield Christian
Church, Johnson asked supporters to “pray that God will raise
up a harvest of Patriot Pastors who are dedicated to making a difference
in this hour of American history.” Johnson added, “What
happens in Ohio in the next 18 months could very well make an impact
on what happens in America in the next 20-30 years.” 

The non-profit Patriot Pastors intend to raise a $1 million war
chest in order to “build a database of 300,000 postal addresses
and 100,000 e-mail addresses to recruit a network of like-minded
Christian voters to be 21st-century Minutemen. These volunteers
would help transport the elderly to the polls, provide childcare
so parents can vote, and assist with voter registration drives and
rallies,” the Cleveland Jewish News reported. 

While the ORP plan says that it will not specifically endorse candidates,
it will invite Blackwell to speak at pastoral meetings and to a
statewide Ohio for Jesus rally scheduled for next spring. Along
with the homegrown Parsley, other national Christian evangelical
leaders to be invited include Rev. Franklin Graham, Focus on the
Family’s Dr. James Dobson, and the Prison Fellowship Ministries
Charles Colson. 

officials, embroiled in a series of political scandals, are watching
with a wary eye. Robert T. Bennett, the chair of the state party,
told the New York Times, “This is a party of a big tent.
The far right cannot elect somebody by itself, any more than somebody
from the far left can.” 

Rev. Barry Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for
Separation of Church and State, told the New York Times that
the Ohio Restoration Project might have a significant impact: “This
represents a new wave in organizing on the part of conservative
evangelicals. From my standpoint, as someone who doesn’t agree
with their conclusions, this is a more dangerous model.”

Berkowitz is a freelance writer covering conservative politics.