A fundamentalist congregation in Ohio is spearheading a right-wing Christian drive to dominate politics in the Buckeye State. Fairfield Christian Church of Lancaster has an ambition so great that it caught the attention of The New York Times, which recently reported that the church and its allies are "mounting a campaign to win control of local government posts and Republican organizations, starting with the 2006 governor's race."
The March 27 Times piece focused on the "Ohio Restoration Project," which entails efforts to mobilize thousands of like-minded religious leaders - dubbed "Patriot Pastors" - to help register at least "half a million new voters, enlist activists, train candidates and endorse conservative causes in the next year."
Church leaders say they are fed up with the Ohio Republican Party. According to the church's senior pastor, Russell Johnson, the party is not doing near enough to cultivate its Christian supporters. Johnson told the Times that his state's GOP "is out of touch with its base" and "acts as if it lives in Boston, Mass."
So what does Johnson plan to do about Ohio's GOP? He plans to work hard to yank moderate Republicans from public office and replace them with "godly" politicians who will undermine reproductive rights, stifle civil rights of gays, bring organized prayer to the public schools and teach creationism in science courses.
Johnson's project has its sights on the governor's office. It hopes to win it for Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, whom the Times describes as a conservative Republican.
According to the Times, other conservative religious groups are lining up to back Johnson's work. Colin A. Hanna, president of Let Freedom Ring, a Pennsylvania group that promotes the "sanctity of life" proclaimed that in Ohio, "the church is awakening" and is "the vanguard of that nationally. I very much want Pennsylvania to be with them."
Johnson details his motivation behind the project on the Fairfield church's web site.
The nation, Johnson claims, "has become increasingly pagan because churches do not have the heart to follow faithful pastors and, at times, ministers who do not have the courage to lead.
"There is a warfare for the heart and soul of America," Johnson continues. "This is a battle between the forces of righteousness and the hordes of hell. Millions of souls weigh in the balances and the church stands at the Critical Crossroads of history!"
Furthermore, Johnson is troubled, to say the least, by the ongoing struggle of gays to achieve equal protection under the U.S. Constitution. "Homosexual 'rights' make inroads with every passing week," he says, "and with it will come a flood of demonic oppression."
Thus the "Restoration Project" is Johnson's effort to corral as many religious leaders as possible into electing Religious Right politicians to office "in a dark hour."
Although, the Project will not endorse candidates directly, according to the Times' reporting, it will invite Blackwell to address pastoral meetings and a statewide "Ohio for Jesus" rally in the spring, where the Rev. Franklin Graham and Religious Right politico James Dobson are also slated to appear.
Johnson also boasts that his project is being "greatly encouraged by Tony Perkins, President of James Dobson's Family Research Council."
Moderate Republicans in the state are worried that Johnson's efforts could harm the party's longtime dominance in the state, and civil libertarians are concerned about a growing nationwide movement to meld politics and religion.
Robert T. Bennett, the Ohio Republican Party chairman, groused that, "The far right cannot elect somebody by itself, any more than somebody from the far left can."
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told the Times that Johnson's efforts could potentially be more harmful to the body politic than the efforts of televangelists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.
"This represents a new wave in organizing on the part of conservative evangelicals," Lynn said. "From my standpoint, as someone who doesn't agree with their conclusions, this is a more dangerous model."