A little-known Religious Right group called the Texas Restoration Project is on the march in the Lone Star State, working closely with Gov. Rick Perry and his reelection effort.
In early September, several hundred ministers and their wives gathered at an Austin hotel for an event dubbed a “Pastor’s Policy Briefing.” The event was the second held in the state, and more are planned.
The Austin Chronicle reported that the briefing cost half a million dollars, but it’s unclear who picked up the tab. Reported the newspaper, “The Texas Restoration Project, a fledgling but well-oiled group of conservative religious leaders, sponsored the event, the second in a series of briefings planned throughout the state, but TRP says only that ‘private funds’ make the events possible.”
Political observers in Texas say the briefings appear to be a thinly veiled effort to boost the reelection prospects of Republican Gov. Rick Perry and dominate politics in the state. Noted the Chronicle, the two day-gathering had the “trappings of an evangelical-style political rally designed to rally the flock on two fronts – the Nov. 8 ballot on same-sex marriages, and the March primary in which Perry hopes to recapture the Republican nomination for governor.”
The newsweekly also noted “the fever-pitched gay-bashing theme of most speeches.” It also pointed out that Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who is challenging Perry in the GOP primary, was not invited to attend.
Parsley traveled to Texas to speak at the Austin event. Aside from blasting gays he also criticized Islam.
But perhaps that most incendiary rhetoric was offered up by Dwight McKissic, an Arlington, Texas, minister who put forth his interpretation of the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah and then declared, “God has another match!”
The Chronicle reported an attendee as saying McKissic “said the most horrible things. He was the most difficult to listen to.”The Chronicle
Texas political science professor Bruce Buchanan said Perry’s wooing of the state’s Religious Right is seen by many as an attempt to replicate President George W. Bush’s 2004 strategy of actively courting ultra-conservative voters.
Like the president, Perry seems indifferent to the tax-exempt status of churches. Houses of worship like other nonprofit secular groups enjoy tax breaks. But they can jeopardize those benefits if they engage in electioneering. The federal tax code bars non-profits from endorsing candidates for public office.
In early June, Perry, surrounded by some of the same Religious Right behemoths, signed two state bills in the gymnasium of a Pentecostal church school. Both were sure-fire crowd-pleasers: one required girls under 18 to attain parental consent before getting an abortion and another certifying the anti-gay marriage ballot initiative.
At that time, Americans United for Separation of Church and State warned Perry that the bill-signing event had the appearance of a campaign rally. The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, told the Los Angeles Times that the rally amounted to a “grotesque misuse of religion for clear partisan political advantage.”