September 2011 Church & State | People & Events

A group of Religious Right leaders has joined forces in an effort to find a candidate who can defeat President Barack Obama next year.The pastors and other activists are led by a Texas-based TV preacher named James Robison. They take their inspiration from a similar effort in 1979. Back then, Robison and other fundamentalist Christians had soured on President Jimmy Carter and were looking for a new champion. They eventually backed Ronald W. Reagan, and many political analysts believe their support helped Reagan win the election.Brian T. Kaylor, a professor of communication studies at James Madison University and an editor at Ethics Daily, has been following the movement. Kaylor notes that Robison calls the current round of meetings “Leadership Summits.” Participants include Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Con­vention, David Barton of WallBuilders, Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage, Vonette Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ, TV preacher Kenneth Copeland and Bishop Harry Jackson, a Maryland minister known for anti-gay activism. A number of Texas pastors are also taking part.The first meeting took place in September of 2010 in Dallas and included about 40 people. A follow-up meeting in Euless, Texas, June 21-22, attracted twice as many participants.On his blog, Robison said participants want a candidate who will oppose legal abortion, oppose same-sex marriage, support Israel, oppose “Radical Islam,” reduce government spending and stop “excessive, foolish taxation.”Robison wrote that conservative Christians must focus on “what must be done before we can identify who can best help do it.”Kaylor reported that participants are divided over which GOP candidate to support. However, with so many Texas pastors taking part, there has been speculation that the effort could become a vehicle for the presidential aspirations of Texas Gov. Rick Perry (who, as this issue of Church & State went to press, had yet to announce whether he is running).The plan also raises questions of federal tax law, since many churches and non-profit ministries are involved. Robison told Kaylor that he doesn’t believe pastors should endorse candidates but then added that pastors do have “the right to endorse” and said he would never criticize a minister for endorsing a candidate. He added that he would endorse a candidate “if I felt that I must.”Pastors may offer personal endorsements of candidates, but federal law makes it clear that ministers and heads of non-profits may not use institutional resources to support office seekers.