The Christian Right plots religious invasion into politics with candidate training program for pastors

It’s been called “Jesus Camp for adults,” but Jesus Basic Training would probably be more accurate.

A Christian organization called the American Renewal Project is holding a series of Issachar Trainings across the country in order to train roughly 1000 Evangelical pastors on how to run for and win political office. Issachar refers to a story in the Bible, in which the men of Issachar “understood the times and knew what Israel should do,” by which the Bible means help Kind David raise a massive army.

In this case, the army won’t be using swords and spears as much as they’ll be using forms and press conferences. As Ismat Sarah Mangla reported last week:

At an Issachar Training held in South Carolina in June, workshop sessions included “Campaign Mechanics 101” with information on how to set up a finance committee and figure out messaging. Other topics covered range from how to gain publicity by setting up the right photo opportunities to determining which precincts to target and why.

The logic is simple: Christian conservatives perceive their way of life as being under attack, and in order to keep their values codified as public policy, they’re going to have to win more elections. As American Renewal Project’s founder, David Lane, explained to NPR, “Somebody’s values are going to reign supreme. We want people with our values to represent our values and interests in the public square, be elected to office, and represent our issues.”

Lane also explained to the Christian Broadcasting Network that it doesn’t take much by way of candidate training to spark a movement. As he describes, with 1000 pastors running for office, at 300 volunteers per pastor, you get 300,000 volunteers across the country spreading conservative political gospel to voters, who in turn elect a large number of those pastors to office.

Lane didn’t mention how many of those volunteers he expected to come from those pastors’ churches. Of course, directly recruiting volunteers at church would be all kinds of illegal on the part of these soon-to-be candidates.

By itself, the idea of a candidate training program isn’t all that unusual. In purely secular terms, Issachar is but one of many similar candidate training programs across the country. The mechanics of fundraising, media buying, voter turnout and delegation of responsibilities across campaign staff are crucial skills that any interest group will want their members to know in advance of running for office. Across the ideological spectrum, parties and issue groups organize retreats, workshops and programs designed to train the next generation of champions for their cause.

However, a candidate training program organized for the sole purpose of undermining the Separation of Church and State is another thing entirely — especially one designed specifically for pastors, as opposed to accepting any would-be political crusader. Keep in mind that this is a movement that, for all of its talk about the Constitution, has no interest in religious freedom and every interest in “tak[ing] back America for Christ.” They aren’t entering the political arena to be just another voice in the room; they are waging a holy war to put God in our schools, our bedrooms, our bodies, and so on.

Perhaps it’s because the religious are thinking in such territorial terms that they are convinced those who don’t share their deeply held religious beliefs are doing the same. No matter how many time we insist that they are more than welcome to pound their Bibles as hard as they want as long as they don’t do it in my bedroom using my tax dollars, they insist that we’re really out to criminalize their religious activity. And they feel violated. And they need to fight back. Or, as Issachar’s website says (emphasis theirs), “make preparations for war.

Perhaps they are so worried about Sharia Law being established in the United States because, given the opportunity, they would be more than ready to establish Christian Law in Islamic countries. After all, they’ve done it before, both here and elsewhere.

David Lane is right to say that “somebody’s values are going to reign supreme.” That set of values would be those of our Founders, who wrote the First Amendment specifically to protect religious minorities from government persecution. As Thomas Jefferson explained in his Letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1802, our government doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) have anything to say one way or the other with respect to religion. This was important to the Baptists, who were seeking religious protection; not from secularist, communist, Obama-ist liberals, but rather from the Congregationalists who held the majority in the Connecticut’s legislature.

In other words, we don’t keep religion out of government because we think religion is bad. We keep religion out of government because you can’t give one religion preference over the rest, which will inevitably become the case when legislatures operating on majority vote are allowed to reflect the religious beliefs of their members.

Conservatives are more than welcome to become pastors, and pastors are more than welcome to run for political office. But they should know that attempts to legislate their sermons are going to be counterproductive. Not only do such attempts run counter to the understanding our Founders had as to the appropriate exercise of religion, but the politicization of religion is also one of the primary reasons why so many Christians are leaving their faith.

If they want to maintain their values at all, they’ll have to keep them to themselves.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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