Conservative Christian Group Seeks New Reagan
A group of pastors and other conservative Christian leaders from across the country continue to plan their behind-the-scenes strategy to defeat President Obama in 2012.
However, the group does not seem likely to support a Republican during the primary race or even reach a consensus as to which candidate should receive the Republican nomination.
The group is connected to Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry's plan for a large prayer rally in August.
Last year, EthicsDaily.com broke many of the details of a secret Sept. 8-9, 2010, meeting in Dallas where about 40 conservative Christian leaders gathered at the request of Southern Baptist evangelist James Robison.
Yesterday, EthicsDaily.com broke the news of a June 21-22, 2011, follow-up meeting in Euless, Texas, with about 80 conservative Christian leaders.
In 1979, Robison led a similar secret meeting in Dallas to plot how to defeat then-President Jimmy Carter. That effort culminated in an August 1980 rally with Republican presidential hopeful Ronald Reagan that helped Reagan mobilize pastors for his presidential campaign.
Before the meeting this week, Robison told EthicsDaily.com that he intended to start discussions at the gathering by using a June 3 blog post he wrote about the importance of Christians paying attention to the agendas of the candidates running for next year's elections. In the piece, he appeared to allude to his September meeting and follow-up calls.
"Along with many national and church leaders, I'm seeking to know what must be done in order to effectively deal with present-day challenges," Robison wrote. "We must hold fast to moral principles and also make wise decisions concerning fiscal policies and practices."
Robison then listed his conservative agenda for candidates to meet, including being pro-life, pro-Israel, against same-sex marriage, for smaller government and reducing government spending, for a strong defense to fight "Radical Islam," for the free market, and against "excessive, foolish taxation."
Robison argued in the piece that Christians must focus first on "what must be done before we can identify who can best help do it."
While talking to EthicsDaily.com, Robison said the purpose of the gathering and later efforts would not be to endorse a specific candidate.
"I will make it clear, and I will initially make very clear from me in the summit that I for one am not comfortable endorsing candidates," Robison said. "I endorse truth and embrace principles that have been time-tested and historically proven and in harmony with the heart of God as revealed in Scripture."
Robison added that he felt pastors had "the right to endorse" and that he "would never criticize" a minister for endorsing a candidate. He quickly interjected that he would even endorse a candidate "if I felt that I must."
Robison also acknowledged that although he had not officially endorsed Reagan for president in 1980, his de facto endorsement was obvious.
"It was obvious to people in 1980 that I believed the principles that Ronald Reagan … held to were of greater importance than those that a member of my own denomination and a Sunday school teacher as a Southern Baptist held," Robison said as he explained his opposition to then-President Carter.
"I thought that where [Reagan] was coming from – in both observation and discussion with him – that it was definitely far more important with the challenges we faced as our freedoms were threatened. And I did not openly endorse him but rather the principles that I thought must be restored."
The question of who he and his group may be supporting – even if only in an unofficial way – in the Republican presidential primary remains unanswered.
During his discussion with Craig Groeschel on the April 19 episode of Robison's TV program, Robison noted the diversity of the group at the September meeting and mentioned they had "disagreement and healthy, even heated discussion."
Some in the group – such as Kenneth Copeland, Jack Graham and Buddy Pilgrim – had supported Mike Huckabee during the 2008 campaign. Others – such as Richard Land and Tony Perkins – had dismissed his candidacy. Copeland, Pilgrim, Land and Perkins all attended both the September and June meetings, while Graham was listed as a supporter of the September meeting who was unable to attend.
Robison's group also seems divided over the candidacy of former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Jim Garlow, who attended both the September and June meetings, serves as the head of Renewing American Leadership, a religious-political organization started by Gingrich.
Last November, Robison and Gingrich both were part of a dinner event for the Institute for Policy Innovation, a think-tank started by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) to promote "approaches to governing that harness the strengths of individual liberty, limited government and free markets." During the event, Gingrich praised Robison's political work.
"Reverend James Robison's an amazing person," Gingrich said. "He was a leader in the Reagan years. … And so when you were here tonight, I just wanted to thank you for a lifetime of living what you believe and living what you preach."
Gingrich also mentioned during the speech that he had talked recently with Robison to pray and discuss his future plans. Gingrich since announced he was running for president.
However, some individuals in the group have expressed opposition to Gingrich's candidacy, due in large part to his divorces and affairs.
For instance, both Land and Perkins have stressed problems with Gingrich as the nominee. Land even argued that Gingrich needed to give a big speech to "confess [his divorces and affairs] and ask for forgiveness."
Others in Robison's group are drawn to different candidates. Author Wayne Grudem, who attended the June meeting, supported Mitt Romney in the last election.
Harry Jackson, who also attended the June meeting, offered the invocation at Herman Cain's presidential announcement. In the prayer, he claimed that God had "raised up" Cain and asked God to move people to volunteer and donate to Cain's campaign.
In the June 3 blog post in which he listed his "what" agenda, Robison also called on Christians to follow the command found in Joel 2.
"Now is the time for all Americans to choose whom and what they will serve," he wrote. "Christians must respond to the invitation issued by the prophet Joel to 'return to God … and rend our hearts and not our garments.'"
The same day Robison posted his piece, another political call for prayer based on Joel 2 was reported. Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced a prayer rally would be held on Aug. 6 at Reliant Stadium, where the Houston Texans play, and invited the nation's other 49 governors to join him at the event.
"Some problems are beyond our power to solve, and according to the Book of Joel, Chapter 2, this historic hour demands a historic response," Perry argued on the event's website. "Therefore, on August 6, thousands will gather to pray for a historic breakthrough for our country and a renewed sense of moral purpose."
Robison told EthicsDaily.com that he told Perry back in January that Perry should lead a prayer effort because "we need our governors, our state leaders, our national leaders, really come together in real serious prayer because we need answers from above."
Robison added that he advised Perry to take the leadership role because Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich told Robison that Perry was "the governor that had been in leadership long enough that [he] could call a prayer meeting."
Robison also mentioned a prayer conference call he was on recently with Perry and others during which Robison talked about the message of Joel. Robison added, however, that he did not realize Perry would call for a large event in a stadium.
In January, Robison prayed at the prayer breakfast for Perry's inauguration for his new term as governor. Robison told EthicsDaily.com that Perry has called him on several occasions to pray together privately.
Perry appeared as the guest on the May 5 broadcast of Robison's TV program. Robison introduced Perry on the program as "a very good friend" and "a prayer partner."
"I've been listening to you for years, Brother James," Perry chimed in during the interview.
The two talked about Perry's book, “Fed Up: Our Fight to Save America from Washington,” and Perry's themes of wanting a more limited government, fewer taxes and more personal freedoms.
Some critics of Perry's prayer rally believe it might be Perry's effort to launch a presidential run, especially since the event will occur just one week before the Iowa straw poll. Although he has often said he will not run, Perry recently started expressing interest in jumping in.
An opening for Perry in the race seemed even more possible recently after several top campaign aides for Gingrich resigned from his presidential campaign. Two of those who resigned are longtime aides of Perry and would be crucial to him launching a campaign.
Some of the individuals in Robison's group are among the leadership for Perry's prayer rally. Don Wildmon, who attended the June meeting, is president of the American Family Association, which is the host organization for Perry's event.
Other leaders listed for Perry's rally who are part of Robison's group include: National Finance Chairman David Lane, National Church Mobilization leader Jim Garlow, and Governmental Leader Mobilization leader Bob McEwen. Garlow attended both the September and June meetings, while Lane and McEwen attended the June gathering.
Several others in Robison's group, which draws heavily from Texas pastors and leaders, have ties with Perry. If Perry enters the presidential race, it seems he would be the candidate most likely to excite and even mobilize this group during the Republican primary.
Nearly any other Republican presidential hopeful, however, can probably expect support after garnering the nomination.
Even if Perry does not enter the race, his August prayer rally could become an important religious-political moment in the campaign – just as Robison's August 1980 rally in Dallas helped move Ronald Reagan into the Oval Office.