Conservative Christian leaders from across the nation met two months ago near the Dallas airport to strategize about replacing President Barack Obama with someone who matches their agenda – a move that paralleled an effort by Christian leaders in 1979 to defeat then President Jimmy Carter.
About 40 conservative Christian leaders gathered in Dallas on Sept. 8-9 to begin laying the groundwork for a religious-political movement similar to the one that helped Ronald Reagan oust the Baptist Sunday school teacher from the Oval Office. Convened by evangelist James Robison – a key figure in the religious effort 30 years ago to promote Reagan’s candidacy – the list of attendees included many of the most prominent Christian evangelists and ministers, including several Southern Baptist leaders.
Southern Baptist leaders attending the meeting included: Richard Land (president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission); Richard Lee (pastor and the editor of The American Patriot’s Bible); John Meador (pastor of First Baptist Church of Euless, Texas); and Paige Patterson (president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary).
Others at the meeting included: Tony Evans (a megachurch pastor in Texas); Father Joseph Fessio (founder and editor of Ignatius Press); Craig Groeschel (pastor of LifeChurch.tv); Miles McPherson (a megachurch pastor in California who spoke at the 2008 Republican National Convention); Johnnie Moore (a vice president at Liberty University who defended the school’s decisions to have Glenn Beck and Newt Gingrich as recent speakers); Tom Mullins (a megachurch pastor in Florida); Doug Napier (legal counsel at the Alliance Defense Fund); Dino Rizzo (a megachurch pastor in Louisiana); Dave Roever (an evangelist who prayed at Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally); Mark Rutland (president of Oral Roberts University); David Stone (a megachurch pastor in Kentucky); and Stu Weber (a megachurch pastor in Oregon).
Several conservative Christian leaders highly active in politics attended the meeting, including: Stephen Broden (a pastor and Republican politician in Texas); Keith Butler (a pastor and Republican politician in Michigan); Maggie Gallagher (a conservative columnist who received tens of thousands of dollars for her work from the George W. Bush administration); Jim Garlow (chairman of Newt Gingrich’s organization, Renewing American Leadership); Harry Jackson (pastor of Hope Christian Church in Washington, D.C.); Gene Mills (executive director of the Louisiana Family Forum); and Tony Perkins (president of the Family Research Council).
Some attendees have been guests on Glenn Beck’s program on Fox News (including Broden, Garlow, Lee, McPherson, Mullins, Robison, Roever and Stone), and several were involved with his “Restoring Honor” rally (including Jackson, Land, Lee, Gallagher, Garlow and Roever).
Three of the attendees at the meeting have been under investigation since 2007 by Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Baptist from Iowa, for perhaps violating IRS tax-exempt rules. Those at the meeting included televangelists Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar and Joyce Meyer.
Other individuals helped plan the September meeting but were unable to attend. They included: Jerry Falwell Jr. (president of Liberty University); Jack Graham (a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention); O.S. Hawkins (head of the SBC’s Guidestone Financial Resources); Jack Hayford (president of Foursquare International); and author Ravi Zacharias.
EthicsDaily.com contacted about a dozen individuals who attended the meeting, but none offered any comment.
Public statements about the September meeting have dealt with political concerns only subtly, with the attempt instead designed to depict the gathering as purely spiritual in focus.
Immediately after the meeting, Robison wrote on his blog about what he called a “leadership prayer summit” that occurred near the Dallas-Fort Worth airport.
“God has impressed me to call church and national leaders, along with all believers, to pray for a spiritual awakening that will lead to the restoration of freedom’s foundation and the rebuilding of necessary walls, all of this consistent with the truths represented in Isaiah 58,” Robison wrote. “These were leaders coming together in agreement on your behalf. Be assured, those who attended will not only lead, but inspire leaders.”
“We pray that the ship of state will make the necessary course adjustment to avoid the obvious and hidden dangers that can and will bring catastrophic consequences if we do not turn in the right direction toward unshakable truth and safe harbor,” Robison added with a hint of political focus. “Every attendee expressed deep personal concern for the assault on faith, family and freedom.”
In another blog post, Robison provided a text he said was shared at the meeting by Dave Meyer, husband of televangelist Joyce Meyer. As Meyer urged the Christian leaders to work to change American politics and society, he argued that they must “become responsible and active to take back what the devil has stolen” and that they must work together “in making God’s plan for America our plan.”
Robison also posted a statement written by Jay Richards (a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute) that was designed to summarize the hopes of the group. Richards noted that the group met “to intercede and seek God’s guidance and favor on behalf of our nation.” He added that those who met – all of whom were listed as signers on his statement – hoped to spark “long-lasting restoration of our culture, of public morality and political sanity.”
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“We are convinced that, ultimately, religious, political and economic freedom are not sustainable one without the other, and must be defended anew in every generation,” Richards wrote.
Richards also criticized “distant government bureaucracies” for being “poorly equipped to address the specific needs of suffering individuals” and urged Americans to ensure that government stays within “its constitutionally enumerated powers.”
Although the public statements regarding the September meeting are generic in terms of a political agenda, Robison’s political goals remain quite visible.
The Dallas group included many who support conservative politicians and policies. Many have contributed to Republican candidates. Several have been Republican candidates or activists themselves. A number have written and spoken very negatively about President Obama and Democratic congressional leaders.
Robison’s own public rhetoric plainly identifies his political leanings, making it clear that the success or failure of the national revival he is calling for will depend, at least in part, on the outcome of the 2012 presidential election.
Robison wrote on his blog just days before the recent midterm elections: “I am convinced that our nation is absolutely headed in the wrong direction with a government out of control.” He called the election “one of the most important in recent history” and criticized Nancy Pelosi and other government leaders for health care reform and other “extremely negative decisions.”
A week later, he wrote that he was “encouraged” by the midterm results and called the changes “answered prayer.”
Robison frequently writes about his belief that the nation is heading in the wrong direction and of his longing for a leader like Ronald Reagan. For instance, Robison wrote a post in January about how much he missed Reagan after watching Obama’s State of the Union address.
“To say that I am deeply concerned about the state and direction of our nation would be an understatement,” he explained as he considered the contrast between Obama and Reagan. “Our failure to be better informed and more actively involved as Christians has helped us reach the point where our freedom rests in a precariously dangerous position.”
In the post, he recalled a meeting he helped plan – along with Bill Bright and Billy Graham – in 1979.
Meeting in a hotel across the street from the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, Robison and other conservative Christian leaders planned their efforts to remove Carter from the White House. Others at the meeting included Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Southern Baptist leaders Jimmy Draper, Charles Stanley and Adrian Rogers. Robison also recounted in the blog post the National Affairs Briefing he hosted in Dallas in August 1980 at which Reagan spoke.
Robison has written that he feels today much like he did during Carter’s presidency. In a blog post in August of last year, Robison argued that the decisions Obama was making today “[s]ound familiar” when compared to what Carter sought.
“I am presently more deeply concerned than I was during Carter’s administration,” Robison added. “The circle of counsel around our current President is not just disappointing, it’s absolutely shocking.”
In August, Robison spoke with EthicsDaily.com about the 30th anniversary of the Dallas event where Reagan spoke, which helped Reagan rally conservative Christians and defeat Carter. He noted that he was looking at a picture of Reagan during the interview and began to express his belief that the nation was once again heading in the wrong direction and needed a new leader like Reagan to oust Obama.
It was then that Robison mentioned the meeting that was to occur in September in Dallas to begin laying the groundwork for the effort – just as a meeting there had done 30 years earlier.
Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.