In Iowa, the steady stream of potential 2012 presidential candidates has already become almost commonplace. They arrive for book signings, speak at public events or provide monetary support for local candidates of the same ilk.
But several rumored Republican candidates will gather in Des Moines later this month for conversations with clergy and congregants, and unlike most events featuring presidential hopefuls, very little is known about exactly who is behind the two-day, all-expenses-paid “Pastors’ Policy Briefing.”
An invitation, stamped with the return address of a West Des Moines UPS Store mailbox, went out this week to Iowa’s faithful. Those who received the call will have an opportunity to hear from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Minnesota U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann during a two-day conference at the Sheraton West Des Moines Hotel on March 24 and 25.
“Meals and lodging are complimentary,” states the invitation, “and will be provided by the Iowa Renewal Project.”
It isn’t the first time that Iowa pastors have been invited to the state capital for a “Rediscovering God in America” policy briefing, and it also isn’t the first time that Iowa clergy have received marching orders from the Iowa Renewal Project.
“Voters should know who is influencing or attempting to influence policy makers,” said Dan Quinn, communications director for the Texas Freedom Network. In 2008, Quinn’s oganization asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate whether a Houston-based nonprofit foundation and its backers improperly sought to drag churches into Gov. Rick Perry’s earlier re-election campaign. The Texas Freedom Network discovered tax records that indicated the Niemoller Foundation, created in 2005, spent roughly $1.26 million to fund the activities of the Texas Restoration Project, which held events in that state similar to the upcoming Iowa Renewal Project policy briefing.
According to invitation documents uncovered by The Iowa Independent, at least 14 states have had “renewal project” events. According to an invitation to a 2007 New Hampshire Renewal Project, the event in that state was “its first ever” and featured social conservatives Tim and Beverly LaHaye and evangelical historian David Barton. Also present were Huckabee, Bob McEwen and several of the same individuals scheduled to attend the upcoming Iowa program. The New Hampshire event was held just weeks before the Granite State held its first-in-the-nation primary.
Shortly after the New Hampshire affair, then Louisiana Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal held a “Pastors’ Inaugural Prayer Breakfast” that was hosted by the Louisiana Renewal Project. In addition to Jindal and social conservatives featured in the upcoming Iowa program, Texas Gov. Perry was also listed as an attendee.
At least 13 states have played host to “renewal project” gatherings: California (twice, one being specific to San Diego), Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, Texas, Louisiana and South Carolina. Although many speakers remain the same from state to state, special guests have include Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, Lt. Col. Oliver North, Jerry Falwell and U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint.
None of the state events, however, have held the “star power” of the upcoming Iowa conference, which features at least four people who have been rumored as possible 2012 Republican presidential candidates. At an event held during the 2008 presidential election season, Huckabee was the only candidate who spoke at the Iowa Renewal Conference.
An insert within the 2011 invitation indicates that it is “from the desk of Mike Huckabee,” but it reads nearly identical to wording by Perry that was included in an invitation to a Texas Restoration Project event years earlier:
America and our Judeo Christian heritage is under attack by a force that is more destructive than any threat America has faced in decades. Over the past year, we have been declared to be “not a Christian nation”; a response is necessary from those who believe that while government itself should not establish a faith, our principles are rooted in the notion that we are the result of providence and a dynamic Creator. Defeating the radicals who wish to ignore or revise our history will require renewed resolve and spiritual rearmament by the evangelical pastors in America.
Rediscovering God in America’s goal is to ignite people of faith to again engage the culture and bring America back to our standing around the world as a Beacon of Hope and a Shining City on a Hill.
Because God has entrusted you to care for His flock, you are a critical component to reclaiming the centrality of God in American life and confronting the evil that faces us now. At a time when Congress is busy trying to legislate defeat, we are inviting you to a Pastors’ Policy Briefing that will help you engage the battle, to walk point. Today, with our troops facing danger abroad and our nation looking for guidance here at home, America’s need is to rearm spiritually through the leadership of her Pastors. The silence of the church and her pastors have helped to create this mess: Russell Kirk offers insight into the political climate of America if bible believing pastors pick up the mantle, “politicians are actors performing a script that is written by the audience”. Rediscovering God in America-Des Moines is to remind and encourage us that the proper position for America when facing evil and confronting enemies is not to find excuses for defeat but to find the resources, the courage and the strength from God necessary to win.
Others named on the Iowa invitation are:
George Barna — founder of The Barna Group, a market research firm specializing in data related to religious belief and behavior, and intersection of faith and culture. Also an author of several books. The Seven Faith Tribes, for instance, seeks to document seven major divisions of faith in America to provide a guidebook for those who wish to spread Evangelical Christianity as to what members of each tribe believe, the ways they hope to shape society and how they vote.
“Neither a title, a degree nor desire makes someone a leader,” Barna is quoted as saying his website. “Being a leader is based upon three elements: A calling from God, character that honors God, and the competencies that enable the person to effectively pursue the vision God entrusts to them.”
Ken Graves — founder and pastor of Calvary Chapel near Bangor, Maine. During the lead-up to a 2009 ballot question on same-sex marriage, Graves produced and distributed a 30-second ad that urged residents to overthrow a law passed by Maine lawmakers and signed by its governor that allowed same-sex marriage.
“You see these commercial of two happy moms, or two happy dads and happy siblings — when in fact they are not happy families. They are depressed,” Graves told reporter Joe Garofoli before admitting that he didn’t actually know any gay couples. Graves said he relies on the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family for his information about homosexuality.
Ultimately, 53 percent of Maine voters chose to overturn the law.
Jack Hibbs — senior pastor at Calvary Chapel who publicly supported the American Family Association and other anti-gay religious groups that were officially labeled as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center for spreading false and often offensive statements regarding homosexuals. For instance, Bryan Fischer, director of Issue Analysis for Government and Public Policy for the AFA, announced on his radio show that Adolf Hitler was gay and surrounded himself with gay soldiers, who were the only people brutal enough to carry out his plan.
“Hitler discovered that he could not get straight soldiers to be savage and brutal and vicious enough to carry out his orders, but that homosexual soldiers basically had not limits and the savagery and brutality they were willing to inflict on whomever Hitler sent them after. … [V]irtually all of the Stormtroopers, the Brownshirts, were male homosexuals,” said Fisher.
John Stemberger — a Florida personal injury attorney, former political director for the Florida GOP and president of that state’s Focus on the Family affiliate. He led the petition drive in the Sunshine State to place a constitutional amendment banning marriage rights for same-sex couples on the ballot during 2008. He is facing a $10 million lawsuit for allegations he made against a client’s Muslim parents as well as possible disciplinary action by the Florida Supreme Court for ethics violations. Stemberger has described both as “frivolous” and launched a legal defense fund in connection with the ethics charges. Among those who have made public pleas on behalf of Stemberger is Gingrich, who described Stemberger as “a man of courage and principle.”
Larry Stockstill — pastor of the Louisiana megachurch Bethany World Prayer Center. Stockstill, a graduate and former chaplain for Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma, took over leadership at Bethany in 1983 from his father, Roy Stockstill, who founded the congregation 20 years earlier. The younger Stockstill is also the president of Heartbeat of Louisiana, a group of anti-abortion rights ministers, and hosts two television programs on the station owned by the ministry.
Laurence White — a Houston pastor (Our Savior Lutheran Church) who founded the Texas Restoration Project in 2005, which is believed to be at least the inspiration for the Renewal Projects that have been held in Iowa and several additional states. When Texas Gov. Rick Perry held a high-profile, ceremonial signing of a same-sex marriage ban in mid-2005, following private meetings with the Texas Restoration Project, one of the three Christian leaders by his side was White. The Texan has since gone on to speak at numerous Renewal Projects throughout the nation. However, White’s mission to politically mobilize pastors and their congregants was well established by September 2000, as evidenced by a speech to the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary where described current events in the U.S. as the equivalent of Germany under the Nazis.
White and his wife were two of three directors on the Niemoller Foundation’s governing board, which financed activities related to the Texas Restoration Project.
Don Wildmon — is the founder and serves as chairman emeritus of the Mississippi-based American Family Association, which bankrolled Bob Vander Plaats’ opposition of the Iowa Supreme Court. Wildmon was ordained as a United Methodist Church minister in 1964, but left the calling roughly a decade later to campaign against immorality by founding the National Federation for Decency in 1977. The organization was renamed the American Family Association in 1988. Following a lengthy hospital stay in 2009 and surgery for eye cancer, Wildmon stepped down as leader of the AFA, basically turning over the organization to his son, Tim Wildmon.Tags: David Barton, Focus on the Family, george barna, Iowa Caucuses, ken graves, maine, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, Same-sex Marriage