Political training added to Iowa Renewal Project

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Three 2016 GOP presidential hopefuls scheduled to appear

If a national movement coming to Des Moines as part of the Iowa Renewal Project is successful, Iowans may see many more conservative pastors and church leaders on their 2016 ballots.

The movement — the Men and Women of Issachar — is the brainchild of David Lane, a politically-connected religious conservative, and was named after one of the twelve tribes of Israel — specifically the tribe that sent 200 men with the ability or vision to decipher the signs of the times and direct the actions of David’s army at Hebron.

“Nobody is confused that politicians are going to save America,” Lane said in January when he announced the movement, which hopes to encourage and train at least 1,000 church leaders and pastors to seek public office and “save America” in the way politicians can’t. If the goal is met, Lane estimates each campaign will garner about 300 volunteers, positioning a total of 300,000 religious conservatives as “grass roots, precinct-level” political activists.

“It would change America,” Lane told the Christian Broadcasting Network.

Iowa Renewal Project 2015The Des Moines training is being held in conjunction with the Iowa Renewal Project, a private, all-expenses paid political rally for church leaders that has been held in Iowa and other states for the past several years. At the most recent event in March, special guests included two presidential hopefuls and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds.

Private meetings for this month’s lineup include three GOP presidential candidates — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. Other national religious conservatives scheduled to appear are “historian” William Federer, former U.S. Rep. Bob McEwen, David Brody, Bishop E.W. Jackson, Pastor Ken Graves, Wallace Henley, Pastor Jason Taylor and Pastor Rafael Cruz, the father of Ted Cruz. In the past, attendees have been given access to a bevy of political and religious leaders — some of whom have bankrolled political efforts undertaken by like-minded Iowa groups, such as the ouster of Iowa Supreme Court Justices following the 2008 decision that legalized same-sex marriage.

The two-day event and Issachar training will be held at the Iowa Events Center on Nov. 5 and 6. Iowa church leaders receiving an invitation are encouraged to “bring your youth pastor and their spouse” since “there will be a breakout session for youth pastors.” All attending these closed-door meetings receive complimentary meals and lodging, although organizers have declined to comment on the total cost of these programs or who provides their funding.

Lane, who favors the label “political operative” to pastor, says the goal of the Iowa Renewal Project, part of the larger American Renewal Project, is “to engage the church in a culture war for religious liberty, to restore America to our Judeo-Christian heritage and to re-establish a Christian culture.” To that end, previous events in Des Moines have been recorded for distribution to more than 5,000 churches.

The anti-gay, anti-feminist, anti-tolerant, anti-any-religion-other-than-mine mind-set included in these events brokers no compromise. Those who deviate aren’t just different, but a threat to be eliminated.

“Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” Lane said while lamenting “the sword of the spirit” had been removed from public schools. He has warned politicians to “vote to restore the Bible and prayer in public schools or be sent home.”

Iowa Renewal Project 2015Many leaders, including Lane, promote “Christian Nationalism.” In part, this viewpoint believes the nation was founded by and for Christians only, and that Christianity should be established as an official national religion. They’d like the Bible used as a textbook in public schools, and would deny legal equity to those in violation of their interpretation of it.

“There can be no reconciliation of opposites, particularly the spiritual and the secular. Therefore, we need to establish if America is a pagan or Christian nation and get on with it — the sooner the better,” Lane wrote this year in an op-ed for a Christian magazine.

Such viewpoints threaten the delicate balance of our melting pot nation. They push Iowa politics further to the right, creating a perception of religious extremism that threatens our leading role with the caucuses as well as our progressive civil rights history.

Those affiliated with this viewpoint have steadfastly opposed abortion, making women’s health organization Planned Parenthood a frequent target of their ire. Even if federal rules prevent tax dollars from flowing directly to abortion services, they say, Medicaid reimbursements and the like free up other resources that may then be used for abortion, making taxpayers implicit if not direct contributors.

Using this same logic, perhaps it is time to revisit the tax-free status of churches and church leaders, if easing those burdens hasn’t led to philanthropic giving and instead funds political rallies and trainings.

This blog post by Lynda Waddington originally published on The Gazette website on October 28, 2015.