Reynolds special guest at ‘Pastors Policy Briefing’

Iowa Renewal Project event offered free to Iowa’s faithful

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 privately from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Iowa Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and various other conservative leaders at a two-day, all-expenses-paid Pastors Policy Briefing scheduled for March 9 and 10 in Des Moines.

“Meals and lodging are complimentary and will be provided by the Iowa Renewal Project,” reads the invitation.

It is hardly the first time a Pastors Policy Briefing has been held in Iowa or other states key to the presidential nomination process. The closed-door meetings have been a shadowy part of the Iowa Caucus landscape for at least the past eight years, and have helped elevate Republican candidates with specific religious ideologies.

Iowa pastors received invitations this week to a free "Pastors' Policy Briefing" in Des Moines hosted by the Iowa Renewal Project. The event is part of a national movement to elect people of a strict Christian faith.
Iowa pastors received invitations this week to a free “Pastors’ Policy Briefing” in Des Moines hosted by the Iowa Renewal Project. The event is part of a national movement to elect people of a strict Christian faith. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)

In the past, attendees have been given access to Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Haley Barbour, Rick Perry and a host of other behind-the-scenes national conservatives — 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 Iowa event falls under the national umbrella of David Lane’s American Renewal Project, an affiliate of the American Family Foundation.

Lane, a religious conservative and self-proclaimed “political operative,” said the event goal 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.” Recordings of previous Des Moines events have been provided to more than 5,000 churches as one path to that goal.

But exactly who is purchasing the hotel rooms and meals provided to Iowans or writing the checks for associated event costs is unclear. When asked directly about the funding source, Lane previously has declined to comment.

The few fire-and-brimstone speeches given at Renewal Project events that have made their way onto the Internet or into the media have created concern.

A 2008 Huckabee speech at a Florida Renewal Project event, for instance, was streamed by the American Family Association. Huckabee compared the United States to Nazi Germany, saying America would suffer the same fate so long as “seculars” led.

Lane has told politicians to “vote to restore the Bible and prayer in public schools or be sent home.”

The “us versus them” undertone of Huckabee’s and Lane’s statements brokers no debate. Those who deviate aren’t just different, but a threat — with whom there can be no compromise.

The pulpit politics promoted have pushed the Iowa GOP further toward religious extremism, and have cast unwarranted scrutiny on Iowa’s role in the presidential nomination process. They promulgate the belief that anything less than an anti-gay, anti-feminist, anti-tolerant, anti-any-religion-other-than-mine mind-set is not only unwelcome but inherently evil.

Why 2016 presidential hopefuls may want to hitch themselves to the extremist bandwagon should come as little surprise, especially when what they espouse will be kept behind press-free walls. But Iowans should ask themselves why Reynolds — promoter of STEM and preparing to celebrate Women’s History Month — is willing to stand with those who championed Missouri’s Todd Akin of “legitimate rape” fame.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on Feb. 25, 2015.