From Pulpits of Ohio, a Mixed Message

November 4, 2008 at 2:44 am Leave a comment

rod-parsley.jpgSix months ago, Rev. Rod Parsley was one of the more prominent
evangelicals to hail Sen. John McCain as a “strong, true, consistent
conservative.” 

But two days before the election, in a state central to Mr.
McCain’s hopes, Rev. Rod Parsley preached to his vast congregation at
World Harvest Church of hellfire and “circling in on a fight with the
eternal forces of darkness” without ever mentioning Mr. McCain.

In part, Mr. Parsley’s choice could reflect the vagaries of
presidential politics. Mr. McCain was forced to disavow the reverend
last spring. At that time, church tapes revealed that Mr. Parsley had
repeatedly claimed that America was founded, in part, to destroy the
“false religion” of Islam.

Not all evangelical churches remained silent in Ohio. And a visit
to the web site of the World Harvest Church leaves little doubt about
Rev. Parsley’s sympathies for the Republican ticket.

Still, some who have studied the evangelical movement divine signs
of splintering, as younger evangelicals begin to assert their own
political identity. And Barack Obama has courted them with great ardor.

“You are starting to see some fragmentation; it could be that the
days of a monolithic bloc of evangelicals are over,” said Mark Caleb
Smith, director of the Center for
Political Studies at Cedarville University, a Christian school. “The
children of the first generation of evangelical leaders are of voting
age and they are questioning old allegiances.

“Whether this is a longer term fracture or something that owes to Barack Obama is not yet clear.”

Mr. Obama also has built on Democratic advances in Ohio. Democratic
Gov. Ted Strickland is an evangelical, and a master at mining for votes
in culturally conservative precincts of this state. He recently took
Mr. Obama for a campaign swing through the southeastern Appalachian
hill counties.

“We’ve tried to reach out to the churches recently; we haven’t
shied away,” said Joseph Mudra, Democratic Party chairman in Ross
County in rural central Ohio. “And the economy is getting evangelicals’
attention too.”

On the Democratic side, pastors in a number of the historically
black churches all but openly endorsed Mr. Obama. And white pastors in
liberal leaning congregations such as the First Congregational Church,
United Church of Christ in Columbus, showered praise on Mr. Obama
without handing down an endorsement.

So last Sunday, Rev. Timothy Ahrens noted in his sermon: “What
excites me today about the historic race of Barack Obama is that we
have reached the place in our country’s leader that a biracial leader
can ascend to the office of president. Whether he wins or loses, this
candidacy is remarkable.”

Still Mr. Parsley’s silence was perhaps most intriguing yesterday,
speaking to the unease some evangelicals still feel with Mr. McCain,
even faced with the possibility of a victory by a pro-choice Democratic
candidate.

“Evangelicals have had stormy relations with McCain,” noted Mr.
Smith. “They don’t feel nearly the same strong connection to him that
they did to President Bush.”

Mr. McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate assuaged some of the doubts felt by evangelicals.

“She’s real and she connects with them,” said Gene Pierce, a
Republican political consultant who has worked with evangelical
churches. “She may not be perfect in her life, but you know what,
that’s why a lot of the evangelicals go to church on Sunday.”

Still, he added, it is not clear if her personality is sufficient
to breath life into Mr. McCain with evangelicals. “She’s a talent for
the future in this party,” Mr. Pierce said.

Source: New York Times

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Entry filed under: Christian, National. Tags: , , , , , , .

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