New App Furthers Christian Right’s Redefined Notion of Religious Freedom

About Frederick Clarkson

The annual Christian Right political program— the Values Voters Summit which convenes on September 26 in Washington, DC— is often seen as a singular event. But like most such conventions, it is in many ways but a convergence of several traveling road shows. The Summit functions for the Christian Right as the kick-off of the home stretch of the 2014 election campaign season. And when the Summit is over, they will go back on the road through election day.

This year, the Family Research Council and other conveners of the Summit have been politically engaged in states where there are competitive races for major office such as governor and the U.S. Senate—while waging a large voter registration and mobilization campaign of their own.  They have also been updating their method of targeting churches for voter development, which used to be done largely by hand.

But now, there is an app for that.

Their strategic voter registration app allows pastors to compare their church membership lists with official voter registration files, so they can see who among their congregants they need to recruit into electoral life.

The behind the scenes communications agency United in Purpose has created or updated several online tools, including motivational and instructional videos aimed at pastors.  The California-based UiP is led by Bill Dallas, an ex-con and Tea Party activist, whose organization has made news in the last few election cycles by engaging in deep data mining, database building, and online tools for the ongoing short and long-term development of the Christian Right.  Their strategic voter registration app,

promoted by the UiP project Champion the Vote, allows pastors to compare their church membership lists with official voter registration files, so they can see who among their congregants they need to recruit into electoral life.

Their analysis is as simple as their goals are ambitious. United in Purpose claims that too few Christians of the right sort are registered, participating in public life, and sufficiently  grounded in a theocratic “Biblical worldview.”

Their effort to turn this around is called Project 75.  The stated mission is to “get pastors across the America to get 75% of their congregation educated in the Biblical worldview and voting accordingly on Election Day.  Of the 90 million Christians in the U.S., only 39 million of them vote in any given election or are even registered to vote. We believe that if Christian voters will make their voices heard on Election Day, we can bring about positive change in America.” 

To achieve their ends, UiP has developed a variety of voter education, registration and development tools with the aim of getting these “campaign materials” into “every ministry department, every Sunday School class, every small group within the church.”

UiP’s Champion the Vote claims that the reason all this is necessary is because, the government is “bent on taking power from the people” and that in order to accomplish this is to “eliminate, silence, or marginalize people of faith.”   They have a generic video  aimed at pastors everywhere, as well as ones created just for pastors in Arkansas and North Carolina.

Screenshot of United In Purpose's new online tools to help pastors find out if their church members are registered to vote.

Screenshot of United In Purpose’s new online tools to help pastors find out if their church members are registered to vote.

Not By Apps Alone

The plan to up conservative Christian voter participation in 2014 has been going on all year. For example, in March United in Purpose convened a national conservative “Voter Mobilization Strategy Summit” in Dallas. The event, UiP explained, “will bring together leaders of conservative organizations from around the country to brainstorm and strategize on how to get out the vote for the 2014 midterm elections.”

The event featured evangelical pollster George Barna, Christian historical revisionist David Barton of Texas-based WallBuilders, Rick Scarborough of Texas-based political organization Vision America, California megachurch pastor (and an organizer of the anti-marriage equality initiative, Prop 8), and right-wing demagogue Glenn Beck.

Vision America has been closely collaborating with Watchmen on the Wall, a “ministry” of  the Family Research Council, to host all expenses-paid “special briefings” for pastors, to “address the biblical, historical, legal and practical involvement of Christians in civil government for the purpose of spiritual renewal.”  They have organized a number of such events since Labor Day, including pastor-focused events in in Arkansas and Florida.  Speakers in Florida include, Rick Scarborough; Fox News host and former Arkansas  Gov. Mike Huckabee, John Stemberger, President of Florida Family Policy Council  (which is the state political affiliate of FRC and Focus on the Family) and Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Jerry Boykin, Craig James,  Kenyn Cureton, and Randy Wilson – all of the Family Research Council.   (All but Stemberger are also speaking at the Values Voters Summit in Washington, DC.)  These organizational partners are planning similar events in Kansas, Iowa and Alaska in October.

Tom Minnery, longtime head of Citizen Link, the national political arm of Focus on the Family recently sent out a fund raising email in an effort to get the final $200,000 of their goal of $2.8 million to “rally” a million voters to the polls. He also claimed to already have “35 trained field directors are recruiting an army of volunteers to make phone calls and knock on doors” in eight states with “key Senate races.”

Of course it is a political year, and organizations always have big goals, whether or not they are able to meet them.  But whatever their numerical goals, they are very clear that the purpose of their “massive election year effort” is in order to take advantage of what they call “an unusual opportunity to shift the balance of power in the Senate” (meaning towards the Republican Party) in the name of the three part agenda of the Manhattan Declaration, “life, marriage, and religious freedom.”

But to look at the conference agenda of the Values Voter Summit itself, religious freedom is first among the three equal agenda items this election year.  For its part, one of the organizational sponsors, the American Family Association’s action arm, goes so far as to say that the purpose of their voter guides and related activities is “to restore religious freedom.”  And they have the United in Purpose voter registration apps for your smart phone too.

The Air War 

The online and church-based political ground game is also enhanced this fall by two national broadcast air strikes in the Fall campaign.  On September 14th, the same groups sponsoring the Values Voter Summit, (the above mentioned plus Concerned Women for America) sponsored a 90 minute national web cast, called Star Spangled Sunday in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Star Spangled Banner. (Almost all of the speakers are also featured at VVS) It was broadcast from a large church in North Carolina, whose pastor, Rev. Mark Harris, had recently lost the GOP primary for U.S. Senate.  The event received considerable local press coverage. The Charlotte Observer reported that the event was headlined by two possible GOP candidates for president, Huckabee and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

“On Sunday night, each delivered a speech that sounded more like a sermon, quoting Scripture and asserting God’s role in America’s survival, through war, Depression and a power-hungry federal government.

“There is no explanation for America other than God’s hand of providence,” said Huckabee, who got cheers and a standing ovation. During the American Revolution, “it was a bunch of farmers and merchants and preachers who took the muskets off their mantels” and defeated what was then the most powerful military in the world.

Huckabee also called on the spirit of the War of 1812 to fire up the audience about America’s current conflict with the radical Muslims of ISIS.

For those who fear that these “sons of Ishmael” – Islamist militants – will prevail in the Middle East, Huckabee said, “I have read the end of the (Bible) and I can tell you that … our flag still stands.””

Star Spangled Sunday was used to promoted and broadcast a United in Purpose video called 1,2,3 Vote, which explains why and how pastors should encourage their congregants to vote.

A similar event called I Pledge Sunday will be broadcast on October 12th to rally conservative Christians in an appeal to political majoritarianism in the home stretch.  “With more than 75% of Americans calling themselves Christians it’s time for the Church to rise up and take action to turn the tide in our nation!  We have the numbers and we have a voice.  If we are silent, we have no one to blame but ourselves for a Godless America.”

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Frederick Clarkson, a Senior Research Analyst at Political Research Associates, has written about politics and religion for more than three decades. He is the author of Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy and editor of Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics in America. Follow him on Twitter at @FredClarkson.