ORLANDO, FL — On January 25, the Newt Gingrich campaign announced its Florida Faith Leaders Coalition, a group that “will spearhead faith outreach events and events leading up to the Florida primary and the general election.” On January 28, the campaign announced “nine new leaders for its Florida Faith Leaders Coalition.”
Gingrich has been reaching out for the votes of evangelicals, with appearances at three churches over the weekend, and an election day appearance at a Baptist church in Orlando that is serving as a polling place.
But three Florida pastors listed as members of the coalition tell me that they knew nothing about it, had not been contacted by the campaign, and had never agreed to serve in that capacity.
On Sunday, Pastor Scrivner Damon of New Life Community Church in North Palm Beach, who was listed on the January 28 announcement, looked at me, bewildered, when I asked him about the coalition. “Was I?” he asked, when I told him he was listed as a member. I showed him the announcement, and as he read it, he shook his head. “I have not done anything,” he said. “I haven’t even made up my mind who I’m going to vote for yet.”
When I called Pastor Doug Maners, of Catalyst Community Church in Orlando, who was also listed on the January 28 announcement, he laughed, and said, “I don’t think so. If I am, I didn’t know it.”
“I have not been involved at all,” said Maners. “I have some strong opinions, but most of the time I have to keep those to myself.”
When I asked Pastor Amar Rambissoon of Deeper Life Assembly in Orlando about being listed as a member of the Coalition, he said, “I am not aware of that.” Rambissoon said he had not been contacted by anyone from the Gingrich campaign.
Gingrich’s Florida faith effort is led by former state representative Kurt Kelly, who ran unsuccessfully in the Republican primary to challenge former Democratic Representative Alan Grayson for his U.S. House seat. Kelly lost in the GOP primary to Daniel Webster, who now represents Florida’s 8th Congressional district. Kelly is the owner of 3-D Background Screening, an employment background screening service in Ocala.
According to the Associated Press, Kelly told reporters on Sunday that “the candidate held a midweek conference call with an estimated 1,000 evangelical pastors around the state” last week. Leaders of Gingrich’s National Faith Leaders Coalition include the pollster George Barna, Left Behind author Tim LaHaye, California same-sex marriage opponent Pastor Jim Garlow, and American Family Association founder Don Wildmon.
The Gingrich campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.