Perry Taps Anti-Gay Crusader and “Prayer Lady” for Florida Team

Rick Perry’s campaign has announced the co-chairs of his “leadership team” for the Presidency5 straw poll to be held in Florida later this week. Among the co-chairs are John Stemberger, president of the Focus on the Family affiliate Florida Family Policy Council and Pam Olsen, the “prayer lady” and founder of the Florida Prayer Network. Stemberger recently endorsed Perry.

In 2008, Stemberger (who this year said Mitt Romney wasn’t Mormon enough for him to support) endorsed Mike Huckabee. Stemberger, a lawyer, led the effort to get a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage (which was already banned by statute) on the ballot that same year. He helped organize the “Rediscovering God in America” Pastors’ Policy Briefing by the Florida Renewal Project, which focused on engaging pastors in the presidential campaign and was widely seen as supportive of Huckabee.

One of the key organizers of the Renewal Projects was David Lane, who told me in early 2008, “What we’re doing is the mobilization of pastors and pews to restore America to her Judeo-Christian heritage. That’s our goal.” Lane was the national finance chairman for Perry’s August prayer event, The Response. According to a recent report in the Los Angeles Times, Lane is working with the non-profit group United in Purpose, backed by Silicon Valley venture capitalists, which “is using sophisticated data-mining techniques to compile a database of every unregistered born-again and evangelical Christian and conservative Catholic in the country.” The Renewal Projects active in 2008 around the country were modeled on Lane’s Texas Restoration Project, which was intended to support Perry’s gubernatorial reelection bid. Its stated enemies included gays and later Muslims.

Just 12 days after The Response, Don Wildmon, whose American Family Association bankrolled the event, sent an email to registrants introducing the United in Purpose voter registration project Champion the Vote. Wildmon wrote, “research has shown that it takes only 5 million voters to influence the outcome of an election. This is a do-able goal, and Champion the Vote is seeking Champions – an army of volunteers — to help with the effort. A Champion is simply a Christian talking to other Christians about registering and voting.”

In November, United in Purpose will host “One Nation Under God” house parties, at which participants will watch video of speakers including Perry, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and the religious right historian David Barton. Both Gingrich and Barton were frequent speakers at Restoration and Renewal Project Pastors’ Policy Briefings.

Olsen is, according to the Miami Herald, “one of the most plugged-in evangelicals you’ve never heard of in Florida:”

She’s the founder and president of the Florida Prayer Network and she and husband Tenney are the pastors and founders of International House of Prayer in Tallahassee. A former higher-up at the Concerned Women for America of Florida, Olsen also served as southeast leader of the National Day of Prayer Task Force from 2001-09 and was co-chair of Gov. Rick Scott’s Inaugural Prayer Breakfast.

From the Florida Prayer Network website, its statement of principles:
We believe that God has ordained three basic institutions — the family, the church and the government — for the benefit of all humankind. The family exists to propagate the race and to provide a safe and secure haven in which to nurture, teach and love the younger generation. The church exists to minister to individuals and families by sharing the love of God and the message of repentance and salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ. The government exists to maintain cultural equilibrium and to provide a framework for social order.

We believe that the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man or woman avails much and can bring about revival in our state and nation. Therefore FPN will work to network with others for the cause of Christ. Prayer does reach the heart of God and will make a difference in the family, in the church and in government.

Olsen founded the Tallahassee International House of Prayer after she “received a prophetic word through Cindy Jacobs that God was going to use her as a mighty weapon against the enemy through the prayer movement and that He was going to raise up a physical location that would be a place of refuge for people, pastors and missionaries to come and pray.” (emphasis in original). International House of Prayer founder Mike Bickle and Jacobs were supporters of Perry’s The Response and Bickle spoke at length at the event.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email