The Bid to Turn Pastors into Politicians

“I saw that the skills of a successful politician are the same skills of a successful pastor. The skill set is about the same,” evangelical powerbroker David Lane tells David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network.

Charitably, one might think that what Lane means is pastors need to navigate disagreements, engage in diplomacy, or broker compromise. But I suspect that the shared skill set (or at least his ideal shared skill set) has more to do with theology than politicking and policymaking.

Brody went inside Lane’s Issachar Training, part of Lane’s push for 1,000 for pastors to run for office. “The men of Issachar are mentioned in the Bible,” Brody notes. “They were men who knew the times and acted.”

The training was held in Baton Rouge the day before The Response, the Christian prayer rally organized by the American Family Association and Lane’s American Renewal Project, and promoted by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. According to the Christian Examiner, Jindal wrote a letter promoting the training as well. “There is a great need for the kind of leaders we read about in the Old Testament, ‘The Men of Issachar’ (1 Chronicles 12:32),” wrote the governor and potential presidential candidate. “We need such men and women of wisdom today who will accept the challenge to restore our Judeo-Christian heritage in America.”

The “Men of Issachar” to which Jindal and Brody refer are members of the Tribe of Issachar, one of the lost tribes of Israel. In Jewish tradition, the Tribe of Issachar is known for dedication to religious study–not to politics, and certainly not for any commitment to “restore our Judeo-Christian heritage in America.”

Lane tells Brody that if each pastor running for mayor or school board or county council recruited 300 volunteers, then in 2016 “300,000 grassroots, precinct-level conservatives” would change America. “Somebody’s values are going to reign supreme,” Lane said. “Our values or somebody else’s values. It’s our goal to bring spiritual men and women into the civil government arena.”

Lane didn’t invent this idea, of course. Here’s Ralph Reed, formerly of the Christian Coalition (which had the same founder as the Christian Broadcasting Network, Pat Robertson), in a 1993 interview:

[I]f you were to elect a conservative president who embraced our entire agenda, you still could not govern if you don’t have state legislature, if you don’t have mayors, city councils, county commissions, zoning boards, school boards, all the way down to the local level. What we have learned is one of the essential and primary rules of American politics, which is that political effectiveness flows from the precinct upward; not from the Oval Office downward. There’s a verse in the New Testament which says, in which Christ is speaking to his Disciples, and he says, “He who is faithful in small things will be faithful in large things.” Before you want to be president, first learn how to do a good job on the school board.

Reed, who in 2011 resurrected his checkered career with the now-influential Faith and Freedom Coalition, added that the Christian Coalition and its allies had promoted between 500 and 1000 religious conservatives to run for office, and 40% of them won. He went on:

We saw, in July of this year, Mike Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, immediate past president of the Arkansas Baptist Convention, defeat Bill Clinton’s hand picked candidate for lieutenant governor of Arkansas. Currently the governor of Arkansas is engaged in some S&L problems, and it’s very possible that Mike Huckabee, who won that election, could be the next governor of Arkansas, entirely possible.

What Reed didn’t foresee is that Huckabee, now a model for Lane’s pastor initiative, would go on to serve nine years as Arkansas’ governor, and run for president (probably twice). Huckabee thinks that the Supreme Court shouldn’t get to decide what laws are unconstitutional, particular bans on same-sex marriage because God hasn’t given permission to do that. He thinks that the Supreme Court’s precedent striking down compulsory school prayer causes school shootings. Laws, he has said, come from God, not from a human hand, and our political order is threatened by a “humanistic, secular, atheistic, even antagonistic toward Christian faith.”

Just in case you wondered what Lane’s Men of Issachar might one day be up to.