In 2005 the Texas Restoration Project hosted a series of events to recruit pastors in support of Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s re-election campaign the following year. Essentially the same group of religious-right leaders — now organized as the Texas Renewal Project — is preparing to do the same thing in support Attorney General Greg Abbott’s campaign to replace Perry as governor in this year’s elections.
The Texas Renewal Project plans a “Rediscovering God in America” Pastors’ Policy Briefing for April 3-4 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Austin. Lodging and meals will be free for pastors who attend. The Texas Restoration Project spent more than $1 million in 2005 to host pastors at six “briefings” featuring Gov. Perry in Austin, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. Speakers encouraged the thousands of pastors and their spouses attending those events to return home and politicize their congregations. Then in the final days of the 2006 election campaign, the pastors on the Texas Restoration Project’s contact list were invited to participate in a conference call in which religious-right leaders and Republican activists urged pastors to get out the vote.
Some of the speeches at the 2005 “Pastors’ Policy Briefings” featured especially incendiary and even violent rhetoric. Texas preacher Dwight McKissic, for example, suggested at one “briefing” that God might have sent Hurricane Katrina to destroy New Orleans as a punishment for tolerance of homosexuality. The rhetoric at this year’s Austin event for Abbott is likely to be similarly heated. Here’s an excerpt from the invitation sent to pastors:
“America and our Judeo Christian heritage is under attack by a force that is more destructive than any threat America has faced for decades. Over the past year or two, we have been declared to be ‘not a Christian nation'; a response is necessary from those who believe that while government itself should not establish a faith, our principles are rooted in the notion that we are the result of providence and a dynamic Creator. Defeating the radicals who wish to ignore or revise our history will require renewed resolve and spiritual rearmament by the evangelical pastors in America….
Because God has entrusted you to care for His flock, you are a critical component to reclaiming the centrality of God in American life and confronting the evil that faces us now. At a time when Congress is busy trying to legislate defeat, we are inviting you to a Pastors’ Policy Briefing that will help you engage the battle, to walk point.”
It took more than two years of research before we were able to discover that Perry campaign donors funneled the bulk of $1.2 million in funds through a private foundation to pay for the 2005 Restoration Project briefings. It’s unclear at this point who is paying the tab for the April briefing that features Abbott. The American Family Association (AFA), which is on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of hate groups, has paid for similar Renewal Project events in presidential election battleground states in recent years. AFA’s founder, Don Wildmon, is listed as a guest speaker at the Austin event.
In fact, the Austin event will feature many of the same speakers and guests who are regulars at other Renewal Project events around the country. They include David Barton and William Federer, both described as “historians” on the invitation. In fact, neither are trained historians. (Federer, for example, has an accounting degree.) Both are conservative evangelicals who reject separation of church and state. Other speakers/guests listed on the invitation include Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.
This isn’t the first time Abbott has associated with some of the most extreme leaders of the religious right. Last spring a Houston-based organization headed by extremist Dave Welch presented Abbott with a special award. Welch compares Democrats as well as pastors who acknowledge President Obama’s Christian faith to Nazis, calls Houston Mayor Annise Parker a “sodomite,” and has attacked clergy who accept the science of evolution as “no more Christian than the chimpanzees from which he or she claims to have evolved.” Then just days after Abbott accepted his award from Welch’s group, Welch called supporters of marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples “enemies of God” and called on Christians to pray for their destruction. It’s unclear whether Welch will be among those attending the Austin pastors’ “briefing” with Abbott.