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October 21, 2005

'Moral reformation' group sets its sights on Ohio

Columbus--Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender-affirming clergy, lawmakers and activists staged a counter-offensive to an anti-gay �spiritual revival� and political rally launched by television evangelist Rod Parsley at the Ohio Statehouse last Friday.

Parsley�s rally, featuring music and a giant video screen, kicked off his new Reformation Ohio project. It is described as a four-year effort with three major goals: Present the gospel to one million people and get at least 100,000 to accept Jesus as their savior, do charitable works for Ohio�s needy--and register at least 400,000 new voters.

Parsley claims the organization is non-partisan, but operationally it mirrors the agenda of conservative Republicans, especially that of Ohio secretary of state and gubernatorial candidate Kenneth Blackwell.

�Reformation Ohio is a partnership of several local and national ministries, which have determined to bring spiritual revival and moral reformation to the state over the next four years,� says the group�s web site.

That �moral reformation� includes condemnation of GLBT people, Muslims and others not in agreement with Parsley.

Moments before the October 14 rally, the statewide GLBT advocacy organization Equality Ohio held a press event across from the Statehouse denouncing the effort as divisive and undemocratic.

Parsley�s event drew 1,000 people--twice the number that turned out for Equality Ohio�s Homecoming rally in the same place on October 1. Many of these were bused in from his 5,200-seat World Harvest megachurch in suburban Canal Winchester.

The counter-event was held on the steps of Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square and included six speakers and 30 in attendance to speak to the media.

From the dais, Rev. Grayson Atha of King Avenue United Methodist Church, Stonewall Columbus Interfaith Coordinator Rev. Phil Hart, Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer of the United Church of Christ and Dr. Ahmed Al-Akhras, president of the Center on Islamic American Relations of Ohio represented a very different world view than Parsley and his speakers.

Atha said that if Parsley succeeds, �freedom as we know it will temporarily falter� and compared Reformation Ohio to Hitler, segregationists and Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy, whose anti-Communist witchhunt was a low point of the 1950s.

�All three,� said Atha, �proposed the elimination, curtailing or silencing of certain groups they didn�t like,� adding that Parsley and his followers see gays and Muslims as a hindrance to be dealt with. Atha spoke from the dais, as did Al-Ahkras, who said, �It is disturbing that someone in the cloak of a religious leader would espouse such hatred.�

Equality Ohio director Lynne Bowman stressed that Ohio needs to be a welcoming place for all people �regardless of their beliefs, their religion, their race, their national origin, or their sexual orientation.

�There is nothing wrong with encouraging your followers to engage in the political process,� said Rabbi David Horowitz of Akron, �But when one religious sect labels others who don�t conform as �inferior� or �immoral� then that threatens the American ideal of religious freedom.�

Horowitz and Rev. Paul Schwitzgebel, a hospital chaplain from Canton, delivered their statements among reporters.

�We have government of all the people, by all the people, and for all the people,� said Schwitzgebel, �not just those who claim themselves to be morally superior. Ohioans who share that belief must recognize the damage that could be done to both church and state by groups like Reformation Ohio.�

State representatives Dan Stewart and Joyce Beatty, both Democrats of Columbus, spoke in opposition to Parsley�s vision of creating an Ohio theocracy, as did U.S. Rep. and Ohio gubernatorial candidate Ted Strickland, also a Democrat.

Strickland, who is also an ordained Methodist minister, cancelled another engagement to appear with Equality Ohio.

His Democratic opponent Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman was invited, but did not attend. Leading Republican contender Kenneth Blackwell appeared with Parsley.

A large enterprise

In addition to the Canal Winchester church, Parsley�s enterprises include its associated World Harvest Bible College and Harvest Preparatory School. He produces the Breakthrough television broadcast.

Parsley also heads the Center for Moral Clarity, which he says was founded to �be a bridge connecting the church to the moral issues facing our society, empowering the church to once again be a mighty voice in America.�

The center�s website hosts Reformation Ohio�s site and the two are nearly indistinguishable.

Although they are separate, Parley�s activities are allied with Rev. Russell Johnson�s Ohio Restoration Project to recruit �Patriot Pastors� to motivate their congregations to vote for issues and candidates to their liking.

Both groups were spawned from last year�s campaigns to pass Ohio�s marriage ban amendment re-elect of George W. Bush.

Johnson and Parsley promoted both efforts. Johnson�s church is in Lancaster, ten miles from Parsley�s.

�Disciplined� program to accept gays

Parsley�s political and religious views are outlined in his book Silent No More.

�Homosexuals are anything but happy and carefree,� says Parsley in the book. �The pressure on society to accept the audacious behaviors and disastrous consequences of homosexual activity is not a matter of cultural drift or shifting mores. It is a carefully orchestrated, highly organized, and extremely disciplined political program.�

On Islam, Parsley says, �America has historically understood herself as a bastion against Islam in the world.�

�Yet what makes this conflict with Islam so desperate is that Islam is not just another belief system at odds with Christianity,� writes Parsley. �Islam is, instead, a faith that fully intends to conquer the world. It cannot be ignored. It must be answered.�

State Rep. Linda Reidelbach of Columbus, a Republican, sponsored an Ohio House commendation to Parsley and his project. She was joined by Reps. Diana Fessler of New Carlisle, Larry Flowers of Canal Winchester, Stephen Buehrer of Delta, Mike Gilb of Findlay, Tom Brinkman of Cincinnati, and Jim Aslanides of Coshocton, all Republicans.

House commendations are made on behalf of the sponsors, with no vote.

Parsley�s program, which has been described as a highly choreographed revival meeting, included speeches from U.S. Senator Sam Brownback, an archconservative anti-gay Republican from Kansas considering a presidential run in 2008, and U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, a Republican from North Carolina who is most famous for renaming French fries �freedom fries� when France refused to back the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Brownback said, �We need a culture that buttresses our families, not attacks them. We need a society that honors good and condemns what is bad.�

The most celebrated speaker was Blackwell, who praised the project saying, �Reformation Ohio is about history-making times, reforming the culture.�

Blackwell co-chaired Bush�s Ohio campaign and campaigned vigorously for the passage of the Ohio constitution�s marriage ban. At a Toledo area campaign stop in a church, Blackwell compared gay and lesbian couples to barnyard animals.

To wild applause, Parsley said, �Sound an alarm. A Holy Ghost invasion is taking place. Man your battle stations, ready your weapons, lock and load.�

Coleman gives mixed signals

The two October 14 events put Columbus mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Michael Coleman under heightened scrutiny by both camps.

Coleman reportedly backed out of appearing with Parsley after protests led by the Stonewall Democrats of Central Ohio. The mayor has been GLBT-affirming and generally supported by the group.

Parsley announced in church and put out a statement to the press October 9 that Coleman�s wife Frankie was going to present him with a proclamation from the mayor at the Statehouse event.

Coleman�s gubernatorial campaign denied that was ever true but waited until October 13, a day before the event, to issue a statement saying so. Subsequent statements by the mayor and the campaign were less definitive, and suggested otherwise.

According to campaign spokesperson Dan Trevas, the Colemans and the Parsleys know each other.

�The church is in Columbus and they have other issues,� said Trevas. �But they are not political allies and never have been.�

Trevas said a request for a mayoral proclamation was considered because �[Restoration Ohio] is not the Center for Moral Clarity and not his church. Parsley separates them. It�s a newly founded organization.�

Trevas said the proclamation request may have also been confused with one praising the church for its hurricane relief work.

Another factor is campaign staffer Danni Palmore, who attends World Harvest Church. Trevas read notes from conversations involving Palmore indicating Frankie Coleman�s intent to deliver the proclamation.

�[Palmore] did not assess this to be a partisan event,� said Trevas, initially saying that the campaign �nixed it� when it learned that Brownback and Jones were appearing.

Palmore has since been made the campaign�s political director.

Trevas said the campaign took so long issuing a statement opposing the event because, �we wanted to consider ways to say what we were saying. We wanted to find statements by Brownback and Jones� that suggested their views.

Asked if Parsley�s views on gays, Muslims, and other issues, which are well known and well-publicized, were enough by themselves to refuse the proclamation, Trevas said he didn�t know, again stating it was a �different thing.�

More confusing, campaign manager Greg Haas told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that Coleman�s intent was to appear with Parsley and �ambush� him, using the proclamation as an opportunity to chastise him for his intolerant views.

Trevas confirmed that report.

Meanwhile, the Stonewall Democrats, Equality Ohio, BRAVO and Columbus council member Mary Jo Hudson began mobilizing a campaign to dissuade Coleman�s appearance with Parsley.

Through Trevas, the campaign responded in an October 12 email, �The mayor�s values are clear, and his message Friday will be consistent with his faith and values. We do not think you will be disappointed.�

To the GLBT activists, that message sounded like he would appear with Parsley.

The following day, Coleman turned down Equality Ohio�s invitation to appear at their counter-rally, saying he had to be in Dayton.

Stonewall Democrats vice president Don Geiner blames the campaign�s slow response for the friction.

�The Coleman people were so secretive about this,� said Geiner. �I wouldn�t expect even 24 hours to respond to somehing like this. A two-second email saying we�re not doing it and it�s just a misunderstanding would have done it.�

Geiner said they were further surprised by what was happening because it was not consistent with Coleman�s views.

�We were taken aback by no straight answer.�

�Coleman should never have done anything with this group,� said Geiner, �I don�t know what the campaign thought it had to gain.�

Geiner said the Stonewall Democrats don�t endorse in next year�s gubernatorial primary, �but we are pleased that Strickland took the invitation [to appear with Equality Ohio] and that will have an effect on individual members.�

Coleman issued a statement October 13 saying he was never scheduled to participate in Parsley�s events and asserting his �clear record� of championing equal rights for everyone.




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