David Lane, a Christian nationalist political operative who helped rally conservative evangelicals to vote for Donald Trump, is gearing up his 2020 operations, starting with an event this week at Liberty University, which is led by Jerry Falwell Jr., one of Trump’s most energetic Religious Right boosters. Trump spiritual adviser Paula White is among the evangelical leaders on Team Trump expected to take part.
Lane has called the separation of church and state a “lie” and a “fabricated whopper” designed to stop “Christian America—the moral majority—from imposing moral government on pagan public schools, pagan higher learning and pagan media.”
Lane, who believes the U.S. has a national mission to advance the Christian faith, has been organizing “pastors and pews” events since the mid-1990s to encourage conservative evangelical pastors to become more politically engaged. Many Republican officeholders have taken part in Lane’s events, including then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016.
The upcoming event at Liberty was reported by the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody, who Lane has counted on over the years to provide reliably friendly media coverage. In his CBN story, Lane quoted Mike Huckabee saying that “the pastor and pews model was instrumental in the 2016 election of President Trump,” and in other races. According to Brody, Lane’s American Renewal Project spent $9 million in six battleground states.
In recent years, Lane has also encouraged pastors to run for office themselves, hoping that their ability to mobilize hundreds of congregants as volunteers could not only put them in office but help elect other conservatives on the ballot. Lane did not come close to his 2016 goal of getting 1,000 pastors to take up his call to candidacy, but according to Brody, he got about 200 to run in 2016, 300 in 2018, and is aiming for 1,000 in 2020. Brody reports that in Missouri in 2018, six pastors ran for office and five won, three of them capturing seats in the state legislature.
Lane’s own pastor, Rob McCoy, failed in a bid for the California legislature in 2014 but then successfully ran for the city council in Thousand Oaks, California, where he now serves as mayor. McCoy says he has spoken to 15,000 pastors in his travels with the American Renewal Project. Earlier this year, McCoy told Religious Right broadcaster Andrew Wommack that Mike Pence had credited the American Renewal Project with helping to put Trump into the White House. Of course, Lane’s organizing was just one of many Religious Right efforts to turn out conservative evangelicals in 2016, which will be true again in 2020.
Last year, Lane and McCoy and their allies made a big push in California, holding multiple training sessions for conservative evangelical pastors. On the weekend before the 2018 election, McCoy participated in “Engage California,” a gathering organized by one of his fellow Calvary Chapel pastors. He complained about California Christians who have not voted in past elections, saying, “Had Christians just decided to show up, we would dominate every election up and down the state.”
“We will not lose this state,” he said, encouraging attendees to call as many people as they could before the election. As for the more than 7 million Christians in California he said haven’t registered to vote, “we’re gonna get them in the next election.”
A blue wave in California swamped Lane’s efforts last year, with one of his supporters losing an Orange County congressional race, one of the four Republican-held seats in the historically conservative county that voters delivered to Democrats. After the election, Lane complained that Democratic Governor-elect Gavin Newsom was elected “by California evangelicals who stayed home on Election Day.”
One of Lane’s apparent 2018 victories—the election night victory declared by Mark Harris in a North Carolina congressional district—evaporated when state officials refused to certify the results in the face of evidence of ballot fraud by a Harris campaign operative. After testimony by Harris’s son publicly contradicted his father’s statements, Harris withdrew, leaving the seat vacant. It will be filled by a special election set for September 10, 2019.