Easy Targets

The infamous Dred Scott Supreme Court decision—declaring enslaved blacks to be property and presaging the Civil War—is often invoked by opponents of abortion rights, who make the analogy that Roe v. Wade is to fetuses as Dred Scott is to African Americans. Rod Parsley does them one better, arguing that Roe v. Wade is to African Americans just as Dred Scott is to African Americans.

Last week, the Ohio televangelist used his TV show to claim that reproductive health-care providers were trying to “exterminate” African Americans. On Sunday he aired a sermon version of the same argument—and paired it with a get-out-the-vote message for his viewers in Super Tuesday states. Warning that a candidate victorious in today’s primaries will likely become president, and will appoint Supreme Court justices and sign or veto abortion legislation, Parsley’s show told viewers, “Our democracy is too important for Christians to be silent any more.”

Parsley appears to have largely abstained from campaigning around the presidential election so far, but it’s hard to imagine him being apolitical in the coming year. In 2004 and 2006, Parsley and Russell Johnson, another Columbus-area megachurch pastor, teamed up to run a church-based political machine driving the successful anti-gay marriage initiative and the unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign of Ken Blackwell. Calling themselves “Patriot Pastors,” they vowed to wage war against their political opponents—“secular jihadists,” the “forces of darkness,” and the “hordes of hell.”

The Cleveland Plain Dealer caught up with Parsley’s comrade Johnson, who headed the Ohio Restoration Project alongside Parsley’s Reformation Ohio. The groups promised to save souls while moving hundreds of thousands of voters to the polls, all while hosting candidate Blackwell at events around the state. Johnson promises more “Patriot Pastor”-style organizing—but without being so blatant about it:

Johnson said he expects that Ohio’s Christian leadership will become more active once primary season is over, with varying emphasis on social issues, economics and national security from a conservative point of view. …

Johnson said political activity among preachers might look a little different than it did in the past, when he and the Rev. Parsley and their Patriot Pastors movement drew accusations of violating their churches’ tax-exempt status by campaigning for Blackwell. (The pastors denied that they officially backed any particular candidate.)

In any case, leaders don’t want to become “an easy target,” Johnson says, so they are unlikely to give themselves a moniker. But they will be spreading information through e-mail networks, creating discussion groups and voter guides, and urging people to “get registered, get informed, go vote and take somebody with you.”