Columbus, Ohio area megachurch pastors Rod Parsley and Russell Johnson have been at the center of the race for governor, having organized a network of so-called “Patriot Pastors” through rallies and events starring the Republican candidate, Ken Blackwell. At one point, the web site of Johnson’s Ohio Restoration Project featured detailed plans for a statewide rallies and voting registration drives featuring Blackwell and timed to influence the primary and general elections, and even a 30-second radio spot also featuring Blackwell.
In January, a group of more than 30 religious leaders from the Columbus area signed a letter accusing Parsley and Johnson of “flagrant political campaign activities” and asking the IRS to investigate whether they are using their churches’ tax-exempt status unfairly in the governor’s race. Parsley, Johnson, and even Blackwell immediately fired back, accusing the other ministers of launching a “secular jihad against expressions of faith,” as Johnson put it. “You tell those 31 bullies that you aren’t about to be whupped,” Blackwell said at a “Patriot Pastors” meeting organized by Johnson.
Parsley, Johnson, and Blackwell appeared Monday in a CBN news segment on “ACLJ This Week,” the television show of Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice, to reiterate their claims of innocence and persecution. “We have never in any way endorsed a candidate for any public office,” said Parsley, apparently referring to an act of explicitly saying something like “I endorse Ken Blackwell.” Similarly, Johnson said, “We do not endorse candidates. We do not give money to candidates. This is not a political PAC. But nothing in the Constitution says that Christians have to check their citizenship at the door.” Johnson added that “These people, candidly, are trying to intimidate people of faith” – even though “these people” are also ministers and rabbis, presumably “people of faith” themselves.
Blackwell, the beneficiary of Parsley’s and Johnson’s attentions, cites the First Amendment – not the part about freedom of expression, but rather the clause on freedom of religion, suggesting that Blackwell sees rallies and events railing against gays and abortion and honoring Blackwell with awards as somehow a form of worship.