Group Starts Move to Get Converts, Voters

Associated Press in NY Times/October 14, 2005

Columbus, Ohio -- A new coalition dedicated to converting thousands to Christianity and getting thousands more on voter registration lists got its start Friday with a tightly scripted rally that resembled a revival meeting.

More than 1,000 people gathered outside the Statehouse for the launch of Reformation Ohio. The group, founded by the Rev. Rod Parsley, a television evangelist and pastor of the World Harvest Church in suburban Columbus, vehemently opposes gay rights, and Parsley has written that the teachings of Islam were inspired by demons.

The group's formation comes after last November's election in which Christian conservatives helped pass a gay-marriage ban in Ohio and give President Bush the electoral votes he needed to claim victory.

Speakers included U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, a Republican from Kansas who is considering a White House run in 2008; Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., and Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor next year.

Blackwell, who also won Brownback's endorsement Friday, praised the efforts of Parsley and others to sign up new voters. Parsley's goal is to add 400,000 people to voter rolls.

''Reformation Ohio is about history-making times, reforming the culture,'' Blackwell said. ''We are a government that governs only with the consent of the governed.''

Brownback, who has emerged as a leading skeptic of President Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court, said the nation is engaged in a cultural struggle.

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

Parsley said voter registration is secondary to Reformation Ohio's two main objectives: converting 100,000 people to Christianity within four years and providing food, clothing and other necessities to the needy. He sent his followers from the Statehouse on an evangelical note.

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

Participants were mostly members of Parsley's church, with many entire families in attendance. A production staff choreographed the event, much like Parsley's broadcasts from his church, with directors huddled inside a tent and cameras throughout the grounds, including one mounted on a small crane that hovered over the crowd.

Tying evangelical gospel to voter registration is a new phenomenon, said Mark Rozell, a public policy professor at George Mason University who studies political mobilization by religious groups. ''Most of these types of groups don't tend to mix these activities in the same venue, at least not so overtly,'' Rozell said.

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