An effort to recruit 1,000 pastors to run for political office in 2016 has already signed up 90. This weekend, organizers hope to add to that number from a pool of more than 350 people attending a campaign training session in South Carolina.
Led by conservative activist David Lane, the American Renewal Project’s program is called the Issachar Training, after the Israelite tribe “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do,” as a Bible verse has it.
More than 350 people are registered for the event, which takes place in North Charleston just before the Response, a prayer rally supported by the South Carolina Baptist Convention Saturday. That includes about 100 women, mostly pastors’ wives, who are also encouraged to run for local, state or national office.
“Believers have been comfortable taking a back seat. We need a bigger place at the table,” pastor Mitch Brooks, who leads the South Baptist Church in Belton, S.C., says. “We believe that, in a lot of areas, we have some insight into what the country ought to do.”
During a Friday session, pastors will learn “Campaign Mechanics 101,” including messaging and setting up a finance committee. They’ll also hear from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a likely 2016 presidential contender.
“You cannot disconnect the man in the pulpit from the man on the political campaign trail anymore than you can disconnect the doctor in the operating room from his daily life if he sees an emergency taking place,” Brad Atkins, head of the ARP’s South Carolina branch, says. “The oath he took as a physician will guide him, and it will lead him to action just as the men and women who enter into politics will be led by their covenant with their maker.”
Apart from training pastors, the American Renewal Project is also seeking to influence the political debate through more traditional routes. The group hosted an an Iowa event in February this year for Republican National Committee members to hear conservative presidential candidates lecture on God’s role in politics, and it took a group of RNC members on a free trip to Israel that same month.
Not all attendees at the Issachar Training harbor political ambitions, but they see the training as a step toward “reclaiming American Exceptionalism.”
“I haven’t really gotten that call yet,” Mike Gonzalez, executive director of the South Carolina Pastors Alliance, says. “But if I do go into politics, I want to have campaigning under my belt.”
Correction: This post initially gave the incorrect name for Brad Atkins and incorrectly identified the role of the South Carolina Baptist Convention in the Response prayer rally.
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