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Iowa Renewal Project plans second 2011 Des Moines faith, politics event
Some members of Iowa’s faith community received an invitation in their mailbox this week from the Iowa Renewal Project, which is featuring Texas Gov. Rick Perry in an all-expenses-paid Pastors’ Policy Briefing in Des Moines next month.
The invitation differs little from those that have gone out previously to Iowa pastors and church leaders. It reads:
Iowa Renewal Project cordially invites you to participate in its Pastors’ Policy Briefing, “Rediscovering God in America,” with special guests historian David Barton, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, the honorable Bob McEwen and Governor Rick Perry, who will be accompanied by Pastor Ken Graves, Pastor Jason Taylor, attorney Kelly Shackelford, Dr. Don Wildmon and other guest speakers.
Gingrich was also a participant of a Pastors’ Policy Briefing held in Des Moines this past March. Others who appeared at that time — U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour — do not appear to be scheduled for a repeat performance at the upcoming two-day conference at the downtown Marriott. To his credit, this is hardly the first time that Gingrich has appeared at such an event in Iowa or elsewhere. Long before he began his quest for the White House, Gingrich was speaking at Pastors’ Policy Briefings and appeared beside Huckabee at one in Des Moines in 2007.
Although Perry has previously attended such meetings in his home state of Texas, this seems to the first time he will address members of the Iowa clergy. According to our sister site, The Texas Independent, Perry was scheduled to join Focus on the Family’s James Dobson and others during a Florida Pastors’ Policy Briefing. David Lane, a California-based activist who organized that event as well as Perry’s controversial religious conservative event “The Response” earlier this year, said other 2012 candidates had also been invited to speak in Florida.
“Meals and lodging are complimentary,” states the invitation, “and will be provided by the Iowa Renewal Project.”
It isn’t the first time that Iowa pastors have been invited to the state capital for a “Rediscovering God in America” policy briefing, and it also isn’t the first time that Iowa clergy have received marching orders from the Iowa Renewal Project.
According to invitation documents uncovered previously by The Iowa Independent, at least 14 states have had “renewal project” events. An invitation to a 2007 New Hampshire Renewal Project indicates the event in that state was “its first ever” and featured social conservatives Tim and Beverly LaHaye and evangelical historian Barton. The New Hampshire event was held just weeks before the Granite State held its first-in-the-nation primary.
Shortly after the New Hampshire affair, then Louisiana Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal held a “Pastors’ Inaugural Prayer Breakfast” that was hosted by the Louisiana Renewal Project. In addition to Jindal and social conservatives featured in the upcoming Iowa program, Perry was also listed as an attendee.
At least 13 states have played host to “renewal project” gatherings: California (twice, one being specific to San Diego), Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, Texas, Louisiana and South Carolina. Although many speakers remain the same from state to state, special guests have include Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, Lt. Col. Oliver North, Jerry Falwell and U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint.
What goes on behind the closed doors of the conferences isn’t well known. At the beginning of a 2007 conference in Des Moines, a speaker began the program by announcing the meeting was private and intended only for the members of clergy and church leaders present. In no uncertain terms, members of the media were told to leave. It was at that same conference, through the ballroom doors, that another speaker could be heard telling those in attendance to “set your pulpits on fire” and place the fear of God into congregants in relation to the upcoming 2008 election as well as government policy discussions on education and a wide variety of issues traditionally championed by the religious right such as marriage and abortion.
An insert included with the latest invitation appears to be little more than a copy-paste production of that attributed to Huckabee that was distributed earlier this year, which was nearly identical to wording by Perry that was included in an invitation to a Texas Restoration Project event years earlier. For this conference, however, the dialogue (shown in the accompanying graphic) is supposedly coming “from the desk of David Barton.”
Others named on the Iowa invitation are:
Ken Graves — founder and pastor of Calvary Chapel near Bangor, Maine. During the lead-up to a 2009 ballot question on same-sex marriage, Graves produced and distributed a 30-second ad that urged residents to overthrow a law passed by Maine lawmakers and signed by its governor that allowed same-sex marriage.
“You see these commercial of two happy moms, or two happy dads and happy siblings — when in fact they are not happy families. They are depressed,” Graves told reporter Joe Garofoli before admitting that he didn’t actually know any gay couples. Graves said he relies on the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family for his information about homosexuality.
Ultimately, 53 percent of Maine voters chose to overturn the law.
Don Wildmon — is the founder and serves as chairman emeritus of the Mississippi-based American Family Association, which bankrolled Bob Vander Plaats’ opposition of the Iowa Supreme Court. Wildmon was ordained as a United Methodist Church minister in 1964, but left the calling roughly a decade later to campaign against immorality by founding the National Federation for Decency in 1977. The organization was renamed the American Family Association in 1988. Following a lengthy hospital stay in 2009 and surgery for eye cancer, Wildmon stepped down as leader of the AFA, basically turning over the organization to his son, Tim Wildmon.
Kelly Shackelford — has been, since 1997, the president and chief executive of Plano, Texas-based Liberty Institute, a merger of the Free Market Foundation and the Liberty Legal Institute. Earlier this summer, Shackelford offered his signature to an open letter to “Conservative, Catholic and Evagelical Leaders” organized by right-wing activist and former California lawmaker Steve Baldwin. The letter asked the church leaders to refuse to support former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s campaign for president, stating “a Romney candidacy would be disastrous for the conservative movement and for the country” and noting that Romney “continues to support many aspects of the homosexual agenda even today.” Shackelford was also a speaker at a similar 2008 Texas event that also featured Perry.