Right-wing church movements have been a staple of American
politics since well before the 1692 witch trials at Salem. But only in the past
few decades has the extremist church served as the grassroots base for a new
breed of corporate totalitarianism. That unholy union has been nowhere more
powerful than here in Ohio, and it has finally provoked a response from the
state�s mainstream churches.
With huge torrents of cash from Richard Mellon Scaife, the
Ahmanson family and other super-rich ultra-rightists, the fundamentalist church
has formed the popular network that has spawned the Bush catastrophe. The
totalitarian alliance between pulpit, corporation and military is unique in
With contempt for the Constitution, and unholy opposition to
separation of church and state, ultra-rich, ultra-right preachers like Pat
Robertson and Jerry Falwell, self-proclaimed messiahs like Rev. Moon, and
sanctimonious errand boys like Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist, have turned
America into a �Christo-fascist� empire whose twice-unelected executive claims
Divine right to rule. When it comes to their views on violence, empire, greed
and intolerance, these are the most un-Christian men in America. It�s no
accident that George W. Bush�s first words about the war to follow 9/11 had to
do with a �Christian Crusade� against Islam. And, instead of consulting his
father, a former president, W. chose to consult �a higher father.�
That this evil network of mega- churches, cults and
electronic Elmer Gantrys would prove profoundly corrupt should also come as no
surprise. These are the moneychangers that Christ kicked out of the temple. The
ultra-orthodox cash flow from Jack Abramoff to �godly� legislators like Tom
DeLay and Ohio�s Bob Ney has suffered not the slightest diversion toward true
spirituality. The movement even has its own sex symbol in Ann Coulter, the
�Harlot of Hate� who reaps huge sums in places like Ohio�s World Harvest Church
for talking nasty while dressed in mini-skirts that would get minors arrested
on urban street corners.
The real mystery in all this has been an almost total
silence from the religious mainstream. In recent months a number of statements
have finally come from interdenominational organizations worrying deeply about
global warming. The desecration of God�s Creation is pretty far along. But the
liberal denominations finally seem to see the curse of C02.
The liberal United Church of Christ is also finally
questioning the theft of Christ�s legacy for ungodly GOP purposes. The idea
that Jesus would hate gays, not want them to marry, love the death penalty and
sanction wholesale slaughter in oil-rich nations has always stretched the
imagination even of the irreligious. Finally, the actually religious seem to be
In Ohio, the battle has actually hit the courts. More than
50 Columbus-area clergy have signed formal complaints with the Internal Revenue
Service demanding an investigation of the practices of two extremist churches
in regards to their tax exempt status. The two documents charge that the World
Harvest Church and Fairfield Christian Church have functioned as de facto
campaign organizations for the gubernatorial campaign of J. Kenneth Blackwell,
Ohio�s GOP Secretary of State. Blackwell served as co-chair of Ohio 2004�s
Bush-Cheney campaign while simultaneously managing the vote count.
Thirty-one pastors filed a preliminary complaint on January
16. The sequel, with an additional 25 signatories, accuses World Harvest and
Fairfield Christian of six instances of illegally aiding Blackwell�s current
campaign for governor. �Something as ordinary as rules for the activities of
tax-exempt organizations must not be abused for the political gratification of
any power, political or religious,� said the Rev. Al Debelak at a recent press
conference. Debelak is pastor of Columbus�s Redeemer Lutheran Church.
The pastors cite three instances in which Blackwell admits
to being the only invited candidate at church-sponsored rallies. Blackwell was
also the only politician at church-sponsored rallies for Issue One, the 2004
referendum that banned gay marriages in Ohio. Blackwell also ran the Issue One
campaign, in part, out of his secretary of state�s office.
Blackwell has become very public in his close friendship
with the Rev. Rod Parsley, World�s Harvest�s ultra-right preacher who has grown
ultra-rich in the leadership of his huge congregation. Blackwell�s trips on
Parsley�s private plane are among the partisan favors cited. �This latest
complaint filed by a group of left-leaning clergy amounts to nothing more than
a campaign of harassment,� says a World Harvest statement. �For this group,
especially members of the clergy, to engage in outright falsehoods for the sake
of a political agenda is unconscionable.�
World Harvest gained notoriety in the 2004 election for its
abundant electronic voting machines while there were seven-hour lines in
Columbus�s inner city. A polling station at a Falwell-related fundamentalist
church in nearby Gahanna became infamous when 4,258 votes were counted for
George W. Bush in a precinct where 638 people voted. This became known
worldwide as the �loaves and fishes� vote count precinct. The
Blackwell-orchestrated election drew similar scorn when at Mt. Vernon Nazarene
College, a fundamentalist college in Gambier, had a five-minute wait to vote,
while students from nearby Kenyon College had to wait 11 hours.
Big fundamentalist money
has also surfaced in the voting machine industry through the Ahmanson family,
tied deeply into ES&S, the nation�s biggest voting machine company. Ohio
Congressman Bob Ney�s ties to Jack Abramoff, ES&S and the Ahmansons have
also surfaced in his sponsorship of the Help America Vote Act, that has forced
hundreds of millions of federal dollars to be spent installing nontransparent
electronic voting machines throughout the US.
Like Ney, Blackwell has managed to step deep into the world
of potentially actionable corruption. Since attempting to give Diebold Election
Systems a no-bid $100 million voting machine contract in Ohio, it has surfaced
that Blackwell has owned shares in Diebold. The conflict of interest was
deepened in 2005 when Blackwell brought in millions of dollars worth of Diebold
machines which may have been used to seal the defeat of two election reform
ballot issues. Three Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) election officials have now
been officially charged with rigging the 2004 vote count, and more indictments
Though Blackwell is a candidate in the upcoming May 2
primary, he will once again administer the election. At this moment, he has
stored in his office the memory cards for all the machines that will be used to
count that vote.
Blackwell has also now revealed that he owns stock in the
world�s largest manufacturer of gambling machines, even though part of his
courtship with the fundamentalist churches has been an aggressive, outspoken
opposition to gambling. Blackwell�s office says there is no conflict of
interest here. But the professions of extreme fundamentalist faith, crucial to
his race for governor, have been tainted.
Republican control of Ohio�s governorship is a critical
piece of what happens to the presidency in 2008. The 20 electoral votes stolen
in 2004 by Blackwell, Parsley and the rest of the Republican fundamentalist
network gave George W. Bush a second term. No Republican has ever won the White
House without carrying Ohio.
That mainstream churches here and around the United States
are finally standing up to the theocratic fundamentalism that has produced
�Christo-fascist� politicians like Blackwell may represent a critical swing of
the political pendulum. The challenge to the powerful World Harvest�s tax
status can only embolden churches that actually endorse the US Constitution.
With that might come at last, in Ohio and elsewhere, a
spiritual counterweight desperately needed to help restore American democracy
and the blessings of separation of church and state.
Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman are co-authors of "How
the GOP Stole America's 2004 Election and Is Rigging 2008".
They are co-editors, with Steve Rosenfeld, of "What Happened in
Ohio?" soon to be published by The New Press.