Ohio Secretary of State and gubernatorial candidate Kenneth Blackwell has made no secret of his ties to Ohio's Christian conservatives. He seems to be especially tight with the Rev. Rod Parsley, whose World Harvest Ministries in suburban Columbus is headquarters for a growing religious empire.
The sprawling campus is home to a congregation of 12,000, a Bible college, kindergarten-through-12th grade school and an international TV ministry. Parsley's ties to Blackwell are close and many. The two stumped Ohio together in October 2004 in support of the anti-gay-marriage Issue 1. Blackwell spoke at the World Harvest Church during a weekend in April celebrating Parsley's latest book, Silent No More, whose jacket boasts the following endorsement from Blackwell: "This book should inspire men and women of faith ... and make 'values voters' a force that politicians can no longer ignore." Parsley returns the favor in the acknowledgments: "Ohio's Secretary of State, the Honorable Kenneth Blackwell: thank you for your courageous and outspoken support of moral values ... Character like yours is instrumental in restoring honor to public service."
Parsley clearly aspires to greater political influence: his Center for Moral Clarity is part of the Ohio Restoration Project, a thinly veiled "Christians for Blackwell" movement. So their heaping praise on each other is not surprising.
Blackwell appeared at an Aug. 24 conference of the Ohio Restoration Project in Kings Mills, as did Phil Burress of Citizens for Community Values.
It will be interesting to see how Blackwell handles the tricky parts of such alliances — for example, Parsley's blunt attacks on Muslims. Take these quotes from chapter five of Silent No More, titled "The Deception of Allah":
"The God of Christianity and the god [sic] of Islam are two separate beings. ... Muhammad received revelations from demons and not from the true God. ... Islam is an anti-Christ religion that intends, through violence, to conquer the world."
Parsley goes on to argue, "America was founded, in part, with the intention of seeing this false religion destroyed. ... Islam is responsible for more pain, more bloodshed and more devastation than nearly any other force on earth at this moment." He speaks of the "persecution" of Christians by Muslims, and dismisses the latter as deluded illiterates.
The Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project has been tracking hate groups such as neo-Nazis, militias and white supremacists since 1971. This month, for the first time, it labeled a "mainstream" Christian right group a hate group when it spotlighted the Family Research Institute for its bogus studies hostile to gays.
Mark Potok, who heads the Intelligence Project, says SPLC hasn't looked at anti-Muslim remarks made by Christians. However, he says of Parsley's comments, "It's obvious, when so-called religious leaders demonize whole groups like that, that they are inviting violence. The man is inciting hatred, there's no plainer way to say it. When you say an entire group of people is demonic and anti-Christian, that's hate speech, yes."
With an estimated 150,000 Muslims in Ohio, statements like Parsley's would seem to be political dynamite. But so far, Parsley's remarks have received almost no attention, aside from a couple of blogs, the Ohio-focused Hypothetically Speaking (loganselm.blogspot.com) and nationally known Daily Kos (dailykos.com). A lengthy profile in the June 5 Plain Dealer included details of assault and sexual harassment complaints against Parsley's father, but made no mention of the reverend's views on Muslims.
Given the lack of attention, it's no wonder Muslim leaders say they had little or no awareness of Parsley or his views.
"It is disturbing that someone in the cloak of religion and supposedly a follower of the great faith of the peaceful Jesus Christ would spew such venom," says Ahmad Al-Akhras, president of the Ohio chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations. "This is ignorance, what he is saying. This same exact type of claim (about propagating violence) can be prepared about any other religious or ethnic group. Just collect the crimes committed by people who claim to be followers of such groups, whether like Christians or Jews or otherwise. You can put them together and create the impression that this group or that group is responsible for all the crimes of humanity.
"The message of Jesus is the message of peace and the message of embracing other people. Apparently, (Parsley) does not seem to understand this. I think those politicians who are being courted by him need to be called upon and they should denounce his hatred."
This writer asked Blackwell spokesman Carlo LoParo to comment on Parsley's writings. LoParo responded by forwarding the text of a speech Blackwell made to the American Muslim Council three years ago. Among general thoughts on freedom and fighting terrorism, he said, "Already I have seen many instances of our shared moral code overshadowing our differences, as citizens of all races, religions and ethnicities form alliances to make sure our national security is preserved within the framework of the Constitution ... and to fight bigotry."
Asked again for a response to Parsley's words, LoParo didn't reply.
See Photo Insert
James Dobson: Founder of Focus on the Family; has obsession with gays; arguably the most powerful Religious Right figure. Rev. Rod Parsley: Pastor of World Harvest Church, Columbus; up-and-coming Religious Right figure; founded Center for Moral Clarity to "drive America into a paradigm shift that will bring us back to the discarded values of the past." Tony Perkins: President of Family Research Council, which advocates for prayer in schools, abstinence-only sex ed and the right to discriminate against gays. Tom DeLay: House Majority Leader who seems to play fast and loose with fundraising and lobbying rules; in March address to FRC, used Terri Schiavo case to incite panic among social conservatives. Phil Burress: Thrice-married recovering porn addict who heads Cincinnati-based Citizens for Community Values, which fights all forms of adult entertainment and gays; campaigned with Blackwell for anti-gay state constitutional amendment. Ann Coulter: Acerbic, error-prone pundit who's advocated force-converting Muslims to Christianity. Alan Keyes: Radio host and frequent GOP candidate; hates gays so much that he severed ties with 19-year-old daughter when she came out. Coulter and Keyes have been guests at World Harvest Church.
A version of this story first appeared in the Cleveland alt weekly Free Times.