With renewed attention on John McCain's "spiritual guide," Ohio's neo-Pentecostal preacher Rod Parsley, the editors here have republished my 2005 expose of the televangelist, "With God on His Side." The piece details Parsley's rise to the national political stage after campaigning with Bush-Cheney Ohio campaign co-chair and Secretary of State Ken Blackwell for Ohio's 2004 gay marriage ban, thus delivering Ohio to Bush, and how the religious right and the GOP cynically saw the white preacher's appeal to black audiences as a useful GOTV tool. And if you think Barack Obama's pastor Jeremiah Wright has some controversial preaching in his vault, Parsley has produced all manner of screeds against gays, Muslims, the "liberal media," separation of church and state, and any school of thought that interferes with his dominionist fantasies for criminalizing abortion and adultery and teaching his followers to "invade the culture" by getting jobs in government, media, and entertainment.
While Wright preaches a very confrontational form of a social justice gospel, calling on his followers to confront institutional racism and economic injustice, Parsley's gospel is individualistic, capitalistic and materialistic. Parsley preaches the controversial (some Christians say heretical) Word of Faith doctrine, which you can learn more about in my book, God's Profits. It teaches followers that God wants them to be rich, the way to riches is by tithing to one's pastor, and that poverty is a curse of one's own making, evidence of a lack of faith. Meanwhile, Parsley lives in a million dollar home and flies around the country in a private jet his church purchased for him. Social safety net? No way, says Parsley. As McCain's other endorser, John Hagee, has written, government welfare programs are Satanic. If you have enough faith, God will provide for you.
Parsley's routine has gotten him into trouble: he's been sued by congregants, even members of his own family. His former lawyer was disbarred for engaging in criminal activity. More recently, the church was found liable in a lawsuit brought by a family whose child was badly beaten by a teacher in the church preschool, and many of the school's teachers were found by a state licensing agency to lack proper certification. Parsley was the subject of an Internal Revenue Service investigation, following complaints that he illegally campaigned for Blackwell when the latter (unsuccessfully) ran for governor in 2006. But Parsley beats back all controversy; he's regular visitor to the White House and Capitol Hill, and Republicans turn to him for advice. For his followers, he's God's anointed -- not to be questioned or criticized. For them, God is talking through Parsley -- and McCain is banking on them listening.