Parsley’s TV program, Breakthrough, is broadcast to 96 percent of the nation twice a day, six days a week. Before the summer of 2004, Parsley often attacked the evils of partial-birth abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, cloning and genocide in Sudan from the familiar confines of his pulpit at World Harvest Church in Columbus, Ohio.
Then, in July, he founded The Center for Moral Clarity, cleared his fall schedule of previously booked speaking engagements and embarked on a tour of major U.S. cities—many in states that decided the 2000 election and were considered critical in 2004.
His goal? To awaken the American church to a crisis of moral values and to prod pew-warming believers to pray, vote and make their voices heard on issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, poverty and racism. Although Parsley was careful to couch his “Silent No More” tour in nonpartisan terms, his message was clear: “Vote for the candidate who will defend biblical values.”
The 2004 presidential election was decided by 59,388 voters in Parsley’s home state of Ohio in a race that was close, but definitively in favor of incumbent George W. Bush. And exit polls revealed that this Midwestern pastor wasn’t the only one concerned about the moral climate of America. Political pundits on both sides of the ideological fence agree that it was religious leaders like Parsley who awakened voters to make a difference on Election Day.
Unsatisfied by what some may see as a political victory, Parsley recently wrote Silent No More, a book in which he researches and exposes the moral decay in every sector of society and challenges believers to invade secular culture with the transforming power of the gospel.
Ministries Today spoke with Parsley about his role in the election, whether pastors should be able to endorse political candidates, and why abortion and same-sex marriage aren’t the only issues the church must confront.
Ministries Today: You’ve been primarily known as a revivalist. What was the turning point that moved you to take a stand in the 2004 election?
Rod Parsley: Through Breakthrough we had done some petitioning campaigns on issues like partial-birth abortion, the Sudan Peace Act, embryonic stem-cell research and cloning. The response to those was overwhelming to us. So we knew there was a need here and something that people wanted us to speak to.
Then, I had the opportunity to be at the signing of the bill to ban partial-birth abortion. There were two dozen people in the room with the president during that signing, and I felt the Holy Spirit speak to me about the representation of my generation in that room. Because everyone there was about 20 years my senior, I noticed that there was a gap in a national voice of my generation speaking out to moral issues.
So I founded the Center for Moral Clarity to address those critical moral issues that I felt were facing our nation. The center does that work through prayer, information and activism to shape our culture, grow healthy families and empower America’s moral base.
Ministries Today: Some people are hinting that the response to your Silent No More tour may have swung the election in Ohio—and, thus, the nation. Was the response bigger than you expected?
Parsley: I think we shined a light on—exposed something—that had been there all along. Even before the 2004 election I sensed that “values voters” were going to make a difference, and I could almost see a light of revelation in people’s eyes when I would address those issues in the pulpits.
These issues ne--eded to be spoken to regardless of who spoke out for them. A lot of mainstream America—who were not necessarily evan--gelical Christians, but people of many faiths or even people of no faith—have a strong moral basis. They more readily identify with our values than those of the liberal left. I think they realized there was a great cost of sitting on the sidelines while the political process went forward without them.
Ministries Today: Did you sense that you were changing people’s minds about who to vote for, or do you think you just stimulated values-voters, who may have stayed home November 2, to get to the polls?
Parsley: There’s a difference between changing people’s minds and encouraging them to act on what they already believe. I certainly never told anyone who to vote for because, unfortunately, that is illegal. But people of faith who know God’s Word and want to protect marriage and life will support amendments and candidates that define those issues for them.
Ministries Today: Have you had any contact with people at the White House responding to your tour?
Parsley: There were some encouraging responses beginning the very morning after the election with phone calls. I was honored to give the invocation for the president when he came to Nationwide Arena in Columbus, and I was invited to the Inauguration and prayed at the Inaugural Prayer Breakfast. I’m sure that our efforts were recognized, but we’re grateful to this president for his leadership.
Ministries Today: Do you anticipate that legislation will be introduced within the coming years to muzzle pastors’ speech on issues such as homosexuality?
Parsley: Unfortunately, it’s already happening. In California, state Senator Sheila Kuehl sponsored a bill, SB 1234, that was later signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger, which makes it illegal to speak out against homosexuality. Under that legislation, individuals could claim that someone expressing their biblical beliefs is intimidating and threatening to them. This is punishable by law now in the state of California, and the penalties include criminal prosecution and fines.
Here’s the staggering thing: fines up to $25,000 are awarded to the person who brings the accusation. All of this is modeled after Swedish and Canadian laws, and that’s why it’s so important for us to get HR 235 passed (see “Taking Off the Muzzle,” page 27). It will protect our preachers, clerics, bishops, priests and people of faith when they speak out on biblical truth about issues in their churches.
Ministries Today: How would you respond to people who say that pastors should not support specific candidates?
Parsley: Prior to 1954 those in houses of worship in America were free to speak out about any and every topic without any fear of government limitations or reprisals.
But when Lyndon Baines Johnson was running for re-election in the United States Senate, there were 501(c)(3) corporations who were opposing his bid for re-election, so he had this language introduced to an IRS bill. It was never voted on; it never came up in committee; it was never put before the American people or their elected officials in any way, but it became part of the IRS tax code.
I don’t think that Lyndon Johnson intended to target churches, because it wasn’t churches that were targeting him. However, since churches are 501(c)(3) organizations, we lost our First Amendment right of free speech.
What the First Amendment does clearly state is that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion and prohibiting the free exercise thereof or abridging the freedom of speech or the press.” HR 235 simply aims to restore the First Amendment rights of religious leaders, so that’s why we’ve got to see it get passed.
Ministries Today: What’s the biggest misconception church leaders have about “separation of church and state”?
Parsley: The only constitution that “separation of church and state” ever appeared in was the constitution of the former Soviet Union. I don’t think that’s one we want to follow.
That whole misunderstanding regarding “separation of church and state” came about in 1947 when Supreme Court Associate Justice Hugo Black, in Everson vs. Board of Education, asserted that the First Amendment made a separation between the church and state that should remain impregnable and so forth.
The only problem is, it’s not in the Constitution, it’s not in the Bill of Rights, and we have to see to it that our spiritual leaders are able to fulfill their responsibility to speak out on issues that are central to the faith of our people.
Ministries Today: In your book Silent No More, you argue that the church should take a stand on issues such as poverty and racial discrimination. How important are these compared to abortion and gay marriage?
Parsley: One of the major reasons that I wrote this book was to take issues that traditionally belong to the left and commend them to the right, and to take issues that traditionally belong to the right and commend them to the left.
I’m passionate about advancing the biblical vision of the founding fathers, and I think it’s important to speak out on all the issues of righteousness and of justice. I think for too long we have polarized ourselves, and these divisions fall many times along denominational lines, along racial lines and certainly across political lines that separate God’s people.
If folks are going to read this book and think they’re just going to hear another rant about abortion or other typically right-wing issues, they don’t know me. Those issues will be spoken to, but I can’t be silent either as long as one out of six of our children is going to bed hungry every night. I can’t be silent when 78 cents on the dollar is all a woman earns compared to her male counterpart on the same job.
As we speak out on these issues, what will happen is exactly what we saw happen with the marriage issue: It was the greatest rallying cry for the body of Christ of my lifetime, because it tore down the walls of race, theology and political ideology, and we were able to come together in a point of real agreement.
Ministries Today: Have you been able to build bridges with liberals because of your stand on racial issues?
Parsley: Many in the African-American community have become tremendous friends--not that they weren’t before. But they appreciate hearing someone that may be traditionally viewed as a far right-wing conservative speaking out on issues that are central to them as believers as well. I think we’re seeing the groundswell that the devil and world both are going to have to deal with.
Ministries Today: You have a large African-American contingency in your own church. What happened with the sought-after “black vote” in the 2004 election?
Parsley: Ethnic believers moved from 7 percent in 2000 to 15 percent in 2004 nationally, voting for Bush. In Ohio, I believe it was even higher than that. It’s obvious that there were African Americans who said, “We can’t vote for a president who believes that marriage between two homosexuals or two lesbians should be the law of the land.”
Lights also began to go on in the area of abortion, partial-birth abortion and embryonic stem-cell research. The lines are just getting too broad, and the distinction is becoming too apparent between these two political ideologies. My hope is that there will be democratic leadership that will stand up and begin to speak out on the issues of morality again.
Historically they have done that. For many years they have focused more on social-justice issues, and I think they are understanding that the mainstream still has the solid moral base and foundation. I believe there are those among the democratic leadership who do have strong moral convictions.
There are also those in the Republican Party who don’t support bans on partial-birth abortion and embryonic stem-cell research. What I’m hoping is that individuals from both ends of the political spectrum will begin to take a stand for these moral issues.
Ministries Today: Have you received much criticism from black Christian leaders about your position?
Parsley: I haven’t had any negative input at all. In fact, more African-American leaders have reached out for me to help them take a stand on these moral issues. I think they have appreciated my leadership in that regard and even more so as they read Silent No More and understand that I’m speaking to both sides of the political spectrum.
Ministries Today: Is it possible to have people in government concerned with moral values and still have a morally bankrupt society?
We must have these three things to initiate national revival: First, we must have a priest. We have that in Jesus, a high priest in His office. Second, we’ve got to have a king or a political system that will do that which is right in the eyes of God. Third, we’ve got to have a prophetic voice that will declare “Thus saith the Lord” to this generation. When we have all those three things functioning together we have the best opportunity for national revival.
Ministries Today: Should the government make laws against the behavior of consenting adults (e.g. sodomy)?
Parsley: The government makes laws about behavior or morality all the time. All legislation reflects morality. I want Christians to be a part of the discussion about whose morality the legislation will reflect.
Should we allow murder and theft, or marriage between three or four consenting adults? Everybody knows that’s not good for society, so legislatures must make laws against such behavior.
Ministries Today: Detroit pastor Keith Butler is planning to run for U.S. Senate. Have you ever considered a political career?
Parsley: I’ve met many fine men and women of faith and consider their work in government as ministry. But here’s the thing: Men and women will spend eternity in heaven or hell based on the words of a gospel preacher, and I don’t believe there’s a higher calling than that. Right now that’s what the Lord has me doing and I’m very privileged to be doing it.
Ministries Today: Do you think that there may be a need for some men or women out there who right now are preaching to shift into a political calling?
Parsley: Certainly in this hour God is putting His hand on individuals that may have been involved in ministry in any of the fivefold office gifts to become more of an active part of the political process, and that may mean that they become involved in running for an office and in fulfilling that office.
Ministries Today: Have you received any threats because of your political involvement throughout the campaign?
Parsley: Of course, we’re always threatened by those who are motivated by the wrong spirit, and that’s been a part of ministry life for many years for me. We just go on about our work and know that he that dwells in the secret place of the most high abides under the shadow of the Almighty.