United States of Jesus

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Bowtied and dark-suited, Tygh Bailes is a dead ringer for a college-age George Will. His political views are also strikingly similar to those of the conservative pundit. The baby-faced Bailes, however, doesn't write about conservative politicos; he builds them. Bailes is a grassroots campaign consultant for the Leadership Institute, whose mission is to "identify, recruit, train and place conservatives in the public policy process." Before he joined the institute, he had worked on the campaigns of Oliver North and Virginia Republican U.S. Sen. George Allen.

Bailes presents conservative Christians a straight-up secular primer on "The Real Nature of Politics and Elections," or tips on handing your candidate the keys to the gates of elected office. Bailes recognizes that in front of him is the best promise for the Republican Party: conservatives driven to do God's work.

First of all, forget your Sir Galahad Theory of Politics, which holds that "I will win because my heart is pure." Remember Barry Goldwater, the father of the modern conservative movement who was trounced by Lyndon Johnson in 1964? Well, it was his Galahadian campaign slogan that did him in: "In your heart you know I'm right."

Sixteen years later, supporters of Ronald Reagan, whose political beliefs differed little from Goldwater's, had concluded that "being right is not sufficient to win," Bailes says. "Political success is determined by the number and effectiveness of the activists on the given sides." Those who use their time, talent, and money most efficiently (including using a public relations veil to downplay a candidate's stands on such social issues as abortion and homosexuality) will win. It's an anomaly of the modern American electorate that winning most local races comes down to courting roughly 4 percent of the registered voters -- the small group that is registered and not aligned with a party. That's the group from whom candidates should seek votes.

That tactic certainly has worked for Christian conservatives in the San Diego suburbs. Their takeover of the Grossmont Union High School District School Board is a model of Christian political strategy. Gary Cass, a local pastor, had launched a petition drive in the mid-1990s to oust the School Board president, who supported adding "sexual orientation" to the district's antidiscrimination policy. The drive failed, but Cass established an antigay constituency, and it helped him gain a seat on the board in 1998.

Cass, who regularly attended Kennedy's conferences in South Florida, says he began holding "Reclaiming San Diego for Christ" conferences. "I thought being right would be enough," Cass says. "It wasn't. That's when we decided to get involved in politics." He was elected to the county's Republican Central Committee, which helps select and groom candidates. He encouraged other conservative Christians to run for seats on the central committee. By the fall election of 2002, Christians had gained sway over the county's Republican Party, which was using school boards and city councils to build "farm teams" for recruitment of candidates for higher office.

Voter turnout was extremely low in the 2002 election, and, just as Bailes advises, Republicans did their best to court that tiny wedge of undecided voters. Cass and two of his congregants, this time emphasizing fiscal restraint more than hot-button social issues, were listed as endorsed candidates on the GOP voting guide. All three won, giving the conservatives a "4-1 super majority" on the School Board, Cass says.

God's Gavelers

Winning elections is all well and good, but that goal clearly takes a back seat to gaining control of the judiciary. How can that be achieved? "One case at a time," says Mathew Staver, who in 1989 founded Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit legal defense law firm based in Orlando. A former pastor, Staver is one of the pioneers of what he calls the religious liberty legal litigation movement, which began only in the 1990s. Lantern-jawed with short dirty-blond hair, Staver calls the judicial system the "epicenter for the battle over our religious freedoms, the sanctity of human life, and our traditional family values."

The litigation movement has made headway, especially in schools. Last year, Liberty Counsel won a lawsuit on behalf of the Child Evangelism Fellowship in California, which sponsors an after-school religious program called the Good News Club. The suit was filed over a policy by the Los Angeles Unified School District that allowed Boy Scout and Girl Scout meetings for free on school property but charged a fee for church, community, and business groups. A federal judge ruled that the fees discriminated against the Good News Club and were a violation of the First Amendment.

To some, this might seem a benign victory, but it's merely the means to a greater end for theocrats.

"Now, every one of those schools has become an open door for evangelism," Staver declares, "so that right after the last bell on a public school, you can now begin a Good News Club, which I describe as a high-powered Sunday School program that not only teaches morals and character and values and respect but most of all introduces young people to Jesus Christ who will change their mind, renew their mind, and restore the culture. Every public school in America is an open area for evangelism, and every school should have a Good News Club or an after-school Christian club to reach these young people in America."

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Wyatt Olson
Contact: Wyatt Olson