Megachurches Make Mark in GOP Congressional Primaries

Sunday, 20 Jul 2014 10:42 PM

By Greg Richter

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Three candidates with ties to megachurches already have won Republican Congressional primaries this year, and another could win in a runoff election Tuesday, Roll Call reports.

This comes despite a drift to the left on social issues such as same-sex marriage even among some evangelical Christians. Some of the religious right's influenced also has been diluted by a greater influence of the tea party and libertarian factions of the party.

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But religious leaders still have one skill that transfers easily to politics: organization.

"Churches do a good job of mobilizing and getting their people out because they’re organized, there’s phone trees, there’s a registry, and they certainly use that to get the word out," said Casey Phillips, who makes ads for GOP candidates and causes.

And there's another strength: likability.

"People generally like their pastor, and in politics it's always good to be liked by voters," National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden told Roll Call.

Pastors and other faith leaders also are empathetic.

"If we wanted to 'survive' in our calling, you have to be compassionate, you have to listen. And we may not always agree, but I can agree or disagree in a way that leaves both of us in a position where we can understand each other," said Rep. Doug Collins, a Georgia Republican.

Religious leaders who already have won in primaries are Baptist youth camp director, Rep. James Lankford of Oklahoma, Baptist pastor Mark Walker of North Carolina and megachurch member Gary Palmer of Alabama. Pastor Jody Hice would make No. 4 if he wins his primary runoff in Georgia on Tuesday. All are Republicans.

Six faith leaders already in the House are Democrats Emanuel Cleaver II of Missiouri and Juan C. Vargas of California and Republicans Collins, Robert Pittenger of North Carolina and Tim Walberg of Michigan.

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