From the lavishly decorated pulpit of his 12,000-member World Harvest Church here in Canal Winchester, Ohio, Rod Parsley had but one central message for his flock this morning, the Sunday before the midterm elections.
"There is one very clear dividing line for people of faith," he preached. "Where do you stand on the sanctity of life? People say, 'What about this issue, or this issue, or that issue?' Absolute irrelevance."
It was a message Parsley hit early and often, doing his best to focus his congregation's attention on the lifeblood issues of so-called values voters -- abortion and marriage. Parsley, a staunch conservative, was present for President Bush's signing of the 2003 ban on late-term abortions -- which goes before the Supreme Court on Wednesday. He repeatedly mentioned this to his congregation, asking for their signatures on petitions to the court to ask the justices to uphold the ban.
He appeared to be doing his best to distract the assembled from other problems occupying the minds of many Ohio voters: rampant corruption of the state Republican Party and a foundering state economy -- not to mention all the scandals and troubles of the Republican Party nationally, some of which trace straight back to Ohio. Those problems seem to be an albatross around the neck of badly trailing Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Blackwell, who was present for Parsley's sermon.
But to Parsley, these are but distractions from the gospel. He warned of a country gone off the rails, and of a last chance to save the nation from the evils of abortion, same-sex marriage, "Darwinianism" and the media. "Post-Christian Europe is where we're headed," he said, then launched into a list of mock headlines of the future "if we don't turn this thing around," all of them flashed on the giant screens at the front of the chapel as he spoke:
"Baby conceived naturally! Scientists are startled."
"Massachusetts executes last conservative."
"Couple petitions court to reinstitute heterosexual marriage."
Parsley had begun the morning's sermon addressing another dark problem, that of disgraced pastor Ted Haggard. He spoke about Haggard twice during the service, the first time only alluding to him, but studiously never mentioning his name. Instead, Parsley referred to his own recent appearances on national television discussing the scandal -- and emphasized that the evangelical movement was about much more than just Haggard.
"This thing's not built on men," Parsley said. "If it had been, it would have crumbed a long time ago."
That taken care of, Parsley returned to the election, preaching on behalf of turnout. He told the congregation to "give Him a Hallelujah for next Tuesday! Give Him a Hallelujah for November 7," and said that "good citizens vote. Not sometimes -- every time."
Clearly he believed a graphic depiction of abortion would bring them to the polls in droves. "The blood of 44 million children runs through our fingers," he intoned, "and today fight we will because we must ... a nation hangs in the balance." Supporting videos played in the background: One featured a woman whose mother had attempted to abort her, another featured a nurse giving a graphic description of late-term abortions, complete with dramatization.
The crowd seemed underwhelmed at times, something Parsley noted repeatedly, as he exhorted the congregation to get louder for him before ushers distributed the petitions for the Supreme Court in a packet of political materials that also included a list of candidate positions.
Some parishioners who spoke to Salon after the service seemed to have gotten Parsley's message. All said they would be voting on Tuesday, and all said their primary issues would be the ones Parsley had identified as his.
One churchgoer, Mary Lewis, said abortion would be the biggest thing on her mind at the polls Tuesday. She said she had already decided whom she would be voting for -- but that Parsley's sermon "really helped" her crystallize that decision.