The Family Research Council’s Watchmen on the Wall conference is an annual gathering for pastors and other church leaders to hear from a panoply of right-wing speakers and get motivated to “transform America.” Our coverage of last year’s event highlights speakers’ attacks on evolution, secularism, Islam, LGBT people, and other tools of Satan.
This year’s conference, which takes place in Washington DC May 22-24, has been promoted by FRC for months. In April, FRC sent an excited alert that Sen. Ted Cruz, a Tea Party and Religious Right favorite who is reportedly mulling a 2016 presidential bid, had confirmed.
Based on other confirmed speakers, it seems likely that there will be two major themes to this year’s gathering: 1) religious liberty in America is under attack by Obama and his gay allies; and 2) only the church – led by uncompromising fired up pastors – can save freedom and America.
A notable addition to the cast of conservative evangelicals is William Lori, Archbishop of the Diocese of Baltimore and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. Lori has led the bishops’ attack on the Obama administration’s proposed regulations requiring insurance coverage of contraception. Lori, who believes that “aggressive secularity” is “becoming the established ‘religion’ in our country today,” will be right at home with his friends at the Family Research Council. A typical FRC Action mailing from Tony Perkins earlier this year said President Obama is out to “crush freedom.” The same letter warns about “death panels” under Obamacare, which Perkins calls “the tip of the tyranny-iceberg.”
Also entertaining the Watchmen will be Rep. James Lankford, who earlier this year blamed gun violence on “welfare moms” overmedicating their kids with psychiatric drugs because they “want to get additional benefits.” At FRC’s Values Voter Summit in September, Lankford said of the dispute over contraception coverage, “this is not a war on women, this is a war on people of faith.”
Also confirmed is Ergun Caner, who lost his position at Liberty University after Muslim and Christian bloggers, and then journalists, began to expose the falsehoods in the Jihadi-to-Jesus life story that Caner had used to make a name for himself in the post-9/11 evangelical universe. Caner will probably echo his remarks at the 2009 Values Voter Summit, where his message to Christians who were not being outspoken enough on the issues of the day: “You need to preach, teach, and reach, or just shut up and get out of our way.”
Anti-gay activist Harry Jackson is quick to invoke Satan and other demonic powers as the forces behind the gay rights movement, which he portrays as an enemy of religious freedom. He has charged that a “radical” gay element is trying to “close down every church in America.” In fact, one of his columns was titled,” Why do Gays Hate Religious Freedom?” Jackson’s apocalyptic anti-Obama rhetoric did not convince many Black Christians to vote against Obama, but Jackson thinks they’ll be sorry. God, he says, will “take out” those who chose “race over grace.” Jackson is a long-time FRC ally; he and Perkins co-authored Personal Faith, Public Policy, which calls Supreme Court rulings on church-state issues “assaults” on Christianity.
Jim Garlow, a California pastor who led church backing for Prop 8 in California and was then tapped by Newt Gingrich to run one of his political groups, had warned before the election that an Obama reelection would destroy the country. During an FRC post-election special Garlow said that Christians should expect massive persecution from the government. At last year’s Watchmen on the Wall conference, Garlow spoke at a press conference attacking President Obama’s use of religious language to describe his support for marriage equality. Evoking the words of a colonial preacher, Garlow said, “if necessary, here we die.” In an FRC DVD promoting Watchmen on the Wall, Garlow says an FRC-produced video was crucial to the Prop 8 win.
Richard Land is retiring in October after 25 years as head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty commission; he was dogged by controversy during the past year over plagiarism charges and racially inflammatory remarks he made regarding the Trayvon Martin killing. Land has charged that the only reason the Obama administration proposed regulations on contraception coverage was to "set the precedent of ramming this down our throats and forcing us to surrender our First amendment freedom of religion." Land says God will unleash judgment on America for the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
Watchmen will also hear from Jacob Aranza, whose 1983 book Backward Masking Unmasked warned that rock music was encoded with satanic messages that would entice teens into drug use and abnormal sexual behavior. Aranza says he burned “hundreds of thousands” of albums in those days. More recently, Aranza was an endorser of Rick Perry’s “Awakening” and participated in Religious Right strategy sessions convened by James Robison to try to prevent Obama’s re-election. In 2011, Aranza and Perkins appeared together on Robison’s television show, and Aranza gushed about Perkin’s work to mobilize pastors:
Tony Perkins is one of the great heroes in America today. He is a hero because it is unseen. He is uniting and equipping the most important people in America, and that's the pastors in America. If the local church is the hope of the world then pastors are the hope of the local church. Tony Perkins exists to encourage them and to equip them and to empower them. He's taking regular pastors -- the average church in America, James, as you know is less than 200 people; 80% of the churches in America are 200 or less -- and he is taking men like that and he is turning them into absolute heroes, just like pastors in Maine who are literally changing the moral fiber of an entire state because he has equipped them and empowered them and told them they're the people that are supposed to be the hedge of builders, and he is encouraging them to do just that.…I believe that as you speak you are literally trumpeting a sound that is encouraging pastors across America and families across America that are Christians to unite together to see God once again bring spiritual awakening to our nation.
JC Church is one of FRC’s pastor leaders “networking churches in Ohio to answer the call on moral issues.” His 3 Cord Alliance, which is affiliated with FRC, teaches pastors “how to bring sound scripturally based influence and change to your community.” Church has been praised by Phil Burress of Citizens for Community Values: “I believe that if all the pastors in Ohio were like Pastor Church, we would have an army that Satan could not stop. He understands that America is led by the pulpit and we count on him to unite fellow pastors and their congregations to be the salt and light we so desperately need in the world today.”
Jack Hibbs is a California-based preacher who also pushed Prop 8; in 2011 he helped lead an unsuccessful effort to overturn the state’s SB 48, which he charged would lead to public schools indoctrinating students. In a video urging pastors to get involved, he said it is not enough to teach and preach the word of God, pastors needed to be “culture changers for Christ.” Leading into the 2012 election Hibbs was outspoken about the fact that Christians should vote for Romney over Obama. In a radio show the day after the 2012 elections, He says he was on the phone with Tony Perkins on election night and they had both believed that the outcome was up to the church: “The answer wouldn’t be determined in the White House or the statehouse….the answer for righteousness or unrighteousness, for light or for darkness, for liberty or tyranny, would be decided by the pastors.” Given the way things turned out, Hibbs says “I believe the responsibility, the outcome, and the fallout falls into the hands of the pulpits of America’s pastors who did not speak up….” Hibbs also echoes Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” remarks: “those who are looking for handouts, they don’t want to work, they want the government to give things to them, overwhelmingly voted for Barack Obama.” Hibbs said he was disappointed but not discouraged, because “God’s on the throne” and therefore “God has appointed him to be our president for God’s purposes – OK that means God has got some pretty gnarly purposes coming for America.”
There’s a special role at the conference for FRC’s executive vice president, retired Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin. Boykin retired from the military after being reprimanded by then-President Bush for making speeches depicting the war on terrorism as a Christian holy war against Islam. FRC hired Boykin last year after he was disinvited from speaking at West Point after faculty and cadets objected. Boykin and his Religious Right allies portrayed his mythical martyrdom as an attack on freedom of speech and religion. At last year’s Values Voter Summit, Boykin invoked Marx, Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler in denouncing what he said is an effort to move Americans away from belief in a sovereign God. He says everything President Obama is doing is right out of the” Communist Manifesto.”
Perkins seems to be counting on Boykin to strong-arm pastors at the conference into making a concrete commitment to political activism. In an insert in a packet mailed to pastors, Perkins says Boykin will offer the “concluding challenge” – and he insists that pastors book their flights home no earlier than 4pm so that they can stay. “During the Briefing, we will share details of the strategic plan the Lord is using to bring revival and renewal in communities around the nation through the engagement of pastors. At the end, we have a ‘call to decision’ or ‘invitation’ sort of like many of you do in a worship service. Just as you want those attending your worship service to stay and respond, we would respectfully ask the same of you.” Perkins has some leverage – FRC picks up most of the tab for one pastor from each church.
FRC launched Watchmen on the Wall in 2004. A 2010 promotional DVD said the group was up to 14,000 pastors; it said Perkins’ goal was to have 40,000 Watchmen pastors by 2015. Pastors who sign up get access to regular briefings, model sermons, and other toolkits for mobilizing their congregations and communities. The same promotional video contains a clip of “historian” David Barton quoting 19th Century preacher Charles Finney saying, in effect, that if the country is going to hell, it’s pastors’ fault. The notion that America can only be saved by more aggressive preachers is a recurring theme at Religious Right gatherings, including Liberty Counsel’s recent Awakening conference.