Some 300 evangelical pastors convened in Orlando, Florida, Friday with a single goal in mind: To learn how to adapt their preaching and outreach skills for the pursuit of political office. Republican presidential candidate and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, himself an ordained Southern Baptist minister, was slated to the give the keynote address.
The event, part of a national workshop series, is an effort to encourage and mobilize at least 1,000 evangelical Christian pastors to seek government office in 2016 in order to promote conservative ideals and traditional biblical values.
Founded by activist David Lane, who describes himself as an evangelical "political operative," the workshops are called Issachar Trainings, named after an Israelite tribe described in the Bible as one comprising men "who understood the times and knew what Israel should do." The trainings are just one prong of Lane's American Renewal Project, which aims to inject American politics with a dose of conservatism through various routes.
"Somebody's values are going to reign supreme" in the United States, Lane told National Public Radio. "We want people with our values to represent our values and interests in the public square, be elected to office, and represent our issues."
Lane, who is tight-lipped about who funds his initiatives, added in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network that the "skills of a successful politician are the same skills of a successful pastor." The workshops help translate those skills by offering practical tools and tips for entering the political sphere.
At an Issachar Training held in South Carolina in June, workshop sessions included "Campaign Mechanics 101" with information on how to set up a finance committee and figure out messaging. Other topics ranged from how to gain publicity by setting up the right photo opportunities to determining which precincts to target and why. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, now a Republican presidential candidate, also spoke at the event.
Lane opened the South Carolina training by invoking God. "Lord, here we are, a nation founded for the advancement of the Christian faith in the glory of God," he said. He went on to detail the problems many evangelicals believe are ailing America: "Fifty-five million babies dead, red ink as far as the eye can see, homosexuals praying at the inauguration."
"Believers have been comfortable taking a back seat. We need a bigger place at the table," pastor Mitch Brooks of the South Baptist Church in Belton, South Carolina, told Time.com. "We believe that, in a lot of areas, we have some insight into what the country ought to do."
Pastors at the conferences are encouraged to start small and seek office at the local level, in city councils and school boards -- because those are the leaders who eventually work their way up the ranks.
"People who get elected at the lowest level are real critical because they are building bases over time, they go from city council to mayor to state representative," Lane told the Christian Broadcasting Network. "It's our goal to bring spiritual men and women into the civil government arena."
Lane says he maintains an email list of 100,000 evangelical pastors throughout the country -- and he only needs 1 percent of those pastors to run for office in order to reach his goal.