COLUMBUS, Ohio — Evangelist Rod Parsley wants to gather voters as he wins souls, a mixture that’s causing a stir in the state that put President Bush back in the White House.
The televangelist opposed to gay “marriage” and critical of Islam hopes the effort he calls Reformation Ohio will convert 1 million people to Christianity, help the poor and register 400,000 new voters.
“We just seek to be a voice in the public arena,” said Mr. Parsley, who has a TV ministry seen across the country and a 12,000-member church. “For some reason, it has become chic to say that everybody should have a voice in that public square, but when born-again or evangelical Christians begin to lift up their voice, everyone gets nervous.”
While ministers of all stripes have long taken stands on social issues and registered voters, Mr. Parsley’s political activities worry Democrats and more liberal churches.
His critics say it’s impossible to separate the goals of Reformation Ohio from Mr. Parsley’s work on a successful election campaign to ban gay “marriage” and his ties to Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, a conservative leading many polls in his bid for the GOP nomination for governor next year.
In his new book, “Silent No More,” Mr. Parsley thanks Mr. Blackwell for his support. The politician spoke briefly at a rally Mr. Parsley held in October outside the Statehouse.
“If you’re not interested in influencing politics, you don’t hold a major rally on the steps of the Statehouse,” said the Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer, a member of the national staff of the Cleveland-based and left-leaning United Church of Christ.
Mr. Parsley argues that homosexuality is morally and physically damaging.
He calls Islam an “anti-Christ religion” that intends to use violence to conquer the world and writes that Allah is a demon spirit.
Though not a political group, Mr. Parsley says, Reformation Ohio originated with his 2003 invitation to Mr. Bush’s signing of a late-term abortion ban.
Mr. Parsley decided he needed to be more vocal about social issues and what he saw as the under-representation of evangelical Christians at the polls.
Mr. Parsley, 48, got his start preaching in the back yard of his parents’ home in suburban Columbus as a teenager. At 29, he built the 5,200-seat World Harvest Church that anchors a large complex of brick buildings — including two schools and an outreach program for ministers — tucked between fields and new subdivisions.
Last year, he founded a center that helps mobilize churches on issues such as gay “marriage,” abortion and the placement of the Ten Commandments on public property.
His television show, “Breakthrough,” is broadcast on the Trinity Broadcasting Network among other networks and cable affiliates.
Mr. Parsley still lives in Pickerington, a fast-growing suburb not far from his church, in a $1 million home with his wife, Joni, and their son and daughter.
He draws thousands to racially mixed Sunday morning and evening services in his auditorium-style Pentecostal church. There, he strolls back and forth before the congregation in a trademark dark suit, Bible in hand. He preaches with a mild twang — courtesy of his Kentucky upbringing — and just a hint of gravel.
Mr. Parsley’s style ranges from the casual — “Now I’m going to freak you out,” he said during a recent telethon on Trinity Broadcasting Network’s “Praise the Lord” show — to the impassioned.
“Sound an alarm. A Holy Ghost invasion is taking place,” Mr. Parsley shouted at the Statehouse rally, to enthusiastic applause. “Man your battle stations, ready your weapons, lock and load.”
Mr. Parsley represents a new debate over the line between religion and politics, said Ronald Carstens, an Ohio Dominican Universityprofessor of political science.
“The problem with the left, the reason they can’t get elected, is they begin with the premise that anybody who believes in God is a moron,” Mr. Carstens said.
“The other side now is reacting, and they’re trying to impose a moral ideology in the name of religion on people, when the best you can do, with any kind of moral ideas, is to try to persuade people.”
Mr. Parsley says it’s easy to separate his views on moral issues and the goals of Reformation Ohio.
“I am neither Republican nor Democrat, I’m a Christocrat,” he said. “I love a democratic republic, and I want to be right in the middle of that process.”