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How Evangelicals aim to mobilize an army for Republicans in 2016

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By JASON HOROWITZ

New York Times

DES MOINES: One afternoon last week, David Lane watched from the sidelines as a roomful of Iowa evangelical pastors applauded a defense of religious liberty by Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. That night, he gazed out from the stage as the pastors surrounded Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana in a prayer circle.

For Mr. Lane, a onetime Bible salesman and self-described former “wild man,” connecting the pastors with two likely presidential candidates was more than a good day’s work. It was part of what he sees as his mission, which is to make evangelical Christians a decisive power in the Republican Party.

“An army,” he said. “That’s the goal.”

And Mr. Lane is positioning himself as a field marshal. A fast-talking and born-again veteran of conservative politics with experience in Washington, Texas and California, Mr. Lane, 60, travels the country trying to persuade evangelical clergy members to become politically active.

His hope is that the politicized pastors will help mobilize congregations that have been disheartened by the repeated failure of socially conservative candidates, and by a party that has softened its opposition to same-sex marriage.

It is an organizing approach far different from those in the days when larger-than-life leaders like the Moral Majority founder, Jerry Falwell, who died in 2007, or Pat Robertson, now 84, could activate evangelical voters simply by anointing a candidate.

But close observers of evangelicals and their political involvement say Mr. Lane is emblematic of a new generation of evangelical leaders who draw local support or exert influence through niche issues or their own networks.

Unlike political operatives such as Ralph Reed, the former executive director of the Christian Coalition who helped elect George W. Bush before becoming ensnared in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, Mr. Lane does not have an extensive organization.

What Mr. Lane, a former public relations man, does have going for him is a decentralized landscape in which a determined believer with an extensive network of ground-level evangelical leaders and a limitless capacity for talking on the phone can exert influence on Republican presidential candidates eager to reach evangelical voters.

“David is the real deal,” said the Rev. Brad Atkins, a prominent pastor in South Carolina. “He really believes that this is his calling.”

And it is here in Iowa, where conservatives traditionally have an inordinate influence in the state’s Republican presidential caucuses, that evangelicals have their best shot of shaping the field. In what he says is his effort to restore “our Christian heritage,” Mr. Lane’s  American Renewal Project has already shown its influence in Iowa by helping to unseat three State Supreme Court justices who voted to allow same-sex marriage.

But Mr. Lane’s ambitions are national — he focused on battleground states in 2014 and has built an email list of 100,000 pastors around the country.

His goal now is to get 1,000 pastors to run for public office, and their potential support has drawn a virtual pilgrimage of conservative candidates eager to join the tours Mr. Lane organizes to Israel and to his “Pastors and Pews” events.

“A good friend” Mr. Cruz said.

“A great friend,” Mr. Jindal said.

With some of the energy gone from the evangelical movement, said John C. Green, a political scientist at the University of Akron and an expert on evangelicals, “this is about keeping the pressure on for the next election.”

“Lane has influence with pastors, and they listen to him,” Mr. Green added.

All this activity has caught the attention of liberal opponents, who call Mr. Lane an extremist for his belief that abortion will incur divine vengeance on America and his argument that the Republican Party will be destroyed by its acceptance of same-sex marriage just as the Whig Party was destroyed by its acceptance of slavery in the 19th century.

They have sought to cast him as the de facto travel agent for the American Family Association, a Mississippi-based conservative religious organization, which had to distance itself from a spokesman, Bryan Fischer, who called homosexuals “Nazis” and argued that Muslims should not enjoy First Amendment rights and should be converted to Christianity.

Mr. Lane said that he raises his own money for his trips and events from a handful of wealthy donors, whose names he declined to divulge, and that the American Family Association pays him a retainer and provides him with legal and accounting assistance. In return the group, which has an expansive radio network, Internet constituency and budget, gets its name on all of Mr. Lane’s events and adds to its database the contact information of all the pastors he organizes.

Questions about his associations or accusations that he is an opportunist clearly get under Mr. Lane’s skin. But, he said, they show how he is “on the radar.”

And it is a long way from where he started. Raised in rural Oklahoma by his grandparents after his parents divorced in his infancy and his father left, Mr. Lane hit bottom as a partying student at the University of Mississippi, where for four summers he sold Bibles door to door.

“I’d stay drunk all night and sell Bibles all day,” he said. With about a semester to go in 1977, he dropped out, instead pursuing a life of “drugs, wine, women and song.” (“Le Freak” by Chic and “cocaine,” he clarified.)

He eventually sought redemption from the Bible and a series of motivational speaking mentors. Judge Ziglar, author of “Timid Salesmen Have Skinny Kids” and brother of the famed motivational speaker Zig Ziglar, took an interest in him.

Then, after having a conversion moment in a downtown Atlanta alley following a motivational seminar, he moved to Houston and came under the wing of Judge Paul Pressler, a key figure in the resurgence of the Baptist conservative movement and the Moral Majority.

Bob Perry, the wealthy Texas home builder and Republican donor, who later funded the Swift Boat Veterans campaign against John Kerry in 2004, gave Mr. Lane $3,000 of seed money to get started in Washington, where Mr. Lane began working for Carl Channell in support of President Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” defense system.

 “Spitz taught me the fund-raising business,” said Mr. Lane, using a nickname for Mr. Channell. “He was a homosexual.”

He eventually worked for Mr. Falwell, and throughout his career gained a reputation as a “pastor’s friend,” said his own former pastor, the Rev. Gary Miller, who tearfully recalled Mr. Lane’s handing him a pair of new shoes during a period of tight finances in his own life.

And it is as a pastoral impresario that Mr. Lane has found his influence and attracted an audience of auditioning politicians. He organized an event with Gov. Rick Perry and hundreds of evangelical pastors in Texas in 2005. Dozens of events and candidates and seven years later, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky attended an event in South Carolina.

“They say you’re anti-Israel,” Mr. Lane said he told Mr. Paul when they met, and asked if he had ever been to Israel. When Mr. Paul said he had not, Mr. Lane, whose daughter now works for Mr. Paul, asked if the senator would be interested in going on a tour with evangelical leaders from Iowa and South Carolina.

Two years ago, Mr. Paul, his wife, Kelley, and their sons joined about 50 pastors and evangelical leaders on the trip. Afterward, Mr. Lane said, he received a note from Mr. Paul in which he wrote that he had awaked from a dream singing “How Great Thou Art” and that two of his sons had committed their lives to Christ.

After Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey made a good impression at a Republican event later that year, Mr. Lane offered him the chance to join primary state pastors on a “Reagan, Thatcher, John Paul II” tour to California, London and Rome.

“They turned it down,” said Mr. Lane, who smiled when asked if he thought that was a mistake.

Instead, Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, jumped at the opportunity, subbing former Nazi concentration camps and Oskar Schindler’s former factory in Poland for the stop in Rome.

Last month, Mr. Lane took 60 members of the Republican National Committee to Jerusalem at a cost, he said, of about $500,000. A trip to Israel with Mr. Jindal is planned for July.

Missing from his travel manifests and events are the Republican Party’s establishment candidates. While Mr. Lane is technically neutral at this point, he clearly is no fan of the more moderate wing of his party. He said he tried to rescue the 2008 and 2012 tickets by advocating Mr. Huckabee for vice president.

While he admires Jeb Bush’s record as governor of Florida, especially his opposition to taking Terri Schiavo off life support, he scoffed at Mr. Bush’s choice for evangelical liaison, noting that he was “26 years old” and that his father was “behind Romney.” And as far as Mr. Bush’s hiring an openly gay communications director, he said: “I don’t understand what he’s up to. Personnel is policy.”

Mr. Lane is himself something of a one-man operation. He said that he shares the same hard-charging engine as his father, a car dealer who made the Chevrolet Hall of Fame, and since setting up shop in Southern California in 1998, Mr. Lane has acted mostly behind the scenes. Last week’s conference, and the two presidential hopefuls, was a calculated step into the spotlight.

“If the Lord were to call 1,000 pastors in America — 1,000 — and they ended up with an average of 300 volunteers per campaign in 2016, that would be 300,000 grass-root, precinct-level, evangelical conservatives coming from the bottom up,” he said to the ballroom full of pastors. “It would change America.”

 

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Story Of Pakistani Immigrant Who Came To U.S. Helps Feed The Homeless

“I have a deep interest in social justice, Catholic social teaching … and so to be part of something bigger than myself, my son and I chose to come to lunch here today to support and be a small part of a great thing."

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Sakina Halal Grill serves a hot luncheon buffet to paying as well as non-paying guests. (J.Taboh) VOA

When Pakistani immigrant Kazi Mannan came to the U.S. in 1996 as an impoverished young adult, he could only dream about success. He worked long hours in a series of tough jobs, saved money and learned everything he could about working and living in America.

His hard work paid off. After more than 20 years, he’s now a successful entrepreneur and owner of a popular Pakistani-Indian restaurant just a few blocks from the White House.

But what’s most remarkable about his story is what he’s doing in his restaurant every day.

Kazi Mannan speaks with two of his regular homeless guests at his restaurant, which welcomes paying and non-paying customers. (J. Taboh/VOA)
Kazi Mannan speaks with two of his regular homeless guests at his restaurant, which welcomes paying and non-paying customers. (J. Taboh) . VOA

Mannan offers free meals to the homeless and anyone else in need.

Paying it forward

He says it’s his way of heeding the principles of his Muslim faith.

“I know God is happy with me, what I do, because I do it with my pure heart, with my pure intention, to uplift others without seeking any reward, any recognition,” he says. “I don’t need any awards, I don’t need any money. I just want to please Him.”

Mannan helps the needy he says, because growing up poor in Pakistan, he knows what it’s like to be hungry.

“I have nine siblings and [we didn’t have] much to eat … when you are poor and you [don’t] have things that other people have, when you get it, you want to appreciate, you want to share with others,” he said.

His desire to share deepened as he worked as a limousine driver in the nation’s capital. He saw homeless people on the street, day and night, in all kinds of weather — looking for food in trash cans.

The experience had an impact.

“I don’t want to see another human being going through the poverty that I went through. I don’t want to see another human being going through the hunger that I went through. I want them to have that feeling that they were being accepted, so they can come and sit here and eat with respect,” he says.

Just like family

His message is simple. Come to Sakina Halal Grill, which is named after his late mother, ask for food, use the restroom, and sit for as long as you want.

“We will love you and respect you the same way we respect a paying guest. We will treat you like family,” he said.

Members of the homeless community are welcome at Sakina Halal Grill restaurant anytime for a free meal. (J. Taboh/VOA)
Members of the homeless community are welcome at Sakina Halal Grill restaurant anytime for a free meal. (J. Taboh). VOA

Marchellor Lesueur, who is homeless, has been coming to the restaurant every day for the past eight months.

“I think that he’s a saint. He’s a beautiful man,” he says about Mannan. “My stomach was growling, I was looking for a blessing, then he popped up, gave me a card and invited me to a restaurant for lunch. And I was so overwhelmed and happy I couldn’t wait to get here, and ever since then I’ve been coming.”

Hegehiah Griakley is also a regular. He was finishing up a generous portion of rice and chicken, which he described as two meals in one.

“This is more than lunch,” he said. “They give you enough to feed you for the rest of the day I think. The food is great, the people are nice. I wouldn’t mind working here!”

Griakley says he once asked Mannan what he could give him in return for the free food. “Because most people expect you to give back.”

“But he said ‘no, no, no, no, no!’ He just wanted me to have a good meal,” he recalls. “I couldn’t believe that. It was so nice. I loved it.”

Compassionate immigrant

Mannan estimates that he’s provided more than 80,000 free meals since the restaurant opened in 2013.

And when he’s not feeding the needy in his restaurant, Mannan delivers meals to local shelters and churches, and organizes food and clothing drives at nearby parks.

Kazi Mannan distributes food to the needy at a local food and coat drive -- one of many he organizes every year. (K.Mannan)
Kazi Mannan distributes food to the needy at a local food and coat drive — one of many he organizes every year. (K.Mannan). VOA

“Some people tell me ‘homeless people are using drugs and you’re feeding them; that’s bad.’” To which he responds, “For you, it’s bad, for me, it’s joy. … I see a person who’s fallen to the ground. Whatever problem they went through to become homeless, it’s not my job to judge — my job is to give them respect and love.”

His paying customers are still his main business. Many of them contribute towards the free meals… and support his cause.

First time customer Geralyn Nathe-Evans was visiting from Minnesota when she read about Mannan’s mission in an article.

“I have a deep interest in social justice, Catholic social teaching … and so to be part of something bigger than myself, my son and I chose to come to lunch here today to support and be a small part of a great thing,” she said.

Mannan uses food as a way to help his fellow man, in practice of his faith. He urges others to do the same with their talents.

“If you’re a medical doctor, can you love him through your practice? If you are a lawyer, can you love him through your practice? Be kind and be compassionate to your client?” he asks.

In doing so, he believes “we will all prosper and flourish” as a society.

Also Read: Apple Watch Can Detect And Notify Users Irregular Heart Rhythms

Meantime, he says he will continue to nourish both body and soul of all who walk through the door of his restaurant.

“Just uplifting others is a joy for me. It doesn’t matter [what] color, religion you belong to. We are all human. I am focusing on humanity. I’m bringing humanity together and this is my mission.” (VOA)