WASHINGTON, Okla. — Here is the only light amid the Sunday-night darkness of the plains, its yellow glow visible for a mile around. People travel here down two-lane roads, past flags that snap in the wind and a sign that reads “Only God Can Save America.” They park in front of the steeple at the corner of Center and Main. Pastor Fred Greening greets them at the door.
Theirs is a church of 400 in a town of 600, where four generations stand together to bow their heads in prayer. Cowboys wear boots and roughnecks wear flannel. A 9-year-old sets down his toy truck and clasps his hands. Together they recite pledges of allegiance to the United States, to the Bible and to the Christian flag.
RACE FOR DELEGATES: Stepping up to the GOP nomination
More from PostPolitics
In Washington, a town of 4,000 in rural Georgia, the 2011 campaign for mayor became a contest rife with tension.
Residents of Washington, Iowa, have spent months hearing Republican presidential candidates talk about problems they largely don’t have.
“May God guide us and watch over us,” an assistant pastor says. “May He work to preserve our community and the values we hold dear.”
Oklahoma will hold its Republican primary on Super Tuesday, bringing the cultural debate over the heart of conservatism to the conservative heartland. The presidential campaign has turned into an argument about values and faith — a battle long underway on the prairie of central Oklahoma. Here, they fight to protect their town from what Pastor Greening calls the “slow and steady decay of moral America”: the erosion of traditional marriage; the methamphetamine addicts content to rely on public assistance; the political correctness creeping ever south from the college in nearby Norman, which they fear will force God out of their government offices and schools.
Now more than ever, they want a politician in that Washington who will safeguard the culture of this one.
Four years after an election defined by Hope and Change, Oklahoma remains a place that mostly hopes not to change. All 77 counties in the state voted for the Republican candidate in each of the past two presidential elections. Even as every other state in the country became more liberal or more conservative, the politics of Oklahoma stood still: Exactly 65.6 percent of people here voted for President George W. Bush in 2004, and exactly 65.6 percent voted for Sen. John McCain in 2008.
Change also has been forestalled here in Washington, a grid of single-story houses surrounded by wheat fields and flood plains. The cotton gin and feed mill still frame Main Street, and decades-old graffiti still cover the water tower. A few dozen men still gather each morning at the American Legion to play dominos, crack peanuts and spit tobacco juice on the floor. The same “In God We Trust” posters still hang at the public high school, which serves the same pizza pockets on Mondays and throws the same Christmas party that is never called a holiday party, and where no extracurricular events are scheduled on Wednesdays or Sundays because those days are reserved for church.
On this Sunday night, Pastor Greening talks to congregants about what he calls his “big deal” topics: the sanctity of marriage, the war on Christianity and the threat of sharia law. He moved here from Chicago a decade ago because he wanted to live “someplace more principled and simple, where people aren’t afraid to talk about the 900-pound gorillas in the room.” Now he delivers roses to the state Capitol each year to representatives who oppose abortion, and he leads annual service trips to Central America. He has grown the church property from one acre to 11 and built a campus with gym space and classrooms.