Trailing Badly, Republicans Take Long-Term Approach

Monday, November 6, 2006

LANCASTER -- Each worshiper attending Sunday services at Fairfield Christian Church here received a flier from the Ohio Christian Alliance.

In a handy layout, it offered the positions of top Republican and Democratic candidates on issues important to the vast congregation: the federal marriage amendment, abortion, embryonic stem cell research, the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance and the public display of the Ten Commandments.

Pastor Russell Johnson held up the flier and urged his flock southeast of Columbus to stand firm. He acknowledged that the polls showed the state's top Republican candidates -- including Sen. Mike DeWine and gubernatorial contender J. Kenneth Blackwell, both social conservatives -- trailing badly 48 hours before polls open.

"I'm concerned," Johnson acknowledged. But he declared that defeat in a single election would hardly end the quest of the Religious Right or the work of his own congregation, which he said knows something about crucifixion and resurrection.

"Life will go beyond Tuesday," Johnson said, adding to applause, "We will not go away."

Johnson's ministry is the target of a complaint to the Internal Revenue Service from a group of 56 clergy that contends Fairfield Christian should forfeit its tax-exempt status for going too far in supporting Blackwell. Johnson denies the allegation and was careful yesterday not to mention any candidate by name.

In his sermon, Johnson left no doubt which positions he respects. He warned the congregation to beware of liberals who talk about God and support legal abortion and gay marriage, and sometimes call themselves evangelicals. The pastor, who described the prophet Muhammad and Buddha as "counterfeits," said marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

"That's not Democrat or Republican. I'm telling you, that's biblical truth," he said.

Amid Republican worries that turnout will be lackluster, Lancaster insurance executive Scott Schumacher said that Fairfield Christian worshipers, at least, will show up.

"I'd be surprised if it wasn't 95 percent. They feel they have a responsibility not just as a citizen to vote, but as a human being and a Christian," said Schumacher, 48, who shares Johnson's long-term view. "Whether we win or lose, the day's going to happen, and the right things are going to happen over time."

-- Peter Slevin

© 2006 The Washington Post Company