Whose Side Is God On?

The three-day Western Conservative Summit, which recently drew six GOP presidential contenders and over 4,000 participants to Denver, featured debates, galas, and speeches by high-profile conservatives.

But outside the media spotlight, the gathering offered 30 "Citizen Action Workshops,"  most focusing on nuts-and-bolts tactics that conservatives believe will help them advance their agenda.

In one such workshop, titled "Energize Your Church for Civic Engagement," Gayle Levin, Associate Director of Salt and Light Council, outlined ways conservative churches can organize to make a difference in the public sphere.

"We've had a one-two punch from the Supreme Court, and there's only one place to turn, God," said Levin, after presenting a video to workshop goers lamenting that "homosexuality" is considered "normal" in America, abortion is "accepted" and, generally, the Bible has be set aside is by secular society.

"If churches would rise up, we could turn things around in one election cycle," continued Levin, adding that her anti-choice organization, founded by, among others, Mathew Staver of the right-wing Liberty Council, trains pastors and churchgoers in 23 states.

Levin discussed a number reasons churches don't take action, ranging from, "The rapture is coming," and "I don't want to scare people away," to, "You're being too political," and, "Separation of church and state."

For churches that want to get involved, Levin said her group helps pastors craft two-minute messages designed to be delivered "from the pulpit," and pastors are asked to encourage church attendees to stop by a Salt and Light table, as they leave the service. At the table, church volunteers get instructions on how to take action on the pastor's message from the sermon.

For example, in 2012, Levin said, her organization worked with churches whose members were directed to other organizations which, in turn, sent them to rallies, organized by the Liberty Council and other organizations, in swing states.

The Salt and Light Council also encourages churches to provide voter guides, organize candidate forums, and to register and transport voters to the polls. And if a church runs afoul with the law or needs anything else, the organization will provide "legal and background support," said Levin.

Though IRS rules limit political work by religious entities, both left- and right-leaning groups encourage political involvement by the religious community. Left-leaning organizations, such as Sojourners, organize with allies across the country.

The conservatives American Renewal Project and right-wing activist David Lane has set up meetings with pastors and GOP presidential candidates in swing states, including Colorado.

Also here, conservatives have organized a July 12-15 conference in Colorado Springs, called Breaking the Silence, which features prominent right-wing evangelicals from across the country.

Some religious activism focuses on protecting right-wing church practices. One conservative organization, Alliance Defending Freedom, has published a guide, titled Protecting Your Ministry from Sexual Orientation Gender Identity Lawsuits, to help churches and institutions use loopholes to discriminate based on sexual orientation.

Here's an excerpt from the manual:

A new concept -- that "sexual liberty" trumps religious freedom -- has begun to impact churches, ministries, and individual Christians across this nation. This concept has led to the passage of sexual orientation, gender identity ordinances (SOGIs). SOGIs elevate sexual special interests over our cherished fundamental freedoms, especially religious freedom. These ordinances place terms like "sexual orientation" or "gender identity" in the same category as race or religion. But they are not designed for the innocent purpose of ensuring all people receive basic services. Rather, their practical effect is to legally compel Christians to accept, endorse, and even promote messages, ideas, and events that violate their faith.

Those promoting these ordinances use public sympathy -- gained through misleading rhetoric about "discrimination" -- to silence dissenting voices. And no ministry will remain immune if they remain true to Scripture's teachings about sexuality and gender. Alliance Defending Freedom created this manual to help you prepare for the legal intrusions some of your fellow believers and Christian leaders around the country have already faced, and for other threats on the near horizon.

"We do need to stand up," said one workshop participant at Denver's Western Conservative Summit, Pastor Mark White of Park View Bible Baptist Church in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, referring to recent Supreme Court decisions. "It is our fault, as Christians, that we are in the state we're in.  We've sat on our hands too long."

"This [Western Conservative] Summit is here for a reason," said Levin. "We are looking for who will stand for God."

Though most of the workshops offered at the Summit focused on developing practical skills, like the one on church organizing, others were broader or agenda-driven. These included, "Young Voters Meet Team Carly, with Fiorina for President (under-30s only),"  "Lessons from the Left, with Americans for Prosperity,"  "Trump the Race Card, with Frederick Douglass Republicans," and "We're the Millennials, Give Us a Look, with Turning Point USA."