California pastor Jim Garlowa champion of Proposition 8 (Calif. marriage admendment) and who has become a national spokesman in support of biblical valueshas been tapped by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to chair his non-partisan, non-profit dedicated to Judeo-Christian values.
The appointment will augment work Garlow has already been doing on the national scene as founder of the Pastor's Rapid Response Team and as lead pastor at Skyline Church, the mega-church he's led for 14 years in San Diego County.
Garlow said his appointment should not be construed as an eventual exit strategy for his church work. Instead, he has resigned from numerous non-church commitments and boards, including several universities.
"I don't feel called to leave," he said after the March 16 announcement. "I feel quite called for the pastorate to be the platform for this."
Garlow said Gingrich made the offer in January after the pair had crossed paths in Washington D.C. on several different occasions late last year while promoting several pro-family issues. He consulted about 50 people and spent eight weeks praying and contemplating the offer before accepting.
"I'm concerned how it will impact my family and my church," he said. "I'm quite protective of them both because I'm deeply in love with both. But the neat thing about this is they are allowing me to construct what is feasible within the framework of my time. My first priority is my family and secondly is my church."
With his new role, Garlow's duties will entail conducting media interviews, penning opinion pieces and books, securing speaking engagements, and activating and enlisting pastors and Christian leaders to understand the biblical components of the nation's founding and its place in government.
"I want the biblical truth that is coming via Renewing American Leadership to be a natural outflow of biblical proclamation from the pulpit," Garlow said.
In many ways, his new assignment closely parallels work he has already been doing while shepherding Skyline. His passion for biblical marriage helped propel San Diego pastors to get behind Proposition 8, a movement that quickly spread to the state's 57 other counties. With its solid success at the ballot box, other states began seeking out Garlow for ideas on how to make similar stands in their own states.
Through his Pastors Rapid Response Team, 30 webinars were hosted in numerous states.
"We did the first seven or eight here in California and thought we were done after Prop. 8," he said.
Other states to have benefited from the webinars include Arizona, Florida, Washington, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York and Maine.
A supernatural fit?
A self-described news and history junkie, Garlow said he first discovered his passion for civic affairs as a child.
"I came down the birth canal interested in politics," he said, adding that as a 9-year-oldthe same year he gave his life to Christhe had an "epiphany of a sheer delight in political stuff."
"Other people play golf," he said. "I do politics."
A student of cultural trends, Garlow earned his Ph.D. in historical theology and a master's in church history.
Even so, Garlow describes his political passion more as a hobby that is completely separate from role he will play for ReAl.
"It's a very distinct thing," he said. "It comes from quite a different angle. It comes from a biblical (perspective), and my historical and theology training."
In a statement he released about the appointment, Gingrich, who was out of the country and unavailable for comment, said he was pleased Garlow had agreed to join the ReAL team. Founded last year, ReAL focuses on what Gingrich calls "the three pillars of American civilization: freedom, faith and free-enterprise."
"He is an emerging national leader whose intellect, passion, energy and talent will allow ReAL to be even more effective in defending and preserving America's Judeo-Christian heritage," the statement read.
Because marriage is one of the cultural issues to which Garlow is deeply committed, he acknowledged that he carefully vetted Gingrich, who has publicly admitted to an extra-marital affair that ended his second marriage.
"The honest answer is yes," Gingrich said when the question was broached to him during a 2007 interview with Focus on the Family. "There are times that I have fallen short of my own standards. There's certainly times when I've fallen short of God's standards."
Now remarried, Gingrich is committed to his Christian faith, Garlow said, indicating to him that the high-profile Republican has gone beyond a simple apology to a deeper discipline of restoration.
"Those close to him are quite encouraged with the tremendous spiritual journey he has been on and his own enormous spiritual growth the last few years," Garlow said, adding that his pastor's heart was settled on that issue.
Morality and ethics
Much of what Garlow will be focusing on includes re-educating pastors about their moral and ethical responsibility to speak out on cultural issues impacting their flocks and their families. He said too many pastors have strayed from the historical context of when the pulpit was the main communicating point for social issues.
"I think most people realize the Bible has a lot to say about coming to Christ and growing in Christ," the Wesleyan pastor, who has authored 11 books, said. "And then, in a process of time many people realize it has a lot to say about marriage and family, and lots to say about relationships. Most people would say the Bible has a lot to say about the nature of the church and how it is supposed to function, but what seems to be lacking so much is an awareness that the Bible actually speaks to the issue of national formation and how a nation is to function."
He said clergy and other Christian leaders have become intimidated by secularist threats and with the notion that speaking out from the pulpit may offend their flock.
"What is so frustrating is there was a time when the pulpits thundered with the truth of the issues of civil governance and we've been largely emasculated. We've lost any sense of boldness of voice," Garlow said.
The cultural watchdog said he believes much of America's descent into a post-Christian mentality derives from progressives who have campaigned long and hard to compartmentalize religion, removing it from the public square. He is also certain he will be criticized for his new post and that his detractors will accuse him of trying to establish a theocracy, an argument he calls invalid.
"We are in a democracy and a democracyfascinatinglyallows all persons to have a voice," Garlow said. "Democracy doesn't prohibit some people from having a voice simply because what formed them happened to be religious, spiritual or Christian convictions. In fact, to try to silence anybody because of that reason is the greatest insult to the very nature of what a constitutional republic is all about."
In his pursuit of Judeo-Christian values, Garlow stressed his campaign will not be partisan.
"I did not sign up to be part of a party, Republican or Democrat or independent or tea party," he said. "I did not sign up to identify with any candidate, including even Newt Gingrich. Although personally I hope he runs.
"I signed up for one reason, and that is because it causes the pulpit to be used for what it is supposed to be, and that is the bully pulpit; not bullying and tearing people down; but bullying in terms of influence and range, to speak to certain issues in the culture."
Whether it's dealing with the culture, politics, religious freedoms or the inherent issues that stem from being a church pastor, Garlow said his vision is to direct everything to the cross.
"I don't have an interest in being over identified with a party," he said. "I have a great interest in being identified with biblical issues. That was something I weighed very extensively. I was real clear and up front with (Gingrich). I said, 'You need to know, though, I'm a patriot, and I'm American, I'm a proud American, I have no interest in elevating the country at the price of or failure to be able to exalt Christ."
For more information on Renewing American Leadership, visit www.torenewamerica.com.