Don't Be The Weird One

Family Leader Conference Mixes Religion & Politics

Ben Jacobs reports from a major evangelical conference in Iowa

08.10.13 6:17 PM ET

The speakers at the Family Leader conference in Ames, Iowa may have longed for that old time religion but they had no use for the traditional Republican establishment.

The morning session, which began with a prayer invoking “the banner of the cross” featured unapologetic statements of Christian faith from speakers ranging from six-term senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to one-time Celebrity Apprentice contestant Stephen Baldwin.  It was an event that was much a religious revival as a political rally. As event organizer Bob Vander Plaats told the audience that the goal of the Family Leader was to be at the precise point where “the church, the family and the government intersect.” But he cautioned that churches don’t need “to be political, we need them to be biblical and culturally relevant instead.”

Politics weren't neglected at the event though. It was also a rally where condemned the various bugaboos of social conservatives; the Progressive movement, the French Revolution, and, of course, establishment Republicans. In particular, Rick Santorum condemned the “moderate Republicans those based in big cities” who don’t want to talk about culture as well as what he described as the French Revolution’s concept of “government given rights.”

While Santorum identified villains in both the 21st and 18th century, Chuck Grassley went after wrongdoers from a time in between; the progressives from the turn of the 20th century. In Grassley’s mind, those progressives, the famous of whom was Republican hero Theodore Roosevelt, have been trying to destroy the Constitution for the past century. The Iowa senator claimed  “Early progressives spoke far more openly about their disdain of the Constitution than you hear from progressives today” but noted they share the same goals of handing over government to an “elite cadre of experts.”

For all the rhetorical flourishes on stage though, there was a concerted effort to avoid making statements that might come across as too extreme. Attendees were warned to be on the best behavior by Vander Plaats, who said that at similar events the media always “finds the weird one in the crowd, I’m asking you politely do not be the weird ones.” Shortly afterwords, Congressman Steve King (R-IA) started speaking about Roman Law and proclaiming that our founding fathers were moved around this continent by God like pieces on a chessboard."

Vander Plaats acknowledged afterwards “the media got some quotes out of that.”