By Bob Allen
A Southern Baptist Convention official gave positive reviews to a private gathering of roughly 300 pastors and faith leaders aimed at consolidating religious conservatives to support Sen. Ted Cruz in the upcoming Republican presidential primaries.
Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, described remarks by Cruz to the two-day gathering at the Cisco, Texas, ranch of fracking billionaire Farris Wilks as “frankly, the finest presentation I ever heard from a candidate.”
“Great prayer meeting also for America,” Patterson, co-founder of the SBC “conservative resurgence” in the 1980s and 1990s, tweeted Dec. 29.
Jerry Johnson, president and CEO of the National Religious Broadcasters and former administrator and professor at two SBC seminaries, said the candidate “articulated a clear constitutional case for religious liberty.”
Few details have leaked about the gathering sponsored in part by author and activist David Barton. The meeting host, along with his brother Dan Wilks, has given $15 million to a super PAC backing Cruz in the 2016 election.
The Cisco meeting followed an earlier gathering Dec. 7 in Tysons Corner, Va., of several dozen conservative leaders brought together for a straw poll spearheaded by Family Research Council president Tony Perkins.
Convinced that Republicans lost in 2008 and 2012 because the moderates nominated by the Republican Party failed to galvanize the conservative base, Religious Right leaders voted five times before Cruz received the supermajority of votes needed to become the consensus candidate.
A Washington Post story about this week’s meeting in Cisco reported that James Robison, a televangelist and former Southern Baptist, led a question-and-answer session with Cruz.
Attendees identified by the Post included Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary and former head of the SBC Ethics and Religious and Liberty Commission, and Voddie Baucham, a Southern Baptist evangelist and church planter who currently serves as pastor of preaching at Grace Family Baptist Church in Spring, Texas.
Cruz, a member of First Baptist Church in Houston, has criss-crossed the country with his father, Rafael Cruz, a 76-year-old pastor, to reach out to the faith community.
The Texas senator said in August that evangelical pastors are the GOP’s best hope to win the White House in 2016.