By HEIDI CENEC
A political action organization named Christian Exodus is focusing its efforts on Anderson County in the next two years.
The group has focused on South Carolina for at least two years, but only recently has concentrated its efforts in Anderson County.
The organization’s goal is simple: have enough conservative Christian voters in the county to influence local politics.
Christian Exodus is coordinating with other conservative groups to launch the South Carolina Liberty Alliance. Under the alliance, the groups would work together to elect officials who share their views — limiting government, eliminating property tax and promoting prayer at public meetings are only a few.
Christian Exodus also has received the funding to launch its own low-power FM radio station, which would spread the group’s message across Anderson County. The alliance should be announced in March, but the radio station will take longer since the grassroots organization is relying on volunteer manpower.
It’s only the beginning of the group’s plans. According to its Web site, the group wants to overwhelmingly impact the statewide elections of 2014.
“Ultimately, we want to have an impact on the whole state, but you have to start somewhere,” Christian Exodus President Cory Burnell said.
Christian Exodus has more than 180 members in South Carolina and 1,400 total.
Fifteen households have moved to South Carolina since the project started, and another dozen are working on a move now, Burnell said. He estimated it would only take about 100 conservative activists moving to the county to have an impact.
Rick Adkins, chairman of the Anderson County Republican Party, said he could easily see the group taking a County Council seat in two years. Any large group, whether it’s a political organization or a major employer, can quickly become a major player in local politics because so few people vote, Adkins said.
For example, in a primary election where only 15 percent of the population votes, that’s only 3,000 people voting per seat.
“If they move 1,400 people to Anderson County, they would be a very big force in the elections, and they could take over a party very easily,” Adkins said.
But encouraging that many people to move is easier said than done. People have jobs and families.
The group could also face challenges winning the conservative right, said Laura Olson, a Clemson University professor who studies the intersection between religion and politics.
There’s more political diversity within evangelical Protestants than people think, so it’s unwise to assume other conservative Christians will agree with their views, Olson said.
Jake Young, the pastor of North Anderson Community Church, Presbyterian, said Christian Exodus represents only one political perspective and an extreme one at that.
“They are not the first group to claim to know the perfect will of God for our society, and I suspect they won’t be the last,” Young said.
Christian Exodus also faces the third-party factor. The group intends to endorse and run its own candidates in local primaries. Third parties rarely have electoral success in our dominant two-party system, Olson said.
The radio station is a particularly good strategy to battle both those issues, she said. Something as simple as packing their message with contemporary Christian music would help the organization appeal to a wider audience.
“It’s fascinating to watch, but whether or not it’s going to be able to have a huge transforming effect, I’m a skeptic,” Olson said. “I know American politics is hard to change on a whole.”
There are other skeptics in the community as well.
Stuart Sprague, chairman of the Anderson County Democratic Party, said he hasn’t seen any evidence that Christian Exodus’ view is shared by a large number of people, although it’s definitely something to monitor.
The group’s move has also triggered an online petition at Petitionspot.com. One of the 14 signers says he “has never been more embarrassed about living in South Carolina.” Other entries are more crass.