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God-O-Meter

thompson3.jpgGod-o-Meter just stumbled on this story from last week about Fred Thompson overstating his conservative Christian support by inflating the heft of a group called the Wesleyan Center for Strategic Studies (whose web site now appears to be down). God-o-Meter had raised questions about the group earlier this month, after the Thompson campaign emailed an ABC News report about its support for Thompson headlined “Thompson Rallies Conservative Christians.” Turns out the group speaks for virtually no one and doesn’t even have the Washington, DC headquarters it claimed to. Here’s what The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Bible Belt Blogger learned about it:

The religious leaders who endorsed Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson on Friday in Jackson, Miss., represent a group closer to the size of West Memphis,Ark. not the state of California, as the former U.S. senator claimed, one of the ministers said Monday.
Standing beside the Rev. Phillip Knight and the Rev. Benny Tate, the respective president and vice president of the Congregational Methodist Church, Thompson said Friday, “I am honored and blessed to receive the endorsement of these two men who represent 40 million people around the nation from 42 different Wesleyan denominations.”
The endorsement — and the 40 million figure — made the news this weekend and ended up in a Time magazine online article Monday.
But Knight and Tate never have been elected to lead the nation’s Wesleyans and Methodists, who number only 14.2 million, according to the 2001 American Religious Identification Survey. And the Congregational Methodist denomination, based in Florence, Miss., has only 26,000-27,000 members, Knight said in an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Monday.
Jeff Sadosky, a spokesman for the Thompson campaign, said he couldn’t say whether Thompson was accurate when he claimed the men represented 40 million people.
“I’m not a religion expert,” Sadosky said. “The numbers we used came from conversations with them.”
Knight conceded Monday that there aren’t 40 million Wesleyans and Methodists in the United States. Methodists and Wesleyans trace their spiritual roots to John Wesley, the 18th century Anglican preacher who founded the Methodist movement.
In 2006, Knight and Tate founded the Wesleyan Center for Strategic Studies. The organization has a Washington phone number, which was answered by Knight on Monday, and a Washington post office box.
The group’s Web site, www.vchurches.com/wcss/, and blog are devoted primarily to promoting Thompson’s presidential candidacy.
The Web site also claims that the group has an office in the nation’s capital.
Knight told the Democrat-Gazette that the center has at least three employees.
He also reiterated, “We have an office primarily in Washington, D.C.”
When pressed for the address of the office, Knight said the center doesn’t actually have its own office, but that a group called American Values loans the center space when members travel to the capital.
American Values, based in Shirlington, Va., is headed by former GOP presidential candidate Gary Bauer, who hasn’t publicly endorsed any of the Republican candidates.
In an interview, Bauer confirmed he has offered to rent permanent office space to the founder of the Wesleyan center, but said that no deal has been formalized.
Bauer said he also has offered to let the center borrow space, but that he hasn’t seen anyone from the group in a couple of months.
Tate couldn’t be reached for comment Monday. A secretary at his church, Rock Springs Church in Milner, Ga., said she didn’t have any information on the Wesleyan Center for Strategic Studies.
“No sir,” she said. “I’ve never even heard of that.”

God-o-Meter is glad to learn it’s not the only one.


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