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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dan Hall, Urban Ventures and the Midwest Chaplains

Since state senate candidate Dan Hall has been in the news lately, I thought I'd repost this background from Lloydletta's Nooz.

Vultures Preying on the State Capitol

The Rake has an excellent article in the current issue: Church and State: The myth of separation crumbles in the halls of the Minnesota State Capitol.

It talks about Dan Hall of Midwest Chaplains who has had a prayer "ministry" at the state capitol for the last three years. Lloydletta's Nooz broke the story about Urban Ventures and the Colin Powell Youth Center signing on to Midwest Chaplains Day of Prayer for the Bachmann amendment (An image of Prayer Proclamation is available here.)

Well here's some more background on this ministry:

Chaplain Dan Hall's Wednesday prayer meeting attracts a range of high-powered guests, including lobbyists, but the group is most animated when legislators stop in to visit and pray. Thus, when Republican Representative Larry Howes of Walker was introduced, everyone straightened in their seats. "What you’re doing makes a difference here at the Capitol," Howes began. "It may not always seem that way, but I can assure you that your prayers are heard."

"What's your passion?" Hall asked.

"Politics," Howes answered, before transitioning into a detailed policy discussion about what’s really on his mind—namely, a nursing home in his district that is in danger of losing its state funding. "It's a big payroll, and the loss of that would devastate our local economy," he said.

The formerly gay man raised his hand. "Should we pray that the governor will sign the bill for the nursing home?"

"Sure," Howes replied. "Yeah."

He then launched into another passion, concerning a letter someone had sent to Republican Representative Paul Gazelka, which disapproved of his support for a measure that would ban gay marriage. According to Howes, the author works for the Crow Wing County Human Services Department. "And I want you to know that I've already looked into de-funding that agency," he announced with a pointed look at Hall.

A constituent writes a letter that the representative disagrees with. So the representative tries to defund the agency for whom the constituent works. Chilling.

According to an online resume, Dan Hall has no formal religious training nor even a formal ordination, despite serving as an assistant pastor, administrative pastor, associate pastor, and senior pastor to four congregations dating back to 1982. This is not unusual. Among some Pentecostals and members of other independent, evangelical denominations, there is an institutional suspicion of formal religious training, and many of their church leaders are not ordained, at least not in accredited seminaries or divinity schools. Instead, they are accepted as spiritual leaders on the basis of their faith, leadership, and charisma. Hall, a married father of eight, seems to have established himself in that tradition and done quite well. In addition to being founder and executive director of Midwest Chaplains and its Capitol Prayer Network, he is city chaplain of Burnsville, where he ministers to police and emergency services personnel.

Hall claims his voluntary ministry at the Capitol began after House Chaplain Lonnie Titus told him "he couldn't handle it all on his own." In contrast, Titus claims that Hall approached him about getting involved at the Capitol. Regardless of whose idea it was, nobody disputes that Hall's Capitol ministry began in the fall of 2001, when he stationed himself outside the Senate chambers and introduced himself to members.

My guess: Hall is lying on this one.

Four years later, his routine hasn’t changed much. "I come down to the Capitol after the traffic," Hall explains. "And I begin my route." He starts on the top floor of the State Office Building. "I peek my head into offices, say hello to staff and legislators and just see where that goes. I see what I can do to help, and I always try to bring God into it." When he is not busy with the individual needs of legislators and staff, Hall conducts "prayer tours" of the Capitol for groups interested in praying at the usual tour stops, such as the Senate chambers.

Hall also maintains an email list of "Capitol intercessors" whom he contacts with specific prayer requests when a "moral or spiritual issue" such as abortion, gay rights, or methamphetamine use arises. "I've been told that because I'm a chaplain I must be a Republican," Hall admitted. "I'm more conservative, yes, but really what I'm doing is based on Biblical truth. I call it 'political evangelism,' but it's not politics."

Lonnie Titus disputes Hall's depiction of his ministry. "I serve as a chaplain to all of the people [at the House of Representatives]," Titus explained. "But Dan, he's the front guy if you're pro-life, pro-marriage." The distinction is important and legal. For Dan Hall's ministry to be granted federal 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status as a nonprofit organization it must meet several criteria, one of the most important being that it "may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities"—even, presumably, if that means influencing God to influence legislation. Bluntly, the regulations prohibiting religious organizations from explicit political advocacy do not allow for much interpretation, and Hall—otherwise a literalist in Scriptural matters—knows it. "A lot of pastors don't stand up for issues and that’s how we got into the mess that we’re in today," Hall said. "They're all worried about losing their 'tax-exempt.'" Intentionally or not, Chaplain Dan Hall and his supporters at the Legislature may be redefining the boundaries of religious political advocacy in Minnesota.

There needs to be complaints filed with the Minnesota Department of Revenue and the IRS about this organization.

But look who walks in for a prayer:

The last guest at Chaplain Dan Hall's Wednesday prayer meeting was Duane Coleman, vice president for Development at the Colin Powell Youth Leadership Center in South Minneapolis. Supported by organizations like Best Buy, ADC, and General Mills, the center is a $12.6 million South Minneapolis project designed to help inner-city youth acquire secondary-school educations. Duane Coleman has been a repeat guest at Dan Hall's prayer gatherings, and when he arrived on this day, Hall encouraged him to describe the results of the prayers he’d received the week before.

Coleman said that, before last week, only the Senate version of the new bonding bill included cash for the Colin Powell Youth Leadership Center. "So I came last week and we prayed over this," Coleman explained. "And somehow, through divine favor, the money ended up in the House bill, too."
A late arrival, a woman in the back of the room, raised her hand. "Is your group Christian?"

Coleman nodded vigorously. "Yes."

"So what are we praying for today?"

"Success in conference committee!" Coleman replied.

Like many before him, Coleman stood before the group with his eyes closed as the Cannon Falls ladies and Myrna Howes prayed for him. "Lord, my husband is a legislator and I know he received a lot of letters on behalf of this saying it won't do anything," Howes intoned. "Well, I hope those letters to turn to dust."
With that, the meeting was over. The group quickly dispersed into dimly lit Capitol hallways filled with legislators on their way to lunch. Charlotte Herzog, however, stopped to tell me how much she appreciates Dan Hall’s ministry at the Capitol. "You know," she said. "Prayer is just so much more effective than all those committee hearings and meetings."

I guess on this one, my prayers were answered. The taxpayers were saved from subsidizing the Colin Powell Boondoggle. It was stripped from the conference committee.