Leith Anderson, the influential head of the National Association of Evangelicals who counts Tim Pawlenty among his 5,000 parishioners, is retiring from his leadership position with Eden Prairie's Wooddale Church.
Anderson said Pawlenty's run for the Republican presidential nomination has nothing to do with his retirement, which comes after 35 years.[jump] Even if the retirement is unrelated to the presidential race, reporters are paying attention to the former governor's relationship with Anderson. Since leaving office in Minnesota, Pawlenty has touted his faith and hit Christian bookstores nationwide to promote his candidacy. And Anderson is a powerful force.
As president of the NAE, he oversees 45,000 churches and 30,000,000 parishioners -- and he's going to maintain that role at least until his term runs out in 2013.
Raised a Catholic, Pawlenty's conservative evangelical Christianity can be credited to his wife Mary, and to Anderson. And the pastor says he plans to continue offering Pawlenty spiritual advice well after his tenure at Wooddale is over at the end of the year. But beyond that, Anderson says he's keeping his distance.
"I don't have any role in the Pawlenty campaign, and I don't foresee having any role in the campaign."
Pawlenty's faith factors into his strict opposition to abortion and gay marriage -- the latter of which got him glitter-bombed at an event in San Francisco in a couple weeks ago. But following, or even acknowledging Anderson's guidance on some issues, could lead T-Paw to troublesome positions among Republicans.
Anderson has established himself as something of an iconoclast in recent years, going against the mainstream conservative grain to oppose Arizona's controversial anti-immigration law. At the time, Anderson explained that the law was, "not pro family and we're interested in what we can do to have intact and healthy families."
In February, Anderson joined President Obama's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, a hand-picked group of 25 that advises Obama on issues where government and faith-based nonprofits clash or overlap.
Most candidates for the 2012 Republican nomination support a strict stance on immigration and oppose Obama at all opportunities. In order to have a chnce, Pawlenty will have to either go against his longtime pastor, or try to convince Republicans that Anderson's political sins are forgivable.
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