Senate leader tells televangelist he’s in a ‘spiritual battle’

Sceengrab of Andrew Wommack and Paul Gazelka
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, right, appeared on a livestream interview with conservative minister and media personality Andrew Wommack.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka used a recent interview with a conservative televangelist to share candid views about his faith and how it shapes his approach to governing.

“A lot of my job frankly is stopping the onslaught of the left from continually moving us in a way that we know is contrary to the Bible,” Gazelka told Colorado evangelical leader Andrew Wommack during a roughly hour-long discussion in November on Truth & Liberty, a weekly livestream. 

Gazelka, who is known around the Capitol for a self-effacing manner and conciliatory gestures toward recent DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and current Gov. Tim Walz, also defended the right of churches and counselors to offer so-called conversion therapy, the controversial and widely discredited practice of attempting to change a person’s sexual orientation, 

“I think the best place to land is let the church have the total freedom to do as they please, and then for professional counselors, if an adolescent comes into their office, says I have unwanted same-sex attraction, I’m hoping that counselor can say ‘How can I help you?’,” Gazelka told Wommack. 

Wommack, the Truth & Liberty interviewer, is a Christian media mogul and self-proclaimed faith healer who claims he witnessed his son rise from the dead. He has frequently waded into politically controversial areas, including offering support for Uganda’s criminalization of homosexual behavior. 

Gazelka, who declined an interview request from Minnesota Reformer, also used the wide ranging interview to opine about rural vs. urban people: 

“Rural people like to take care of themselves,” said Gazelka, whose district is in the Brainerd Lakes region. “They’re not interested in government helping them. That’s their last resort. In the inner city, it’s definitely — there’s higher concentrations of people that are on welfare, that are used to that, and our welfare system has basically entrapped them.” 

At a news conference earlier this week with fellow GOP senators, Gazelka said they would make urban crime part of their 2020 agenda.

Evidence suggests Gazelka’s claim about urban welfare recipients is arguable, especially when considering broader categories of government assistance like disability payments and help for farmers during the recent trade crisis.

Farmers are expected to receive $28 billion in trade related subsidies in 2019-2020. That’s more than twice as much as the entire auto industry bailout during the Great Recession. And, according to a Washington Post analysis of federal disability payments, 9.1 percent of working-age people in rural communities are on disability — nearly twice the urban rate and 40 percent higher than the national average.

A child’s claim

But Gazelka, who became majority leader in 2017, used most of the interview to discuss what he called the “spiritual battle” he is engaged in as he navigates the more secular world of Minnesota politics.

As he described in his 2003 book, “Marketplace Ministers,” he sees it as his mission to spread the word of God through his insurance business — and as a politician. He was first elected to the state House in 2004, to the state House and the Senate in 2010.

Gazelka, whose caucus holds a 35-32 majority, has largely avoided contentious social issues at the Capitol. But last year, Gazelka successfully defeated a gay-conversion ban in an emotional debate that split members of his own caucus.

Days before the conclusion of last year’s legislative session, Genna, Gazelka’s oldest child, who came out as lesbian as a teenager and now identifies as bi-gender and uses the pronoun, they, told the Star Tribune that their parents subjected them to gay-conversion therapy. 

Gazelka denied then that he sent them to therapy to address their sexual orientation, saying the therapy was for “healing.” 

Mental health professionals have long condemned the practice, which is banned in some form in at least 16 states. Minneapolis recently passed a ban of its own, and the issue is likely to re-emerge in the upcoming legislative session. 

Getting to salvation

During the Truth & Liberty interview, Gazelka also shared his belief that a person’s sexual orientation can be influenced by whether he or she had a strong relationship with a parent of the same sex, telling the story of a man who came to him for advice.

“I said, ‘Can I ask you a question?’ I said… ‘were you raised by your mom and dad, or was it just your mom,’” he recalled saying, “because a lot of times (with) same-sex attraction, there’s not a good connection to the biological parent of the (same) sex.” 

Gazelka continued: “And he says “It’s funny to say that, you know, because my — my mom and my grandma raised me. The point I’m trying to make is we actually had a conversation that we could talk about the issues around the why and the what.”

His ministerial air and friendly demeanor, Gazelka said, has helped him improve relationships with the DFL opposition at the Capitol.

“When I took over three years ago as a majority leader there it was very very divisive,” he said.  “I get countless people — including people on the other side of the aisle — that acknowledge that we’ve lowered the tone, there’s much more civility, and that we’re actually governing the way I think prospers the state.”

At one point in the interview, Wommack said opponents of conservative Christians are with “the spirit of Antichrist. What they call political correctness is nothing but demonic inspired and so … I can get by with stuff maybe you can’t.” 

Gazelka responded with a long answer about interacting with the secular world and trying to help people get to Christian salvation. 

“Well, I rub shoulders with a lot of different people. Y’know, I’m elbow-deep trying to connect to the gay community and all the different groups of people. And I just want to say I … look at Jesus’s life and he was attracted to the sinner,” Gazelka said. 

“And so, once I build relationships with people then we can actually talk about why they believe what they believe or what happened to you when you were a kid or whatever. You know, and sometimes I plant a seed that I know produces fruit down the road,” he said. 

“You know, there’s been opportunities — I’ve had a chance to pray with people about their salvation. But it comes from a relationship that’s — that’s oozing with the love of Christ and the truth of his word, not one or the other. And so that works in politics too.”