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Overshadowed by Tea Party Movement, the Christian Right Scrambles to Claim It Isn't Racist

The Tea Party movement has the juice as the religious right is on the wane. Survival may mean joining up, but that presents an image problem for Christians.

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Pence's call to racial harmony through the wisdom of free markets fell a little flat on this crowd, and is not without irony, since Pence has publicly endorsed the work of Grassfire, an astroturfing organization that runs ResistNet, a Web site where I found all manner of racist material when researching an August story.

Other speakers were more explicit about the religious right's need to differentiate itself from the tactics employed by town-hall protesters and Tea Partiers.

Most transparent was the closing speaker, the Rev. Harry Jackson, an African American. Jackson is the religious right's point man in Washington, where he is waging a battle, organizing African American pastors to prevent the City Council from enacting a same-sex marriage law.

Jackson spoke with urgency about his personal need to have the religious right behave well on matters of race, saying, "I cannot win this fight...if even my own black brothers see me as a traitor.

"What I want to say to you is that the burning question in the media today is whether this growing grassroots movement is, the Tea Party movement, the morally engaged, who are crying out, concerned with the problem of health care, as well -- that many of us are cast as being racist. The word has gone out that there is, in fact, a racist element that is causing us to rise up and come against President Obama …"

Jackson went on to tell how, in a meeting with the "spiritual fathers" of the city, he stood accused of trying to discredit the president. Imitating the voice of an old Southern black man, he told of how one pastor said, " 'Ah know what he agonna try to do -- the right-wingers gonna get up in here and because we make a stand before marriage, they're gonna use it against Mr. Obama.'

"You know, I almost got my black card revoked."

"We're going to have to decide that we're going to have stay with issues," he continued, "and we're going to have to not attack Mr. Obama … now, hear me out, that may rub you the wrong way, but God bless you, I'm used to a little hostility. … We cannot afford to be undisciplined and to engage in a way that will cause people to think that we're something that we're not."

Jackson's solution? Drop the race card and play the class card instead. Laying out his strategy against the LGBT rights movement, he complained that the LGBT community is composed of "disproportionately educated [who] have all kinds of opportunities to make more money than other folk …"  'K Street lawyers," he called them.

Challening the characterization of same-sex marriage as a civil right, Jackson spoke of his father, who had been abused by a state trooper for being black, saying that his father "knew what a civil right was."

He fired up his white followers with this condemnation of LGBT activists: "That movement is a handful of privileged people who are intolerant of anybody with another idea, who want to oppress and suppress the truth in the name of freedom."

Then he called the faithful to pray with him, to pretend that they were at a "black 'Bapticostal' church." Together they prayed, "Let God arise, and his enemies be scattered." Then they broke into a murmur of individual prayers, hands raised, while Jackson prayed over them, a polite, contained frenzy.

Adele M. Stan AlterNet's Washington bureau chief.