Exposing the Christian Right's New Racial Playbook
Continued from previous page
If the megachurches of America did this, the foster care system -- we would be the answer, and we would get moral authority in this nation. But the problem is, we're still living for the American dream. There is an explosion of adoption -- you if you talk to the millennials, they're all thinking, care for the poor, adoption, it's all in their DNA, if we could give them the vision of living the cross, outrageous sacrificial living, we can actually turn a nation back to God.
Meeting the Tea Party at the Crossroads
The religious right finds itself at a bewildering series of crossroads, forcing it to reshape its messaging. On the one hand, the movement senses it is being squeezed out of the media spotlight by the Tea Parties; even as religious right leaders support and bolster Tea Party activism, the media no longer portrays it as the crucial constituency whose litmus tests must be met by Republican candidates. At the same time, the ascendancy of evangelicals like Rick Warren -- who share the religious right's views on abortion and homosexuality but emphasize compassion for the poor -- has forced the religious right to rethink its branding.
That the Tea Parties have become the flavor of the moment is no doubt frustrating, especially since Tea Parties are routinely depicted as a new phenomenon, but actually share historical roots with many of the religious right's old allies that have included John Birch Society members and other Cold War era anti-communists. What's more, the Tea Parties seem to have stolen the religious right's thunder just as it was re-imagining itself -- without a shred of irony -- as a sort of do-gooder, right-wing rainbow coalition.
It appeared that Tea Parties taking place on the first day of the Federation's Summit -- Tax Day -- might have contributed to a sparse turnout, apart from the convocation, which is mandatory for Liberty students. Speaking to audiences in the hundreds, rather than the anticipated thousands, Summit speakers took pains to express their appreciation for the Tea Party movement, while urging it to get in touch with what religious right activists believe are the Constitution's biblical roots.
"We need a Tea Party movement with a Christian imperative," Rodriguez said. "That would be a revolution and a movement on steroids."
Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, insisted that the Constitution is based on the New Testament Book of Romans. She lauded a CWA activist in Missouri who was inspired by the Tea Parties to host a book club on W. Cleon Skousen's book The 5,000 Year Leap (a favorite of Glenn Beck's), which Wright said provided a natural segue into Focus on the Family's Truth Project. Apparently lost on Wright was the irony of invoking Skousen at a summit billed as a celebration of the right's diversity. Skousen, who in the 1970s worked with Falwell, once depicted "African-American children as 'pickaninnies' and described American slave owners as the 'worst victims' of the slavery system," according to journalist Alexander Zaitchik.
Tim Johnson, the North Carolina GOP official, said he intended to dispel the "rumor" that the GOP and Tea Party movement don't "welcome blacks."
"We support our Tea brothers and sisters," Johnson declared at the panel on messaging for outreach to the black community. Indeed, Johnson's Frederick Douglass Foundation represents a convergence of the religious right, its attempt at diversity (especially through the abortion-as-genocide argument) and its relationship to the Tea Party movement. On the home page of the organization's Web site, accessed April 25, you'll find a list of the Tea Party events in which its leaders participated earlier this month, as well as media coverage that features Johnson as a spokesperson on the existence of black people within Tea Party groups. In an interview last month, Johnson told me "the Tea Party movement exemplifies a lot of the anger in the black community."
The Religious Right Takes A Diversity Lesson
As demonstrated by Wendy Wright's comments about The 5,000 Year Leap, religious-right leaders still face a steep learning curve when it comes to building diversity. Rodriguez, who maintains relationships with members of both political parties -- including some in the Obama White House -- hasn't always been convinced of a Republican welcome, complaining to me during the 2008 Republican National Convention about the "nativism, xenophobia and quasi-racist elements embedded in the Republican Party."
To their audience, Freedom Federation members insist a new revival is underway, spurring a spontaneous outpouring of new support, but in reality they are combing every corner of the evangelical universe to expand their base. Buttoned-up religious right leaders like the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins (another Federation member who spoke at the Summit) have found common cause -- politically, if not theologically -- with charismatics and Pentecostals, whose spirit-filled religious expression, including speaking in tongues, prophesying and reliance on signs, wonders and miracles, historically has been controversial to fundamentalists, including the late Falwell, who viewed such expression as heretical.
Mat Staver, dean of Liberty's law school and president of the affiliated legal group Liberty Counsel, told the audience that assembled for the first night that the Federation would look beyond denominational differences so a unified army could suit up for battle. "We share the same common foxhole," said Staver, "because we share the same values."
At the revival, Engle called for "Jerry Falwell's heart to be released again into the nation, a massive righteousness movement with justice burning through the whole thing. We are not Republican, and we are not Democrat, we are subjects of a higher king."
Only a few hundred people -- all praying fervently -- attended that closing rally, out of which speakers predicted a new revival would be launched. Given the resiliency of the religious right -- it has survived all the embarrassments of Falwell, and more -- the turnout at this event should not be the only measure of its future impact. Whenever its opponents are ready to write it off, the religious right has a way of rising again, often in an even more strident form.
When I asked him about the low turnout, Staver downplayed the small size of the audience, saying the events of member organizations each could attract audiences in the tens of thousands. Indeed, many of them have formidable fundraising apparatuses, mailing lists and activist mobilization capabilities. Johnson told me he wasn't worried about turnout; the event was valuable for strategizing and networking. He wasn't hung up on numbers, he said, because, after all, "Jesus only had twelve disciples."
Freedom Federation Summit, Lynchburg, VA April 15-16, 2010. Featuring (in order of appearance): Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, Lou Engle, Bishop W.C. Martin, Bishop Harry Jackson and Rev. Arnold Culbreath