The legendary man of English letters, Dr. Samuel Johnson, once observed that patriotism was the last refuge of the scoundrel. If alive today, Johnson surely would have revised his observation to add religion as another final refuge of the scoundrel.
On Saturday, August 6th, with the temperature in Houston hitting 100°, an estimated 25,000 souls flocked to the Reliant Stadium to attend “The Response: A Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis.” It was ostensibly organized for Americans to ask God to guide the nation’s leaders during these times of economic travail.
(On the 6th, Reliant Park also hosted “Hunters Extravaganza 2011” that bills itself: “The Grandaddy of all Texas hunting shows … . Try out the latest deer hunting equipment, accessories, clothing, rifles, knives, archery and other exciting hunting gear!” Bring your bible, bring your gun for a day of Texas fun!)
Like many new-age evangelical gatherings, this one included the requisite pop band playing hours of Christian music and the audience singing along with devotional reverence. In addition, as the Austin American Statesman noted, “more than 1,000 churches around the country simulcast the event, potentially putting [Texas Governor Rick] Perry in front of hundreds of thousands of voters nationwide.”
Gov. Perry promoted the Response as a nonpolitical gathering. However, he did it with his customary smirk, the self-righteous, wink-and-a-nod duplicity common to today’s true scoundrel. Everyone other than the wandering-in-the-wilderness governor saw it as a preliminary kick-off event for his expected run for the Republican presidential nomination.
“Father, our heart breaks for America,” Perry intoned during his 13-minute speech. “We see discord at home. We see fear in the marketplace. We see angers in the halls of government. And as a nation we have forgotten who
made us, who protects us, who blesses us — and for that we cry out for your forgiveness.”
Perry stood proudly before those at the Response gathering with, metaphorically, a bible in one hand and a gun in the other. Thumping the bible, he oversees the most sustained program of civil executions in any democracy in the world; only China out kills this bible-toting executioner.
Since 1982, Texas has executed 437 people. Under George W. Bush, 152 people were executed; under Perry, 199 people have so far been killed. And there are currently 300 offenders on death row awaiting Perry’s OK to drop the guillotine. Against Perry’s best efforts, the Innocence Project continues to exonerate falsely-convicted people on death row and throughout the Texas prison system.
Perry, along with many of the evangelical Christian political movement, is part of what has long been recognized as the punitive tendency within religion. This tendency is evident in the other Abrahamic faiths, both Judaism and Islam. It is stridently monotheistic, seeking to repress the body and its sexual desires, suppress women, deny homoeroticism and reinforce patriarchal authority.
The Response gathering was sponsored by a number of conservative Christian groups. The American Family Association paid for the stadium’s rental. Shirley Dobson, chairman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, was a featured speaker as was her husband, James, founder of Focus on the Family. Kansas Republican Gov. Sam Brownback was the only other governor to attend.
However, the stalking horses behind the event were the rightwing Christian leaders, Bryan Fischer and John Hagee. Fischer has a revealing background, one that would make Goebbels proud: he directs Issues Analysis for the American Family Association (AFA); he hosts Focal Point on American Family Radio; and blogs at the AFA’s Rightly Concerned, which official sponsored the gathering; more troubling, he has repeatedly come out against gays and Muslims. Hagee is undergoing a political reincarnation; after his debacle with John McCain during the 2008 election (he called the Catholic Church “the great whore” and referred to Hurricane Katrina as “God’s punishment” of New Orleans), he is founder and senior pastor of San Antonio’s nondenominational Cornerstone Church; he also serves as CEO of the “non-profit” Global Evangelism Television (GETV) service.
Perry, like many of his backers and within the Christian right, speaks for a new version of a very old mean-spirited, intolerant Christianity. Such intolerance is rooted in the very founding of the nation and its accompanying religious wars. These wars began against the Native peoples and were as much about property as race as belief.
One should not forget that Pilgrims proudly imposed religious intolerance on themselves. Those who challenged Calvinist dogma were subject to banishment, whipping, branding, ear-lobbing (i.e., cutting off an ear) and even hanging. Early colonial leaders like Thomas Hooker, Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson were banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Early Quaker settlers in Plymouth were also banished and four were publicly hung. America has a long history killing in the name of god.
And lets not forget the Christian evangelical Know-Nothing movement. It grew out of the Second Great Awakening or the Great Revival of the 1830s and, during the late-’40s and early-’50s, became the American Party. It got its name when members where asked their party’s positions and simply said, “I know nothing.”
The Know-Nothings drew together Protestants who felt threatened by the rapid increase in European immigrants and, most especially, Catholics, flooding the cities. They felt that Catholics, as followers of the Pope, were not loyal Americans and were going to take over the country. They had strong support in the North that witnessed large-scale Irish immigration after the 1848 Irish potato famine. Religious intolerance lead to numerous anti-Catholics attacks, including the burning of churches, beatings and killings in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington and Louisville where 22 people were killed. The Know-Nothings controlled the American Party which captured the Massachusetts legislature in 1854 and, in 1856, backed Millard Fillmore for president, who secured nearly 1 million votes, a quarter of all votes cast.
A rumor is circulating within groups that follow religious-extremist movements that Perry is either a member of or in agreement with a radical fundamentalist, evangelical-Christian tendency, the Reconstruction. It dates from the late-1940s and operated through groups like the Latter Rain movement, Joel’s Army, the Manifest Sons of God and the Seven Mountain Mandate. Many of these rightwing Christian activists are part of the New Apostolic Reformation movement. Their goal is to establish a Christian version of Sharia law in the U.S., a religious theocracy under Biblical law. Some believe that Texas is the new Holy Land.
If Perry runs, he will challenge Bachmann for the Number Two slot on the 2012 Republican slate. The August 6th event was his campaign pre-launch.
As the fallout from the political debt-ceiling charade mounts, it becomes increasingly clear that the Tea Party (backed by the Christian right) over played its hand. The sad truth of the minuet recently played out in Washington is obvious: Finance capital won! The banks held the nation hostage (hiding behind politicians hiding behind the national debt) and got what they wanted, higher interest rates.
For Wall Street and country club Republicans with real power, the supporters of Perry and Bachmann represent the most extreme of corporate capitalism (e.g., the Koch brothers and their ilk). Big-money Republicans, along with their army of lobbyists, seems to be backing Mitt Romney. He’s a capitalist that corporate power can do business with. He is, however, a Mormon; thus, only with the inclusion of a staunch Evangelical candidate like Perry or Bachmann can the Republicans hold onto their hardcore religious base. The battle between Perry and Bachmann will be over who can best build this base.
The 2012 election is only 16 months away.
David Rosen is the author of “Sex Scandals America: Politics & the Ritual of Public Shaming” (Key, 2009). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.