By David Waters
For what was presented as a rally of angry conservative Americans, last weekend’s National Tea Party Convention in Nashville was remarkably lacking in evangelical Christian leaders and rhetoric.
There were enough references to indicate that “most of the Tea Partiers were strong Christians,” as Melinda Warner reported on Huffington Post. Prayers opened and closed many gatherings (“Be with Sarah Palin. Protect her, Lord”). There was a workshop called “Why Christians Must Engage.” Discussions and speeches were peppered with phrases such as “Judeo-Christian nation.”
But overall, the convention wasn’t at all like those God-and-country revivals of the Reagan- and Gingrich-era National Affairs Briefings, or the more recent Bush-era Values Voter Summits. Fiscal conservative reformers such as Ross Perot and the late John B. Anderson might have been more at home than such Christian Right warriors at Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell.
Will the Christian Right join the Tea Party? Will the Tea Partying fiscal conservatives make room for social conservatives? Should they?
I doubt it.
From the 1950s, the evangelical (and lately Catholic) Christian Right has become a movement motivated by such faith-based social issues as prayer and Bible reading in public school, women’s liberation (the 1972 Equal Rights Amendment), abortion (the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision), and the gay marriage and gay rights movements. All of those issues have deeply divided church as well as state.
None of those issues appear to be on the Tea Party movement’s agenda. One of the speakers at the Tea Party convention was Warren Edstrom, a founder of the Ohio Liberty Council. The council’s statement of beliefs and principles includes such phrases as “Reckless government spending is harmful to our economy and condemns the people to a form of oppression through high taxes.” The words ‘God’ and ‘Jesus’ and ‘Bible’ do not appear in the document at all. Other parties to the Tea Party issue similar religion-free pronouncements.
No doubt some Tea Party enthusiasts have been inspired by the Christian Right. For example, Mark A. Skoda, founder and Chairman of The Memphis TEA Party and a convention speaker, hosts a radio talk show called “For God and Country.” The Tea Party seems particularly strong in the South, where evangelicalism permeates every part of the culture, including government and fiscal policy. It also seems to have Palin’s considerable evangelical support.
But this is an anti-government movement, not a pro-God movement.
“If you take 1,000 so-called tea partiers and ask them what this movement is, you’ll get 1,000 different interpretations,” Mark Williams, a talk-radio host and chairman of the Tea Party, told the Post. “But they’re all waving American flags and speaking out against the galloping socialist agenda.”
Flags but not crosses.
During the Reagan and Bush eras, Christian Right movement leaders such as the late megachurch pastor D. James Kennedy held rallies with names such as “Reclaiming America for Christ.” So far, it seems the Tea Partiers are mostly interested in reclaiming America for the Chamber of Commerce.