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By David Waters
Christine O’Donnell, winner of Delaware’s Republican Senate nomination and the tea party movement’s newest star, is scheduled to address this weekend’s 2010 Values Voter Summit and Christian Right Revival, which began Thursday night in Washington.
This might come as a surprise to those of us who thought the tea party movement was a grass-roots uprising among fiscal conservatives, not social conservatives. Is it? Is O’Donnell’s election evidence that the tea party is the Christian Right disguised as an angry taxpayer?
As Sarah Posner wrote for Religion Dispatches, O’Donnell, a born-again Catholic, is no stranger to the Christian Right. In the 1990s, she was press secretary for Beverly LaHaye’s Concerned Women for America, whose mission is “to protect and promote Biblical values among all citizens.” Later, she founded SALT (the Savior’s Alliance for Lifting the Truth”) to promote chastity. Now that she’s won a big national election, she’s moving from the choir to the pulpit.
The tea party’s congregation seems to be growing.
– As Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones notes, O’Donnell’s campaign hired religious right activists, including Response Unlimited, which bills itself as “the nation’s best and most comprehensive source of mailing lists for conservative and Christian mailers and telemarketers.” Major social conservative outfits–from the Christian Coalition of America to Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University–have used the Virginia-based firm in the past to raise funds from conservative Christians.
– Last weekend in Washington, that baby-faced old Christian warrior Ralph Reed (yes, he’s back) led a strategy session for his latest incarnation of the Christian Coalition, which he’s calling the Faith and Freedom Coalition. His mission? “Restoring America to the principles on which she was founded: limited constitutional government and faith in God.” How? By “electing certain people and passing certain legislation.”
– Also last weekend in Washington, a tea party group called Unite in Action brought together a number of Christian Right celebrities such as former presidential candidate Alan Keyes and born-again actor Stephen Baldwin. The conference included discussions on subjects ranging from “Stopping government land grabs” to “Combating Sharia Law in your community.”
– Fomer megachurch pastor turned activist Rick Scarborough sent an email to supporters explaining that his appearance at the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville in February was part of his effort to merge the tea party and the Christian Right. In fact, he said he wants to change the TEA Party’s “Taxed Enough Already” acronym to “Truth Exalts America.” He also plans to launch a “Patriot Pastors’ Tea Party” with the support of religious right apologist David Barton.
After the National Tea Party Convention last February, I wrote 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.
Was I wrong? Or has the religious right seen the light and decided to hitch its old wagon to the Tea Party Express? Is the tea party movement really just a recession-era version of the religious right? Or are social conservatives trying to convert the tea party to their cause?