By Rob Boston
Up-and-coming Religious Right leader Lou Engle held a rally in Sacramento, Calif., over the weekend, an event a local newspaper referred to as “a religious revival meeting with a political bent.”
According to the Sacramento Bee, the 12-hour rally was loaded with attacks on same-sex marriage, legal abortion, erotic material and other things Engle doesn’t like.
Same-sex marriage was the primary target. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, attacked a U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker for his recent ruling striking down Proposition 8, a ballot initiative that denied same-sex couples the right to marry.
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Employing his usual mixture of half truths and bluster, Perkins ranted. “If [the ruling] stands, in one generation we will have gone from banning the Bible in public schools to banning religious beliefs in society.”
(Exactly how allowing same-sex couples to marry in civil ceremonies or in a houses of worship that welcome them affects the religious rights of Perkins and his followers remains a mystery.)
The rhetoric was typically lurid. Engle urged the crowd to “break the altar of homosexual marriage.” Another speaker called legal abortion a “covenant with death.”
Engle insists that the moral issues he obsesses over transcend politics. But putting partisan figures like Perkins on the speakers’ roster and beaming in a video message from Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor and GOP presidential candidate, sends the message that to Engle and his followers, politics is front and center.
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Like theocrats throughout the ages, Engle and his crowd are convinced their version of religion is the only correct one, and that government has an obligation – even a duty – to enforce it. Not content to rely on moral suasion to make their case, they would turn instead to the raw power of the state.
That’s what makes them so dangerous.
Look, this is not rocket science. Heaven knows Engle has enough outlets to spread his views. I’ve seen what he’s selling – strict fundamentalism mixed with far-right politics – and I’m not interested in buying. I’m just not interested in living my life with a heart full of hate. I reject his “worldview.”
Engle and his gang seem to want to force it on me anyway – and on to you and everyone else who disagrees with them.
Is anyone buying Engle’s message? Sure. He always draws a crowd. Yet the Bee reports that his rally was something of a bust. Organizers had planned for a crowd of about 50,000. Most media outlets say far fewer showed up, pegging the crowd at “thousands.”
But Engle is not the only one out there pushing a politically tinged Religious Right message these days. Former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed is sponsoring a “strategy briefing” in Washington, D.C., this weekend. The week after that, the Family Research Council holds its annual “Values Voter Summit.”
Even Newt Gingrich, the Religious Right’s favorite serial adulterer, is trying to get in on the act. He has endorsed a prayer rally and fast that kicks off 40 days before the November elections – and that just happens to include voter registration.
Recent polls have shown that the American people are angry over the state of the economy and the high unemployment rate. They may be ready to generate a political shift for reasons that have nothing to do with social issues.
If that happens, you can be sure the Religious Right will be happy to come along for the ride – and that its leadership will do what it always does: use its influence to employ the power of government to force its regressive theology onto the rest of us.
The “culture wars,” it seems, aren’t over just yet.