the real american religious predicament
The FundamentaList (No. 52)
Sarah Posner, American Prospect, Oct 8 2008
1. Dobson Endorses McCain: Late to the Party. Again.
James Dobson, through his Focus on the Family Action newsletter and his radio program, endorsed John McCain for president this week. Dobson, remember, was against McCain before he was for him. Dobson is no longer a leader — he’s a follower. Remember back when he wouldn’t endorse Mike Huckabee? The members of his base were incensed and voted for Huckabee anyway. Dobson followed them by endorsing Huckabee when it was already too late. Huckabee, who now has his own Fox News television show, which in its premiere outpaced CNN, CNBC, and MSNBC combined, could be well-positioned to say, “Thanks, but no thanks” to the hissy-fit-prone Dobson in 2012. Dobson, the unyielding dispenser of advice on how to raise your children, misapprehends the world outlook of a whole generation of young people reared by parents under Dobson’s spell. They hate the gays and the baby killers just as much as Dobson does, but they know to tamp down the vitriol. Say you love the environment! Say you’re worried about poverty! There’s a thriving youth movement reveling in the rhetoric of spiritual warfare, but they’re not listening to Dobson; they’re going to rocking stadium events like Teen Mania or The Call, which emerged from the charismatic movement and mobilizes warriors for Christ in the last days. Will they listen to Dobson’s boring and whiny radio show, or do they prefer to hear the self-styled Bapti-costal Huckabee play in his rock band? Remember — he’s still conservative but not mad about it.
2. Would Queen Esther Incite Racist Rage?
Queen Esther is the biblical whistleblower who risked her life exposing the evil plot of Haman, an adviser to the Persian king, to exterminate all the Jews in Persia. In Jewish lore, she’s a heroine who saved her people from genocide. So how, exactly, is Sarah Palin the modern Queen Esther the religious right has been saying she is? This isn’t the first time evangelicals have suggested that a leader has appeared “for a time such as this” — a time of danger and foreboding that requires courage to risk life and limb to save one’s people from destruction. The narrative was applied to George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 — but it turned out in his case that “courage” meant risking other people’s life and limb. The Christian Zionist movement uses the Esther narrative to motivate its foot soldiers by claiming parallels between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and Haman, and by telling followers they need to be the Esthers who stand up to him by advocating for war against Iran. The spiritual warfare that animates their rhetoric becomes real war. But when her legacy is applied to Sarah Palin, Esther does not protect the marginalized; she further marginalizes them. She does not stand up to xenophobia and racism; she incites xenophobia and racism. She doesn’t protect Americans from real enemies; she turns on her fellow Americans, portraying them as enemies.
3. Palin’s “Chosen Vessels of God.”
Just hours before last week’s vice-presidential debate, Stephen Strang, founder of the Charisma publishing giant, highlighted an account by an Ohio pastor who claimed to have had a revelation of Palin as Esther. Pastor Mark Arnold, of Life Covenant Church in Monroe, Ohio, approached Todd and Sarah Palin at a campaign stop in Lebanon, Ohio, and made them cry with his prophecy of Palin as Esther. Arnold claims that God told him to tell Palin, who encountered him in the rope line, that “God wants you to know that you are a present day Esther!” Palin, Arnold says, immediately began to cry. “The news and nay-sayers and criticizers are going to be very hateful toward you,” Arnold continued, “and in the days ahead they are going to turn up the heat … but do not fear.” You are a “present day Esther,” Arnold told Palin, and God “has chosen you to reign.” Then Arnold made Todd Palin cry, too, and McCain shook his hand and gave him a “deep look of understanding.” Sure. “When I got to my car I sat there for quite a long time,” Arnold concluded, “knowing the GOD of the Universe had just used me to deliver a message confirming to Sarah and Todd to realize they are truly chosen vessels of God.”
4. Philo-Semitism During the High Holidays: Loving the Jews to Death, Again.
It’s that time of year — the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur on the Jewish calendar — when my inbox gets filled with exhortations from the philo-semites of the evangelical world who believe these holidays foretell the time when we Jews will be blinded by the light at Armageddon and become followers of Jesus. If we don’t, well, good luck with the brimstone and all that. Pastor Arnold — he of the Esther prophecy — points us to prophecy at the Rosh Hashanah celebration of Eagles’ Wings ministries. Eagles’ Wings’ founder, Robert Stearns, is a director of Christians United for Israel, and the co-founder of the Day to Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem. The Day to Pray is a Christian Zionist prayer gathering that takes place annually the first Sunday of October, intentionally close to Yom Kippur. The stated purpose of the Day to Pray, which has been endorsed by many of the most influential evangelicals in America, is “to fervently pray to hasten the day when He brings fulfillment to His word.” The Rosh Hashanah prophecy at Eagles’ Wings was that “No. 2″ would be more important for the outcome of the election and that Ohio would “tip the scale.” For Arnold, this was evidence that his Ohio-based, Palin-centric “Agree in Prayer” movement “really is a God thing.”
5. Religious Right Geography: Palin vs. Huckabee.
Some Palin supporters have created an interactive map showing where in America people are praying for her. As I write this, 3,719 people are praying in 2,529 zip codes. They are advised to pray, according to the Web site, “to put on every piece of armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil.” Supporters of a 2012 Mike Huckabee presidential run have launched their own map, showing where Huckabee fans are concentrated. So far, he’s got the largest base in Washington, California, Texas, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, and Michigan, with Ohio showing only a “moderate amount of Huckabee fans.” Must be the Palin vibe from Lebanon. Disgraced former Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay predicts Huckabee will be the 2012 frontrunner for the GOP. He must have a different kind of connection to the Almighty — but I think we all knew that.