The Religious Right’s Cheap Grace and Even Cheaper Repentance

In a long and depressing article, Wayne Besen reports on a 24 hour political rally pretending to be a religious event in Detroit:  TWO Special Report: The Call Detroit – A Slick Political Rally Disguised As a Religious Revival.

Besen’s article portrays the rally as Loonypalooza and it’s not far off.  From people speaking in tongues to a cavalcade of right wing preachers belting out their brutal fundamentalist theology:

It took several hours to figure out what was really going on – but I gasped when the disturbing pattern finally revealed itself. This elaborate show had all the trappings of a modern religious revival – from the thumping music to the two gargantuan video screens suspended above the enraptured audience. But this ostensibly religious event was little more than a political front.

Its real aim was to peel African American support away from the Democratic Party in a swing state during a critical election year. Not only is President Barack Obama’s reelection at stake, Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow is locked in a tight race that includes social conservative and former GOP Rep. Peter Hoekstra. This cynical revival was not about “values” — it was about votes. It was not about worship, but winning office for Republicans by promoting what writer Ed Kilgore called in The New Republic, a “big-God, small-government creed.”

White fundamentalists begged forgiveness for their past sins of racism and bigotry.

The racial reconciliation was the most positive aspect of The Call rally. It was a useful exercise that was emotionally moving, if not draining. However, when one stopped and thought a bit deeper about the spectacle it was less impressive. For the conservative activists onstage and the participants in the arena, these were not daring acts of courage. After all, this was 2011 and not 1964. Where were these folks during the Civil Rights movement when their love and contrition would have genuinely mattered?

It was relatively easy to atone for the sins of a war already lost. Yet, on every one of today’s major human rights battles they were on the wrong side of history. People in this stadium arrogantly refused to see parallels with the past and to even consider flaws in their stubborn belief systems. The cognitive dissonance and the inability to see the big picture were remarkable.


That’s of course the central point.  Conservatives have been on the wrong side of every important issues in American history.  And at this event, they were taking advantage of the cheap grace of easy forgiveness by offering an even cheaper repentance.  Having long since lost their war against Civil Rights, and long after it mattered, the American right has tried to pretend it was all just a big misunderstanding.

Indeed, you could easily imagine a similar “daring” rally in 2050, where an arena packed with fundamentalists finally apologize and hug teary-eyed homosexuals. Long after it mattered and long after the pioneering gay married couples were dead or decrepit, the fundamentalists would finally, at no political cost, admit they had caused tremendous pain, caused teen suicides, and ruined countless lives. Then, of course, a scripted gay toady would pounce on the elevated platform and make the audience feel better by offering an apology for “LGBT militancy.”

To my mind, there’s something disturbing about these fundamentalist rallies.  Besen observes:

In a lonely and unforgiving world, it is easy to see the appeal of such flamboyant fundamentalism. At once it offers its participants a purpose and an emotive club of conviviality. Once you’ve signed on the dotted line, there were instant friends, expressions of love, a comfortably homogenous culture, and a support system from cradle to grave.

And best of all you won’t be troubled by difficult questions or the need to delve too deeply into the random reliability of the Bible or to rely on your own intellect.  Max Blumenthal talked bout the way in which adopting right wing religious values resolves the emotional crisis facing many conservative Americans.  The cycle of sin, repentance and forgiveness is a powerful narcotic.  In the face of an increasingly morally complex world, the single answer of fundamentalism resolves a great many problems with relative ease.  You don’t have to be troubled or fearful because Jesus is the answer and the bible is absolutely true and God loves you individually and specially.  A quick public repentance, some tears, and quickie forgiveness by someone who agreed with you already and everything is fine, washed away in the blood of Christ.

At the end of the day, the rally Besen reported on was about making a public show of repenting past sins and being forgiven without the actual challenge of making any meaningful changes or grappling with conservatives’  history of opposing every important movement in American history – starting with their opposition to the Revolutionary War American conservatives have been wrong every time.  Lou Engle’s fundamental The Call rally in Detroit was all about making a show of repentance long after such actions would have mattered.  The American right resents liberals not because they disagree with us, but because we have a long history of making them look really bad by being right while they’re fighting tooth and nail to stay wrong.

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