Last time I was at the Point of Grace megachurch in Waukee, Iowa, the audience was livelier and the praise band was bigger, better and louder. But then that was a Sunday worship service, and this is the 2012 FAMiLY Leadership Summit, a gathering of Christian Right leaders and troops in one of its stomping grounds.
Point of Grace used to be a non-political church not that long ago. But under current Pastor Jeff Mullen (a first-class singer, as it happens), it’s as though the whole place boarded a bus and took it straight to Lynchburg. Mullen was one of a large band of conservative evangelical ministers in Iowa who got on board the Michele Bachmann bandwagon early on before the wheels came off, and shortly thereafter ran an unsuccessful campaign himself against an entrenched Republican incumbent state senator. But I guess he earned his political chops enough to host this event, though POG’s large sanctuary (if that’s what you call a worship center with coffee holders in all its stadium seats) and state-of-the-art technology helped.
This “leadership summit” was clearly organized to perform a bit of a victory dance for FAMiLY Leader for its role in the Iowa Caucuses—the group was able to boast key last-minute support for the last two Caucus winners, Huckabee and Santorum (both of whom are speaking here later today), and its successful 2010 purge of three of the Iowa Supreme Court Justices among the seven who handed down the 2009 decision to legalize same-sex marriage in Iowa.
The first mention of Paul Ryan’s name today got a big rousing round of applause with a few whoops—slightly louder than the first mention of Chick-fil-A, slightly softer than the ruckus that greeted “Iowa’s own” Steve King.
It’s an indication of the atmosphere of this event—and of the crisis mentality the Christian Right is capable of reviving as often as the hope of salvation—that Steve King doesn’t stand out at all.
I was a bit startled to hear King encourage ministers to defy the IRS and “preach the word from the pulpit,” clearly meaning the political word. But then I heard it from the next four speakers.
Even poor old Chuck Grassley, who could barely stumble through his pithy remarks (“…the usurption of unconstitutional power by the President of the United States and his cohorts.”), got into the spirit, listing the propositions that a Romney/Ryan administration would promote “without apology:” “life begins at conception;” “gun ownership is an absolute right;” “choice in education is an absolute right;” “voter ID;” “marriage is between a man and a woman;” “American support for Israel,” and so on through the whole secular liturgy of the Christian Right.
Rick Perry illustrated why he didn’t exactly set the grassroots afire during the caucus campaign, bumbling through the standard conservative talking points on this and that, but feeding from the audience’s response when he got into the swing of detailing Barack Obama’s “war on religion.”
But the most interesting speaker I heard today was another Texan, Laurence White, pastor of the Lutheran (Missouri Synod) Church of Our Savior in Houston, who lashed not only the evil liberal secularists but faithless Republican pols and at audience itself for tolerating “the perverted standards of the ungodly who live around us.”
Best known for his relentless comparisons of conservative evangelical culture warriors with the Confessing Church under Nazi Germany, White came to demand that his listeners make the immediate and total revocation of legalized abortion, same-sex marriage and other forms of “indecency” an unconditional demand.
“On abortion, there is just one Christian position. For a Christian not to vote is a sin. For a Christian voting in any election for any candidate who is not absolutely, unequivocally and authentically opposed to abortion is a sin.”
You can only imagine what this man—and the audience who said “amen” to his thunderings and laughed at his jokes—thinks of Christians who aren’t so sure God wants them to abolish reproductive rights or deny marriage equality, much less of anyone else who do not approach politics with White’s maxim of “Jesus is Lord of all or Lord of nothing.” They—we—are all either Nazis or the Germans who did Hitler’s will.
As White’s jeremiad echoed through the room, FAMiLY Leader majordomo Bob Vander Plaats announced, to no one’s surprise, that he would spearhead another judicial “rejection” campaign this November aimed at knocking out one more Iowa Supreme Court Justice.
The slideshow that was running on the church’s big screens when I entered today had a quotation from the Book of Revelation prophesying “the day of reaping.” The next slide was a calendar with November 6 highlighted in red.
In this battleground state, the Christian Right is premobilized to turn out its maximum vote for a straight Republican vote, give or take a few state legislative candidates who won’t pledge to repeal abortion rights and same-sex marriage. Up until today, they were probably unenthusiastic about Mitt Romney (who was barely mentioned here other than in praise of his choice of Ryan). But particularly today, anyone who thinks the Christian Right wouldn’t emerge from a Republican victory on November 6 demanding, as Rev. White put it, “not a seat at the table but a new table,” doesn’t understand its role in a conservative movement that now stands astride the GOP like a colossus.
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