The Awakening: More Right-Wing Preaching Needed to Save America

This past weekend’s “Awakening” conference, sponsored by the far-right legal and advocacy group Liberty Counsel, attracted several hundred people to First Baptist Church in Oviedo, a suburb of Orlando, Florida. While the turnout was not big enough to fill half of the sanctuary, the event gave an insight into the state of mind of America’s Religious Right leaders.

The overall message of the weekend was that America is in spiritual decline and on the verge of total destruction at the hands of dictator-emulating, jihad-enabling socialist President Barack Obama and his religious-freedom-hating allies in the radical homosexual lobby. Many of the speakers reveled in recounting their tales of being persecuted for having the courage to take on left-wing radicals.
 
Other major themes:
  • America, or conservative America, is at war – at war with militant Islam, secular humanism, abortionists, a “radical homosexual activist movement,” and with Satan, who inspires those movements.
  • President Obama is leading America down the road to socialist tyranny.
  • Public schools are left-wing indoctrination centers and there’s no excuse for Christian parents to send their students to a public school. Christian educators should treat public schools as a mission field.
  • Conservative political losses among Hispanics and youth are due to lousy public education, media bias, and bad messaging by conservatives. Conservatives can win them over with better messaging and outreach.
  • Political action alone will not be enough to save America – only a religious revival and Great Awakening will turn America around, and that requires conservative preachers to be much more aggressive in their preaching, since so much of the church is lukewarm and preaching a useless “happy-clappy” Jesus.
In addition to the Religious Right leaders profiled in our preview of the conference, participants heard from Sen. Marco Rubio (via video) and from Rep. Michelle Bachmann (in person). Rubio thanked people for their activism on behalf of “traditional values” and encouraged them to keep at it. Bachmann, who received the “Great American Patriot Award” from Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver, continued her well-documented record of blithely lying about her political opponents, saying that President Obama did not send a delegation to Margaret Thatcher’s funeral, which Bachmann attended as part of a House of Representatives delegation. (In fact the Obama administration sent former Secretaries of State George Schultz and James Baker to the funeral, along with other diplomatic representatives.) Bachmann said Americans have to choose between a free America and an oppressive America. “We need to recognize the desperate situation of our condition,” she said, and need to focus on “spiritual warfare.” She called on Christians to make September 11, 2013 a day of fasting and humbling themselves before God.
 
Loving the Hispanic People
 
Like last year’s Awakening, the opening session focused on the importance of reaching out to the growing constituency of American Latinos. Salem radio official and conservative activist Tony Calatayud warned that American elections will be decided by Hispanics for decades to come. American Hispanics, he said, have been “kidnapped” by the Left; he lamented the fact that Cubans in Miami are no longer voting overwhelmingly for Republicans.
 
Speakers at right-wing events are fond of claiming that Hispanics are “naturally” conservative and should be voting for Republicans, despite repeated polling evidence to the contrary. Calatayud said Hispanics “have this crazy notion that a man should be married to a woman.” (In reality, a majority of Latinos favors marriage equality, though most Hispanic evangelicals are opposed.) Staver said the Hispanic community could be a “firewall for our values.” In the real world, Hispanic voters did indeed provide a firewall in 2012, but it was on behalf of Democratic senators in key states.
 
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, who heads the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, gave a version of the same stump speech he has been giving for years, including his line that Hispanics are in America “to bring panic to the kingdom of darkness in the name of Jesus Christ.” Echoing Rodriguez, “prophet” Cindy Jacobs said God had brought Latinos to America to teach “us” something. “God has given them the playing field,” she said, and Anglo Christians need to be humble and willing to learn from them. Christians are a family that needs to learn to function together as a family, she said, and that includes voting “consistent with our Father’s family values.” Rodriguez, who is formally allied with the far-right Liberty Counsel but promotes himself as a Latino mash-up of Martin Luther King and Billy Graham, is among evangelicals who are pushing for comprehensive immigration reform in the hopes that its passage would clear the way for more Latino citizens to vote Republican.
 
Neither Rodriguez nor Rubio made much mention of immigration reform, but a questioner made the division among conservatives evident when he cited Rush Limbaugh’s assertion that reform would create 11 million new Democratic voters. Calatayud’s response was that they wouldn’t all vote for Democrats if Republicans did a good job reaching out to them. He said conservative Salem broadcasting now has seven Spanish language radio stations and he hinted at a much bigger project in the works, a conservative TV station or network along the lines of a Spanish language Fox News.
 
Rep. Steve Pearce of New Mexico, a member of the Tea Party caucus in the House of Representatives, said he gets elected in his heavily Hispanic district by spending a lot of time in the community; he was refreshingly blunt about the fact that many of his congressional colleagues don’t “get it” and aren’t likely to. The solution, he said, was to elect more people like him who do.
 
Not-so-loving the Gays
 
Many speakers insisted that there can be “no compromise” on civil unions or marriage equality because it is a “zero sum game” in which advances in LGBT equality come at the expense of religious liberty.
 
Rena Lindevaldsen, an associate dean at Liberty University law school, talked about Christian business owners getting into trouble for violating anti-discrimination laws by refusing to serve gay couples and warned things could get worse. “If civil government has the authority to fine you,” she warned, “the same authority can put you in jail.”
 
Liberty Counsel’s Matt Barber complained that young people have bought gays’ “hijacking” of the civil rights movement “hook, line, and inker.” Barber said gay activists are “shamelessly using” bullying as a “Trojan horse” to get their indoctrination into the schools. Same-sex marriage, he said, is the head of the spear in the culture war, a “hammer” to destroy religious freedom and silence dissent. It’s not really about marriage for homosexuals, he said. “Their goal is not to have the white picket fence, their goal is to burn down the white picket fence.”
 
While Awakening speakers did assert that their opposition to gay rights was an expression of their “love” for “people with same-sex attraction,” they didn’t try to pretend, as NOM often does in the political arena, that their opposition is not grounded in religious belief. “It’s all about God,” said Barber. “It’s all about an attack and rebellion against God, against God’s plan for humanity.” Bachmann said marriage “is one man, one woman – because God says it is. Not because it’s poll tested – because God says it is.” Lindevaldsen said “there is no compromise…once you start down that path you are condoning that which God says is sinful and you are putting the government with the authority to now say that which is sinful is good.” Rick Scarborough said, “now we debate whether marriage shall be between a man and a woman. That’s been settled already. That decision was handed down by the supreme judge of the universe, and no court has a say in that.”
 
Matt Barber said gay activists’ attacks on Christians reflect their hatred of Jesus. “They hate the way, which is Christ, they hate the truth, which they are in conflict with, and they hate the life.” He added, “the wages of sin is death,” adding, “The homosexual lifestyle astronomically from a statistical standpoint leads to death.”
 
Greg Quinlan, a self-described ex-gay who heads PFOX, asserted that homosexuality is “outside God’s intention.” He complained about the “Demoncrats” support for anti-reparative-therapy laws. Asked about anti-bullying laws, he said: “This is fascism! This is fascism! We need to put a swastika on it.” He complained that New Jersey activists had exploited gay boy’s suicide. “One boy jumps off the George Washington Bridge,” he said, and gay activists seized the moment and turned it to their advantage.
 
Public Schools = ‘Cesspool of Indoctrination’
 
Several speakers said Christian parents have no business sending their children to public schools. Right-wing radio personality and anti-gay activist Bradlee Dean, who markets his presentation to public schools, called public schools a “cesspool of indoctrination” and said “you can’t justify having your kid in a public school.” Taking the Bible out of schools, he said, opened the door to Satanism. He warned that the International Baccalaureate program used in some schools is teaching children to disarm and promoting homosexuality.
 
The Southern Baptists’ Richard Land also said Christian parents should not hand their children off to public schools, which are “a lousy place for Christian kids.” Rodriguez said Christian schools and the homeschooling movement are a kind of firewall against the public education system. He added that “serious Christ followers” are needed as teachers, principals, and administrators, who should view the schools as mission fields.
 
Cynthia Dunbar, who was part of a Religious Right group on the Texas Board of Education during recent textbook battles, said education is the most important battleground, because conservatives can’t win when the vast majority of children are being indoctrinated in a “socialized” education system.
 
Several speakers and activists denounced the Common Core standards, developed and adopted by many governors and state education officials. As RWW has reported, the Common Core is a new target of right-wing conspiracy theories on public education.
 
Obama = Evil
 
Anti-Islam activist Pamela Geller warned that Obama has “enabled and empowered” the ideology of jihad. It was no accident, she said, that the Obama administration supported a “Muslim brotherhood revolution” in Egypt to replace the former secular government there.
 
Bradlee Dean said that Obama was emulating Mao:
“This president is emulating dictators. Do you not understand that he is not playing games? If you look at Mao Tse-tung, this boy is emulating Mao Tse-tung to a T. You know what Mao Tse-tung did, he went to the younger generation, he overthrew the Republic of China to implement what? Democracy. Who is the last president that actually acknowledged that we are a republic? Reagan. Every president since has continuously inundated the next generation with the fact that we are a democracy. That is dangerous, guys.”
Dean talked about those killed in 20th Century wars, saying “many of those boys in those graveyards, hundreds of thousands of them all across the country, fought, bled and died fighting against the ideology that the American people are tolerating today.”
 
God and Guns
 
Jan Morgan, a right-wing social media pro-gun activist, was a late addition to the program. She almost didn’t make it because of an unfortunate incident at the airport when TSA found a few stray bullets and a couple of four inch folding tactical combat knives in her purse (she teaches self-defense classes). She railed against the Obama administration, liberal media, and the “gun grabbers.” She said mass murders take place in gun-free zones (but she didn’t mention the signs on doors of the church that said no firearms were allowed inside). Morgan even seemed to take issue with some gun advocates’ attempt to shift the focus to mental health issues, saying she didn’t want the federal government deciding who is fit to own a gun; soon she said liberal doctors empowered by Obamacare would say anyone who believes in Jesus Christ could not be mentally stable.
 
Abortion
 
The Duggars, Jim Bob and Michelle, a couple made famous by a reality TV show focused on their ever-growing family, spoke about their efforts to outlaw abortion. Jim Bob Duggar praised Janet Porter’s efforts to promote a “heartbeat bill.” Although Porter has failed to win its passage in Ohio, Duggar celebrated the passage of similar legislation in Arkansas and North Dakota.
 
Keith Fournier, representing conservative Catholics at the conference, said “life” is the lens through which all issues should be examined, calling it the first pillar of collaboration between conservative evangelicals and Catholics.
 
Politics, Pastors and the Third Great Awakening
 
A major theme of the Awakening conference was the need for conservative Christians, especially pastors, to be more politically active, but that in the end politics could not save America unless there is a third Great Awakening. The notion that “the next Great Awakening starts here” has been a staple of Religious Right gatherings in recent years, as has the idea that the fault for America’s problems is a “lukewarm” church with pastors who aren’t living up to the example set by earlier Religious Right leaders like Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy.
 
Fournier said America had slipped from secularism into a “new paganism” and called for Christians not to view America as “post-Christian” but as “pre-Christian,” primed for a new missionary period.
 
Rick Scarborough said, “In a nation such as this it is a sin for a preacher not to be speaking to the great political issues of our day. That’s not an option. And if your pastor will not do that, bless him with your absence.” Land said “there’s nothing wrong with America that a good old-fashioned revival won’t fix.”
 
Boykin warned that the country is “on the precipice of total destruction.” The church, he said, should be the dominant influence in our society, but instead it is calling good evil, and evil good, and “it’s killing us as a nation.” It is time, he said, for the church to “rise up.”
 
Harry Jackson said “we as a nation are under the chastening hand of God” because of “bad choices” Americans, including Christians, have made.
“We’re at a place now where the GOP can’t help us. And the Democratic Party doesn’t want us. And we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place and we’re going to need a visitation from the Holy Spirit to see America transformed…Repentance is in order because the church has become the carnal church in America….What we need now is that revival and awe to be the substructure or the foundation of what we do. Nothing else will do. We don’t need another television personality, we don’t need radio ministries that awe and get us inspired. We need church planting, but church planting without the fire of God will not make a difference. We don’t need prophetic preaching unless it turns the hearts of masses of men. We need the kind of authoritative pulpits thundering the glory of God that will see whole cities shift in our land.”
More to Come
 
If you missed the Awakening, have no fear. The Family Research Council’s conference for pastors who want to “transform America,” Watchmen on the Wall, takes place in DC May 22-24. Religious Right activists and Republican allies will gather at the "Road to Majority" conference sponsored by by Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition in Washington on June 13-15. And the biggest Religious Right political event of the year, the Values Voter Summit sponsored by the Family Research Council and a collection of other far-right groups, will be held in Washington October 11-13.