A well-attended Saturday rally in Washington, D.C. which linked U.S. patriotism and religiosity has sparked comparisons to a religious revival. Two Catholic commentators have offered different views of the rally’s possible effects while discussing the place of religion and social issues in the Tea Party movement.
The “Restoring Honor Rally,” organized by radio and Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck, was held at the National Mall in D.C. on Saturday. The rally featured prayers, Scripture readings, music and patriotic references to major figures and events in American history such as the Founding Fathers. It was reportedly inspired by the National Park Service’s alleged silencing of a group of young people who tried to sing the U.S. National Anthem at the Lincoln Memorial.
Early estimates of rally attendance ranged from the tens of thousands to 500,000.
Speaking at the rally, Beck claimed that the United States had “wandered in the darkness” of divisive politics, “but America today begins turning back to God.” He said the religious leaders in attendance disagreed on religion and politics. However, "what they do agree on is that God is the answer."
Alveda King, niece of civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., told the rally that America still suffers from racism. She called for prayer in the public square and in public schools. A pastoral associate of Priests for Life, she also alluded to her opposition to abortion.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin spoke to the massive rally about her son’s military service and said people should remember the perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The rally helped raise funds for a group which assists military veterans and their families.
Beck gave out three awards with the respective themes of faith, hope and charity. One awardee was St. Louis Cardinals baseball star Albert Pujols.
The rally’s date coincided with the 47th Anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Rev. Al Sharpton and several other African-American leaders held a competing rally before an audience of thousands at a Washington-area high school. According to VOA News, some of the competing rally speakers criticized the chosen date of the rally and accused Beck of race-baiting.
A former Catholic, Beck is a convert to Mormonism. First Things magazine’s web editor Joe Carter recently criticized the commentator for expressing indifference toward same-sex “marriage” and towards a federal court’s overturning of California’s marriage-defining Proposition 8.
Two Catholic commentators took different views of the rally and the Tea Party movement, which some associate with Beck.
Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of the conservative website National Review Online, commented on the rally in a Saturday e-mail to CNA.
“God and Caesar were very much appropriately represented on the National Mall on Saturday at that ‘Restoring Honor’ rally,” she commented.
In her view, much of the rally had a good focus: “challenging people to be good, to seek the good, sacrifice for the good, and pray for the good.”
“It was a bit of a mix of religious revival, country-music concert, and Independence Day celebration. And its end goal was to rally people to stay and be more engaged in politics, but to not get lost in it, as Beck put it. There was a clear balancing of the importance of politics while never ever losing sight of our real citizenship.”
Lopez said that the rally recognized “real threats” to the United States’ freedom and sustainability which are “fruits of messes of our personal lives and decisions and of bad policy.” It did this without being “explicitly partisan or political,” she claimed.
Seeing “prudence and humility” at the rally, she thought the event was “realistically positive” in acknowledging political and religious differences while seeking a “unified focus.”
She thought Beck’s focus on foundational issues should be encouraged without putting him “on a pedestal.”
CNA also discussed the rally and related issues in a Saturday phone interview with Mark Stricherz, author of the book “Why the Democrats are Blue” about the place of Catholics in the post-1968 Democratic Party.
Stricherz, who did not comment on the rally itself, questioned the characterization of Tea Party-related movements as religious revivals.
“It’s not led by religious leaders, its participants don’t say they’re religious. None of its tactics are claimed to be religious,” he commented.
The present-day action is not comparable to the civil rights movement, he also contended.
“The civil rights movement was the gold standard of social movements. Its marchers prayed for their enemies and sought equal justice.”
In contrast, Stricherz suggested, Beck’s political movement has been “the bronze standard” of social movements.
“Supporters exhibit disapproval and jeer at their enemies, and seek the end of runaway spending and domestic debt.
“They just want to tame federal domestic spending and don’t want to pay higher taxes through the health care bill. Sometimes federal intervention is godly, and sometimes it is not.”
Beck’s invocation of the U.S. Founding Fathers is “a little more complicated question,” Stricherz told CNA, saying the push for American independence from Britain incorporated elements of religion “but it certainly wasn’t a religious movement per se.”
“There is an argument that the Founders were linked to the First Great Awakening, but the Founders’ appeals were much different than Martin Luther King, whose appeals were explicitly religious and spiritual.
Asked about the possible political consequences of the rally and related movements, Stricherz responded:
“There’s no question that Tea Party supporters will vote disproportionately in the fall midterm elections, but whether those Tea Party supporters are voting out of religious convictions is doubtful. There’s some evidence, based on the statements of Tea Party supporters, that they don’t care about social issues. They care about economics.”
While economic issues also can incorporate religious appeals, he told CNA, these appeals are “not as strong.”