.- 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 rallyâs possible effects while discussing the place of religion and social issues in the Tea Party movement.
The âRestoring Honor Rally,â 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 Serviceâs 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 âwandered in the darknessâ of divisive politics, âbut America today begins turning back to God.â 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 sonâs 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 rallyâs date coincided with the 47th Anniversary of Martin Luther Kingâs âI Have a Dreamâ 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 magazineâs web editor Joe Carter recently criticized the commentator for expressing indifference toward same-sex âmarriageâ and towards a federal courtâs overturning of Californiaâs 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.
âGod and Caesar were very much appropriately represented on the National Mall on Saturday at that âRestoring Honorâ rally,â she commented.
In her view, much of the rally had a good focus: âchallenging people to be good, to seek the good, sacrifice for the good, and pray for the good.â
âIt 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.â
Lopez said that the rally recognized âreal threatsâ to the United Statesâ freedom and sustainability which are âfruits of messes of our personal lives and decisions and of bad policy.â It did this without being âexplicitly partisan or political,â she claimed.
Seeing âprudence and humilityâ at the rally, she thought the event was ârealistically positiveâ in acknowledging political and religious differences while seeking a âunified focus.â
She thought Beckâs focus on foundational issues should be encouraged without putting him âon a pedestal.â
CNA also discussed the rally and related issues in a Saturday phone interview with Mark Stricherz, author of the book âWhy the Democrats are Blueâ 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.
âItâs not led by religious leaders, its participants donât say theyâre religious. None of its tactics are claimed to be religious,â he commented.
The present-day action is not comparable to the civil rights movement, he also contended.
âThe civil rights movement was the gold standard of social movements. Its marchers prayed for their enemies and sought equal justice.â
In contrast, Stricherz suggested, Beckâs political movement has been âthe bronze standardâ of social movements.
âSupporters exhibit disapproval and jeer at their enemies, and seek the end of runaway spending and domestic debt.
âThey just want to tame federal domestic spending and donât want to pay higher taxes through the health care bill. Sometimes federal intervention is godly, and sometimes it is not.â
Beckâs invocation of the U.S. Founding Fathers is âa little more complicated question,â Stricherz told CNA, saying the push for American independence from Britain incorporated elements of religion âbut it certainly wasnât a religious movement per se.â
âThere is an argument that the Founders were linked to the First Great Awakening, but the Foundersâ 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:
âThereâs 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. Thereâs some evidence, based on the statements of Tea Party supporters, that they donât care about social issues. They care about economics.â
While economic issues also can incorporate religious appeals, he told CNA, these appeals are ânot as strong.â