The Christian Right Meets Tea-Party Might

by Suzy Khimm | November 6, 2009

“We are turning to socialism and away from God!” Joseph Grab said as he stood amid the thousands who gathered on Capitol Hill today to attend Michele Bachmann’s “House Call” protest against the health care reform bill. Grab, a retired engineer from Hershey, Pennsylvania, was clutching a leather-bound King James in his hand and a green sign that simply said “Pray” in the other. “This bill is going to include murdering babies, it’s going to bankrupt us, and it’s going to make totalitarianism grow,” he said gravely.

If the September 12 march on Washington--aka “the largest gathering of fiscal conservatives in history”--called for Don’t Tread on Me flags, Revolutionary War garb, and hammer-and-sickle signs outing Obama as a socialist, it still didn’t seem particularly religious. Well, this time, the Tea Partiers brought their Bibles with them. “It’s a bailout for the abortion industry!” one speaker on the steps of the Capitol cried. And before Bachmann took the stage, a preacher from Maryland led an opening prayer that praised the Almighty for “the torch of liberty lit in this land,” followed by a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. “One nation, UNDER GOD, indivisible…” the protesters chanted, yelling out the phrase that deserved special emphasis.

While everyone there seemed equally incensed about the “government takeover” of health care, a number of protestors I approached--particularly the middle-aged folks who brought their children with them--cited abortion as one of the most important issues that had prompted them to show up and made their religiosity clear. “Unborn babies have their rights too,” said the 12-year-old daughter of Beverly Horning, a housewife from McLean, Virginia. Horning herself said that while she was concerned about the government’s proposed intervention in the health care system, “it was the funding of abortion that brought me here.” Another man--a former Chrysler employee from Detroit who had taken a buyout when the company was imploding last year--said that he had brought his ten blond-haired children to the event after attending a National Bible Week event in town with some 17,000 other Christians.

Of course, post-health care reform, this happy union between the religious righters and the tax-haters might not be as strong, but it’s at the least a sign that different factions of the conservative base are willing to join forces under the right circumstances. When I asked Horning’s 15-year-old son this afternoon what he thought of thousands of fellow protesters around him, the bespectacled teenager sniffed and called the crowd “much smaller than the March for Life.” His mother quickly interjected, encouraging him to be more patient with the burgeoning movement. “After all,” she said. “They’ve just started.”

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