Hucksters and Texas Tent Revival Politics

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Religious liberty is at the very heart of what it means to be an American, yet Texas conservatives and our state's activist pastors have conveniently forgotten that.

Lately, it feels as if Texas is waging some sort of religious war on a number of different fronts.

Throughout history, politicians have embedded a few religious references in their speeches, but nothing close to what we're seeing lately. Beginning in earnest with Ronald Reagan's nomination in 1980 and continued by Bill Clinton, "Religispeak" has evolved into a must-have tool for every conservative's campaign rhetoric and policy effort.

In the same way that sex sells in the media, politicians discovered that religion does also.

It was last fall when Tom Delay's conviction was overturned and an article in the Dallas Morning News quoted him as saying God is calling him to lead a constitutional revival. He referred to his legal battle and sentencing as his "time in the wilderness."

And then...he remarked how glad he would be to get his concealed carry license back.

Houston's very own Dan Patrick may spew hate and venom on his radio show, but on the stump, he claims that God talks to him via Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson.

Rick Perry referred to himself as the misunderstood prophet after he was prayed over by the obscure pastors of the New Apostolic Reformation movement.

And how could we forget the dynamic duo of Senator Ted Cruz and his preacher-prophet father, Rafael Cruz? Pastor Cruz has taken his tent show across Texas claiming his son is anointed by God to lead the nation, peppering his speeches with the familiar money-sewn-in-his-underwear fable. Senator Cruz continually foments the mistaken idea of the war on Christianity.

Ted Cruz and his delusional father share a common trait; it's called hucksterism: aggressive, showy, and devious methods to promote or sell a product. Hucksters, especially the religious ones, employ their theatrical skills to scam money, obtain power, and obtain the unflinching adoration from the non-thinking and naïve.

Just a reminder to Senator Cruz: Political extremists have short careers that end badly.

If you don't believe it, look back at the controversial careers of Father Coughlin, Billy Sunday, Gerald L.K. Smith, Ralph Easley, Merwin Hart, Gerald Winrod, Joseph McCarthy, or George Wallace.

They employ the word "God" like the 1950's advertising slogan: "2 out of 3 doctors recommend..." In their minds, the God-speak immediately cloaks them in credibility. It's like fairy dust; rhetoric sprinkled with scriptural references to conjure up magical things that work in their favor.

In ancient times, there were proselytizing heretics on the street corners. Fast forward to the present and the ancient street corners have become the media, political meetings, sound bytes, and photo ops. Embedded within all of it are the political attention-seekers who wear their religion like a Boy Scout merit badge.

When things are going badly, street corner politi-preachers ratchet up the God-speak, gin-up the faithful into a wild-eyed-snake-handling frenzy, an odd anomaly of Friday Night Lights and the PTL Club.

This month, a disturbing ingredient was added to the religious-political oil and water mixture, when the Texas Renewal Project met in Austin. The TRP is an offshoot of the Texas Restoration Project, the brainchild of Laurence White, pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Northwest Houston.

It's designed to take activist-pastors to a new level, transforming religious congregations into raging pulsating political machines, megaphones for the extreme right. Wealthy donors bankroll these events for pastors and their wives through various foundations, one of which is Houston's Niemoller Foundation. This is a dangerous and growing element, skirting around the tax-exempt status of churches and religious organizations, blurring the line between church and state.

With their unrestrained worship of the Constitution they realize this, but the cacophony of the cheerleading squads of the political demagoguery drowns out everything else.

All of this cultivates some unpleasant memories of Tomás de Torquemada, the Spanish grand inquisitor, whose mission was to restore Christianity among the people in the late 15th century.

The last hurrah of Texas' Christian soldiers marching off to war could backfire for the right's extremists because Texas is a changing cultural-religious landscape with fewer and fewer of its citizens claiming religious beliefs and more Texas newcomers who identify as Hindus, Buddhists and Islamists. Perhaps it means that Texas' tent revival politics and activist pastor will have a short shelf-life.

Or perhaps, it means that God doesn't need your help after all.

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