Aug 27, 2010

Glenn Beck escalates his war on church-state separation tonight with a “Divine Destiny” event at the Kennedy Center here in Washington, D.C.

According to Beck’s Web site, the program will feature “an inspiring look at the role faith played in the founding of America and the role it will play again in its destiny. The audience for the event will be overwhelmingly made up of pastors, ministers and clergy: a modern day Black Robe Regimen [sic].

“So, if you are sick and tired of hearing about how divided America has become,” it continues, “then join us for an eye-opening evening at the historic Kennedy Center in Washington, DC on Friday, August 27 that will help heal your soul. Guided by uplifting music, nationally-known religious figures from all faiths will unite to deliver messages reminiscent to those given during the struggles of America's earliest days. The event will leave you with a renewed determination to look past the partisan differences and petty problems that fill our airwaves and instead focus [on] our shared values, principles and strong belief that faith can play an essential role in reuniting the country.”

Okay, okay. I’ve heard quite enough, and I’m sure you have, too. This has NOTHING to do with “reuniting the country.” And if I want my soul healed, I sure won’t look to Glenn Beck to serve as my spiritual doctor.

What Beck actually plans to do tonight is kick off his Washington rally weekend with an all-out assault on the separation of church and state. I’m sure it will be cloaked in right-wing piety, but his bottom line is clear: America is an officially religious state – a government based on some sort of generic ultra-conservative Christianity -- and if you don’t share that perspective, Beck and his cronies want you to be a second-class citizen in your own country.

The “Black Robe Regiment” Beck mentions is a clueless co-optation of the clergy who supported the American Revolution. Needless to say, the far-right religious leaders lining up to back Beck are hardly in that historic camp. Colonial-era preachers were fighting for freedom (religious and civil), not against it like Beck’s bunch.

One of the central players in all this is the infamous David Barton, a self-proclaimed “historian” who peddles “Christian nation” propaganda. Barton has lurked in the dark corners of the Religious Right house of horrors for years, but now Beck has put him on the national stage. (The TV pundit has apparently decided to overlook some very unsavory moments in Barton’s past. In the 1990s, Barton, founder of the Texas-based Wallbuilders, made two appearances at neo-Nazi rallies. In each case, he said he had no idea that the events were organized by racists. That may true, but it sure doesn’t indicate very good judgment on Barton’s part.)

As the current issue of Church & State reports, the academically unqualified Barton has been on Beck’s show constantly this year, peddling bogus “Christian nation” propaganda.

Ironically, some fundamentalist Christians have blasted Barton and other Religious Right leaders for joining in Beck’s religious event tonight. Beck is a Mormon, and most fundamentalists regard the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a non-Christian cult.

For example, Brannon Howse, the Worldview Weekend empresario, blasted Beck’s Kennedy Center service for “promoting something that is not compatible with Biblical Christian doctrines” and insisted that “the Jesus of the cults is not the Jesus of the Bible.”

But fundamentalist preacher Jim Garlow (a crony of that exemplary Christian Newt Gingrich) sprang to Beck’s defense, arguing that the Fox pundit has undergone a fundamentalist inquisition and passed the test!

Reports Garlow, “I have interviewed persons who have talked specifically with Glenn about his personal salvation -- persons extremely well known in Christianity -- and they have affirmed (using language evangelicals understand), ‘Glenn is saved.’”

Intolerance isn’t funny, but it’s hard not to chuckle when you see Beck and Barton targeted with the kind of vicious intolerance they have aimed at mainline Christians, Muslims, non-believers and anyone else who fails to measure up to their rigid religious-political criteria.

I guess there’s a lesson here: when churlish chefs concoct a poisonous kettle of intolerance, ignorance and extremism, some of it just might splash out of the pot and burn those stirring the toxic brew.

The Beck event tonight – and his “Restoring Honor” rally at the Lincoln Memorial tomorrow – will get a lot of media coverage. Most of it, I think, will focus on Tea Party politics, Sarah “Mama Grizzly” Palin and the implications for the November elections.

But in all that hubbub, we shouldn’t lose sight of the damage Beck and Co. are doing to the American foundational principles of tolerance, diversity and church-state separation.