It’s no secret that the religious right is opposed to health care reform (a.k.a. “death panels,” “government takeover,” or “Obamacare”) but as the Senate races to the winter recess with its bill that’s controversial even to progressives, the religious right is using new Christmas-themed rhetoric to rally the base to oppose it.
Big supporters of the Stupak amendment on the House side, the religious right was up in arms when the Senate version, the Nelson-Hatch amendment, was defeated last week. Even though the religious right claims many reasons for opposing health care reform, including “rationing” and the much dreaded march of supposed socialism, abortion has been, and continues to be front and center as a mobilizing tool. But now, in the (ahem) spirit of the season, the movement is using new rhetoric that allowing (even tangential) government subsidy of abortion is turning America into a land run by a modern King Herod, who attempted to murder the baby Jesus.
The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference whom Sojourners’ Jim Wallis has labeled “one of the most hopeful young Christian leaders of our time,” led the charge for this narrative in last night’s “prayercast” co-sponsored by the Family Research Council and The Call. (For more on The Call and its leader Lou Engle, see my account of its spiritual warfare movement in opposition to gay marriage from last year.) Other participants on the prayercast included FRC’s Tony Perkins, Republican Senators Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Sam Brownback of Kansas, Reps. Todd Akin (R-MO), Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Trent Franks (R-AZ), Randy Forbes (R-VA), and Mike McIntyre (D-NC); as well as Shirley and James Dobson; Bishop Harry Jackson, who recently led an unsuccessful crusade against gay marriage in the District of Columbia; and Pastor Jim Garlow, a leading proponent of California’s Proposition 8 who claimed last night the health care bill violates the Ten Commandments.
Rodriguez, who told me recently that he worked with Wallis “to push the House side in favor of an amendment that would protect the innocent or would restrict the funding of abortion procedures,” also coalesces with the Freedom Federation, a coalition of religious right organizations that oppose health care reform, and The Oak Initiative, an initiative of Rick Joyner’s Morningstar Ministries.
Through an email distributed by the Oak Initiative, Engle portrayed abortion coverage in the health care bill as the greatest moral crisis facing America, and told of a vision inspired by 1 Chronicles 21, in which David vanquished the angel of death, sent by God as punishment for Israel’s transgressions. “With all my heart I believe we have come to the point where the angel of death can be restrained on this new threshing floor, the floor of the Senate,” wrote Engle. “If the Church, like David, will cry out in united urgency, God may intervene and restrain this healthcare bill that has tax-funded abortion at its very core.” He convened with Perkins, he said, “to call the nation to prayer for such a time as this, an Esther moment appealing to the throne of heaven to overrule the thrones of earth.”
In the prayercast, Rodriguez prayed:
Heavenly father, righteous God, in this season as we celebrate birth of our savior, the one who came to give us life, everlasting life abundant, we come in His name to intercede for that very gift of life. Father, the same spirit of Herod who 2000 years ago attempted to exterminate the life of the Messiah today lives even America. The legislation that incorporates death and infanticide all under the capopy of reform. Today we ask for your spirit to convict the Senate and Congress, mobilize and activate the church to stand for righteousness and justice. We, black and white, brown and yellow, rich and poor, urban and suburban, Republican, Democrats, and independents, come together and rise against the spirit of Herod, a culture of death and moral relativism. We need your kingdom come and thy will to be done. Let this nation once again adhere to the very tenets of our republic, one truly committed to life liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, in Jesus’ name we pray.
Now we know what Rodriguez means by the “browning” of the evangelical movement.
The night before, in a Stop the Abortion Mandate webcast, Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for American (and a former Operation Rescue activist) also invoked the Herod analogy after calling Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (the former governor of Kansas, the site of some of the most violent anti-abortion extremism) “the most pro-abortion governor in America.” Wright followed FRC’s Perkins, who claimed health care reform efforts are not about the well-being of Americans, but a “Planned Parenthood bailout.” Americans United for Life’s Charmaine Yoest portrayed Planned Parenthood as an evil giant motivated by profit (even though it, like most of the organizations represented on the call, is a non-profit).
In keeping with Engle’s Esther theme, and the Herod theme, the health care reform debate was depicted as a sort of pro-choice last stand. Perkins claimed the battle over abortion coverage in health care represented the “last breath and struggle of the pro-abortion community,” because “we’re so close to seeing abortion outlawed in this country; to becoming a pro-life nation again.”
That’s why — in Perkins’ view — the pro-choice community is fighting so hard to include abortion coverage in health care reform, because “this is their last stand to change America in their image and promote a culture of death.”
Get it? If you’re pro-choice, you’re like Herod, trying to wipe out an army of anointed ones, a battalion of Esthers — you’re a co-conspirator on a massive death panel for Christianity.
Happy holidays — I mean, Merry Christmas, everyone.