Who Says the Tea Party is Not a Religious Movement?

Last week here on RD, Louis Ruprecht argued that the Tea Party was not a religious movement but rather a “perennial” re-enactment of a long-standing American tradition of tax revolt—the Whiskey Rebellion circa 2010.   

Sometimes, it falls to the religion professor, and to the contemporary cultural critic, to remind an audience that religion is not important in some places, all the while admitting to its vast importance in others. I am not convinced that religion is central to the Tea Party movement.

Perhaps things look a little different from where I sit at the southwestern tip of the Book-of-Mormon-belt than they do from Professor Ruprecht’s vantage point in Atlanta, Georgia.  
To this religion scholar and contemporary cultural critic it seems pretty clear that:

A) the Tea Party movement is not monolithic but rather deeply inflected with and informed by local and regional histories, concerns, rhetorics, and cultural nuances; and

B) among its LDS supporters in the American West, the Tea Party bears features of a religious movement. Especially in the intermountain west, the Tea Party movement has been fueled by and become co-articulated with deeply held Mormon beliefs that the U.S. Constitution is a divinely inspired document, that in the last days the Constitution will “hang like a thread,” and that a righteous remnant from the Rocky Mountains will save it.  

This complex of beliefs, often referred to as the “White Horse Prophecy,” originated in statements attributed to LDS Church founder Joseph Smith in 1843 but never canonized and yet reiterated time and time again over the last 167 years by Mormon leaders and the Mormon faithful. (In January, after news broke that Idaho gubernatorial candidate Rex Rammell was convening a series of closed-door “White Horse Prophecy” study groups, the LDS Church issued an official statement clarifying that the “White Horse Prophecy” is not doctrinal.)  

For Mormons including Tea Party media powerhouse Glenn Beck (who consistently uses unmarked Mormon rhetoric in his national broadcasts), the U.S. Constitution is a religious matter.  

There are even some signs that the Tea Party movement among conservative Mormons may be a vehicle for expressing revolt not only against taxes, or the Neocon oligarchic dominance of the Republican party, but also against the traditional Mormon political elite and mainstream LDS Church-sponsored institutions.

Mormons, it would seem, are bringing our own special mix of very religious and absolutely non-caffeinated herbal tea to the national Tea Party movement.

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Joanna Brooks is the author of The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith (Free Press / Simon & Schuster, 2012) and a senior correspondent for Religion Dispatches.