The purpose of my last trip to DC, back in March, was to participate in protest against the greatest expansion of wanton government tyranny since the Great Society era. This time, I returned to join forces in a celebration of the possibility of restoration.
Full disclosure: I had not originally planned to attend “Restoring Honor.” I went to Americans for Prosperity’s “Defending the American Dream Summit” last year on October 2-3 and enjoyed it so much that I knew I would return this year. Assuming that it would be timed on a similar weekend, I decided to forego an 8/28 trip. But my friend, Amy Payne, informed me sometime late last spring that AFP had moved their dates back to August 27-28, both to avoid conflict with those who would be working on fall campaigns and to be supportive of Glenn Beck’s efforts. With that, it was sealed for me.
So on Friday, I nursed the political itch at the Marriott Wardman Park. Highlights follow:
1) I had been briefly introduced to Teri Christoph, founder of Smart Girl Politics, at Right Online in Las Vegas last month. I also heard her relate the very inspiring story of how SGP was formed, a mere 21 months ago. It is quickly becoming an organization with significant clout, with an impact in races around the country. Teri is a stay-at-home mom…so naturally, she is warm, witty and wise. (I’m married to one of these.) We also share a fondness for the regional BBQ chain, Red, Hot & Blue.
My sincere appreciation to Teri for allowing me to sit down for a couple of stints behind her table and do absolutely nothing…not that I exactly requested permission. (I was exhausted after trying to sleep the preceding night and failing. Too excited for the weekend.)
2) I also happened to run into Katy Abram, whom I’ve gotten to know on Twitter. You may not recognize the name, but you’ll remember her after you view this clip again:
Don’t let the richly deserved hostility that Snarlin’ Arlen merited from this gutsy stay-at-home mom (!) fool you. Katy is abundantly vibrant, with a radiantly genuine demeanor. She co-chaired a panel that afternoon with my friend, Dan Lee, co-founder of the Hoosier Patriots grassroots organization right here in Indiana!
3) While sitting waiting for a panel session to begin, Dave Weigel walked up and called me out by name…yes, he of brief Washington Post tenure, now a newly minted Slate.com blogger. I had met Dave a little over a year ago, but had no idea he recalled that. I’m still not sure he did; he simply stated, in response to what must have been my visible surprise, that my Twitter avatar actually looked like me, which enabled recognition. Not the first time I’ve been told this. Anyway, I told Weigel that I don’t always agree with what he writes, but that his prowess is undisputed. He has churned out some solid pieces for Slate in the last month (I was especially thinking about this one). He was cordial and thanked me. When conservatives tell you Dave Weigel is a nice guy, in spite of his involvement in Journolist…believe it. I can vouch for its verisimilitude.
4) We were addressed by several celebrity speakers at the 1:00 PM session. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell kicked off the session and brought the house down with a side-by-side comparison of the flourishing capitol city of Richmond, VA and the national capitol. He also elicited joyous whoops and hollers from the assembled activists when he threw out a casual mention of “Governor Christie and I” (the two were resoundingly elected Governors of their respective states the same night last November). Dick Morris was also present and gave a real stemwinder, predicting the Republicans would take back the Senate. Herman Cain spoke and, as he never fails to do, left the audience begging for more. The man can communicate in an infections way.
5) The absolute highlight of the evening was George Will. I don’t get dazzled much anymore over politicians and similar types of DC celebrities (though I admire a number of them), but George Will is in that rare class of ability that commands veneration: so well-spoken, so learned and so pleasantly dogmatic in his recall of facts that it astounds the senses. He surprised me by walking back and forth on stage during his speech, gesticulating widely, modulating his voice to an extent that watchers of ABC’s “This Week” do not experience. Favorite quotes from the speech include the following:
“We are today in the midst of Jimmy Carter 2.0 and it is time to hit the delete button.”
“Obama IS a stimulus package. He has stimulated an economic debate that he is in the process of losing.”
“”Have you realized envy is the only 1 of the 7 deadly sins that doesn’t bring even a moment’s pleasure? I’ll pause for a moment while you mentally run down the list…”
“”Calvin Coolidge, the most recent President with whom I felt complete agreement…” (I forget how he even ended this.)
In short, watching George Will reminded me of the time I saw Rush Limbaugh speak, to this extent: both times, I was witnessing a legend, unmatched in his particular field, in a rare give-and-take with a visible audience.
Saturday morning, I was (begrudgingly, at first) out of bed at 5:45 for the two-mile walk to the closest Metro station. (I was staying at the Savoy Suites in Georgetown; nice hotel, but rather secluded from the WMATA.) I was on the Metro by around 7:20…and it was packed like a cattle car. I knew then that we were in for something bigger than most had foreseen.
I had planned to meet several friends at the Arlington Cemetery stop, but once I began to see how the crowd was shaping up, I ditched that plan and got off at the Farragut West stop and walked the mile or so south from there down 17th St., across Pennsylvania Ave. and by the Old Executive Office Building, on down to the Mall and the Lincoln Memorial. A huge crowd had already formed, but I was still early enough that I was able to secure a very decent spot in the large South mall adjacent to the reflecting pool. I was actually surprised that, throughout the event, I had a very decent, though partially obscured view through the trees of all of the activity on the stage.
The sense of God’s presence that swept over the grounds became palpable for me when, at the stroke of 9:00 AM, the music began to pipe over the intercom. “Amazing Grace” was one of the first renditions. Chills enveloped my spine as the crowd began to applaud and stand to their feet and sing along. The “Navy Hymn” and various other sacred selections followed. By the time 10:00 rolled around, the ambience had been cemented. We were on hallowed ground.
Everything about this rally was timed in an intensely focused manner. Not a minute was wasted. At exactly 10:00, Pat Gray’s voice rippled across the common: “You listen to him every day on the #3 radio show in America. Ladies and gentlemen: GLENN BECK.” The crowd roared and Glenn came out and bounded down the steps.
Beck was overcome, of course. Frankly, we all were, by this point. He ebulliently greeted the crowd then immediately, his voice choked with tears, he employed a “Field of Dreams” reference: “This truly has been a case of ‘If you build it, they will come.’ This is the day when America begins to turn back to God.”
Just as was the case in March at the anti-Obamacare rally, a collage of images has become affixed to my consciousness, without respect to any chronological order of occurrence. The rally was opened with an unforgettable visual tableau. Behind Glenn stood Daniel Lapin, an Orthodox Jewish rabbi from the Seattle area (whose writings and thought I have enjoyed for a decade now), a Native American couple who are direct descendants of the Indians who greeted the Pilgrims in Massachusetts and finally, a Baptist minister who traces his lineage to the Puritans.
Glenn brought Sarah Palin out onto the Capitol steps with an explanation to the crowd that she was there as a mother of a soldier. Palin’s most unforgettable line, to me, was when she stated, “Say what you want to say about me, but I raised a combat vet.”
The media has capitalized on her statement that we don’t want to remake America; we want to restore it. It is telling that this is viewed as a political reference, because I’ll wager that Palin herself doesn’t view it as such. It simply constitutes a defense of the American tradition of liberty over tyranny, freedom over bondage and choice over servitude.
An awestruck reverence, punctuated by undulating crescendos of ovation, descended on the crowd as Palin introduced three veterans: Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, Marine Sergeant Eddie Wright who lost both of his hands to a rocket propelled grenade in Fallujah, and former Air Force squadron member Tom Kirk, who had spent 5 ½ years as a POW in the Hanoi Hilton in the Vietnam War. Tears cascaded down faces across the crowd as these three noble men were welcomed to the stage. When Eddie Wright subsequently presented Badges of Merit (a colonial-era honor presented to civilians of outstanding character) of Faith, Hope and Love to the three recipients, gingerly employing the hooks that had supplanted his hands to hang the medals around their necks…words do not do the scene justice.
To introduce the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, a mother of a fallen warrior was escorted to the stage. Her son had lost his life when the tank he was driving encountered a land mine. She recounted how, when her small grandson realized that his daddy wasn’t coming home because his tank wasn’t going to be fixed, the little boy went to his bedroom and returned with his toy toolkit, intending to repair his daddy’s tank. Audible groans of grief could be heard from the crowd. Glenn Beck later shared that $5 million was raised for the SOWF via cell donations from the rally that day.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s niece, Alveda King, is a vibrant and glowing presence. This courageous woman has chosen to do the right thing in favor of uniting the country around her family’s vision, rather than casting her lot with the race-baiting industry that has co-opted the civil rights movement that King proudly led. She presided over a segment that explicitly honored the legacy of her uncle and was flanked by a number of other clergy and religious leaders.
I had another appointment that night and was fearful of fighting huge crowds on the Metro as I returned to the hotel. I ducked out of the rally at 12:45, as Glenn Beck was giving his closing remarks and sharing his vision for a future in which America is renewed in adherence to truth and commitment to God, family and country. I found out later that I missed Beck’s introduction of the Black Robe Regiment. He closed the rally, surrounded by 240 Christian ministers, Jewish rabbis and Muslim imams who have pledged to declare the principles of the Constitution from their respective houses of worship and to commit to the restoration of awareness of these truths among the members of their congregations.
It is time for me to weigh in with a decision that I have reached about a controversial aspect, among some fundamentalist, evangelical Christians (a brand with which I unhesitatingly identify) of what Glenn Beck is trying to do. Jonathan Falwell has succeeded his father, Jerry, as pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, VA and is also a Vice-Chancellor at Liberty University. Liberty University invited Beck as their spring commencement speaker this last May. While there, Falwell stood on the platform with him and affirmed the spiritual aspects of what Beck stands for, while clarifying the theological divide between Mormon teachings and his own beliefs.
Falwell is not alone. Beck recounted yesterday how in a meeting he held several months ago with a number of other evangelical leaders, including James Robison and Dr. James Dobson. Robison pounded the table in enthusiastic camaraderie and declared to the group, essentially, “Shame on us that a Mormon has to call the country back to its founding principles of Judeo-Christian tradition and fulfill the duty we have neglected of Constitutional education.” Dr. Dobson concurred. (Dobson also addressed the “Restoring Honor” assembly on Saturday via satellite.) Beck also mentioned Franklin Graham, who was not able to be present, but sent regrets and a message of support.
The evangelical credentials and orthodoxy of these leaders and their counterparts are largely undisputed. Yet, a relatively small but correspondingly vocal minority of naysayers has voiced concerns about collaboration with Beck. After all, comes the argument, Beck is a Mormon and consequently, he doesn’t believe in the same Jesus that we do. Presumably, this is the case because Mormons believe in the post-death potential for all righteous souls to assume divinity.
The conclusion that I have drawn is that the evangelical commentators who are Beck objectors are well-intentioned, but misguided. I have deep theological disagreements with Mormon teaching, as well as key aspects of Mormon history. So much of it doesn’t add up. I could not worship in a Mormon temple. But in the end, are we brought into relationship with Christ by believing in His deity and substitutionary atonement on the Cross, as Glenn Beck clearly indicates that he does, with a radically changed life, from darkness to light, to show for it? Or are we justified by believing all of the correct things about Christ? To me, the allegation that Beck believes in a different Jesus than I do becomes a straw man argument. Beck may very well believe incorrectly regarding the afterlife and extra-biblical sacred texts. I cannot find, anywhere I look, where Beck denies the transcendental deity of Jesus Christ.
There is an even more significant, macro scope to this subject, though. I will unswervingly choose orthodoxy over cultism and truth over falsehood as an ongoing effort in my personal journey with God. I intend to raise my children to do the same. But the words of the Psalmist David come to my mind, from Psalm 11:3, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” It is beyond the realm of debate, among conservatives and progressives alike, that this is exactly what has been taking place in our country for a lengthy period now; our reactions to it differ (the changes alarm conservatives and invigorate progressives), but consensus is reached on the reality of the transformation.
David suggests that he finds the answer in the next verse: “The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD’s throne is in heaven; his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.” The Revolutionary War statesman, John Page, wrote to his friend, our greatest President, Thomas Jefferson, “We know the Race is not to the swift, nor the Battle to the Strong. Do you not think an Angel rides in the Whirlwind and directs this Storm?”
So I will stand with Glenn Beck as he calls the country back to God and to our foundations of sacred honor. How can I withhold support from a man whose theological beliefs I do not wholeheartedly endorse when he summons the country to return to virtue? Should we also denounce afresh the Deism of Jefferson, the Unitarian affiliation of John Adams and the dubious spirituality of Lincoln and accordingly, refuse to spotlight the truths they sacrificed so much to uphold?
The country is crumbling. As a committed Christian, I will maintain my convictions on the veracity of Scripture and its teachings. I cannot do otherwise. I also do not deny the essential role of orthodoxy; I champion it. But alliances must be built, rather than bridges burned, if the nation is to be preserved.
The prayers that were prayed by Christian clergy from the Lincoln Memorial stage on Saturday were, in Reaganesque parlance, offered in bold colors with no pale pastels. “Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the only Savior of the world”, was honored as such and more, while rabbis and non-believers alike reverently stood by. No one demanded our Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and atheistic friends swear similar allegiance. Yet, the bold faith of Christianity was similarly not watered down in an ecumenical mishmash.
Glenn Beck has extended the right hand of fellowship to the evangelical Christian community. I cannot do other than lock arms with him and others who advocate the nation’s restoration, while letting God be the ultimate judge of the hearts of those who, while espousing some extra-biblical teachings, still gladly confess the Lordship of His Son.