Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Tempest in a Teacup: Will Economic Conservatives Join with Social Conservatives-Or Racist Extremists?

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Tempest in a Teacup: Will Economic Conservatives Join with Social Conservatives-Or Racist Extremists?

Article excerpt

ON THE FIRST evening of the Tea Party Nation gathering in Nashville in February, Southern Baptist pastor Rick Scarborough took participants to their knees for a lengthy prayer service, during which he declared the party "a Christian movement." But, in fact, prayers and scant preaching aside, the event largely ignored the social agenda that has for decades driven the evangelical political movement in the US.

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Instead, the Nashville gathering focused on the economic platform--dramatically reduced government and taxes, as well as unfettered "free markets"--that is emerging as the shared, though shaky, foundation of the "tea party" factions. The largely grassroots, conservative-right groundswell of opposition to the Obama administration also includes a renewed states' rights movement, fueled by some state attorneys general, that seeks to fend off federal action on health care, immigration, and a host of other pressing issues.

While a CNN poll found tea partiers to be wealthier, whiter, more educated, and more Protestant than Americans as a whole, homogeneity has not bred unity. Tea Party Patriots continue to fend off the Tea Party Nation (whose Nashville conclave was set up by for-profit entrepreneurs who charged participants high-dollar registrations to propound low-dollar government) and have not joined its recent loose coalition with the Tea Party Express.

The key unknown is where, if, or how social conservatives who have built and driven the evangelical Christian right will land among the tea parties' economic agenda. There are signs that social conservatives are seeking to merge the social and economic agendas in new ways to galvanize their own disparate political bases.

Social conservatives would be hard-pressed, however, to embrace the tea parties' economic platform without its anti-federal thread and the racial anxiety that too often comes with it--potentially alienating the growing number of evangelical leaders committed to environmental stewardship, immigration reform, racial justice, and other socioeconomic issues.

Nevertheless, there is danger ahead that extremist, racially driven agendas will be mainstreamed. …

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