It's assuredly not what they want, but one can't help but find the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit of 2013 a bit pathetic.
Yes, it is splashy and they are attracting some media attention with their iron fence and sign saying "Because of the federal government shutdown, this stage area is closed except for 1st Amendment activities." Which must have been a catchy slogan to someone.
But when you come down to it, the themes and speakers at VVS2013 have the whiff of decayed ideas and diminished power. Yesterday the NBC/WSJ poll showed that the favorability rating of the in-house political party of this values voter crowd is at 24 percent, the lowest number for the Republican party ever. As for the sign on the fence, it might not be the best idea to remind people of the shutdown as 53 percent of the American public blames the Republicans for it, compared to 31 percent blaming President Obama.
The list of confirmed speakers is meant to be impressive with headshots of the who's who of the religious right. But when you start unpacking these political stars, the shine comes off pretty quickly.
Here's just a few examples.
The soon-to-be-former Rep. Michele Bachmann is a confirmed speaker. Unfortunately, the congresswoman is in a bit of trouble with the House Ethics committee for her failed presidential bid -- hey, ethics, whatever. More recently she made the headlines for her opinion that Obama's funding of terrorists offers "solid evidence of the end times." Sigh.
Then you have Bishop E.W. Jackson, who is running for Lt. Governor of Virginia and who has claimed that government programs have done more harm to blacks than slavery; and that non-Christians are "engaged in some sort of false religion." Double sigh.
Even the man who was meant to be the main star of the moment, presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz, has just recently become quite unpopular because of his leading role in the government shutdown and now gets a minus 14 percent approval rating according to the same NBC/WSJ poll.
And then there is Allen West..
But it's not just the people, it is really the ideas and priorities of the Values Voter Summit that seem tired and tone deaf to the concerns of most Americans. For these faith voters, guns are still really good and gays are still really bad. And yes, again, religious freedom (read Christian privilege) is under attack -- which brings us back to the gays and their desire to marry and women's right to control their own bodies.
Every agenda item has a rehashed '80s feel about it; and, especially around gay marriage, a sense of inevitable failure and a willful blindness to the recent movement that has happened among faith leaders on gay inclusion.
I was going to say that there is not a new idea among the panels and talks at the Values Voter Summit but there are two discussions that are worth a passing mention. The first concerns the Emergent Church, which is a Christian movement begun by evangelicals that re-imagines what it means to be a prophetic as well as an evangelical church. At the Values Voter Summit, there is a session named "Is It Too Late To Reclaim America?," led by Art Ally that puts the Emergent Church along with Islam and... Satan... as the major threats to the country. Oh, my.
The second intriguing panel is titled "The War on Football: Saving America's Game." Seriously. Yes, it turns out that the game that is on every channel, and that gets the most funding in every school, and that draws millions every week to stadiums across the country is under attack and blogger Daniel J. Flynn is going to tell you how. (Hint, it is that silly concern about concussions.. what wimps!)
Flynn's session is a decent metaphor for the entire Values Voter Summit. The attendees are overwhelmingly Christians. They live in a country where not only can one worship freely as a Christian, but a country that caters to Christians. They have the absolute right not to 'gay marry' and not to have an abortion or use contraception, and to carry a gun and yet they feel that their rights and their faith are under attack. The lack of self awareness is mind boggling.
However, the most galling thing, the really horrible part of the Values Voter Summit is the complete and utter lack of interest in the poor, the immigrants, and those on the margins -- you know, those people Jesus loved.
At the time of their expensive and highly produced meeting, there are over 46 million Americans who are living at or below the poverty line, yet the Republican controlled house voted to cut 40 billion dollars from food stamps; there are thousands of law abiding Dreamers who are desperately waiting for immigration reform, yet the Republicans have stalled efforts to welcome them into our country; and during these months when we have gun tragedy over gun tragedy with young people slaughtered with assault rifles, the Republican party stops any effort at sensible gun laws.
The Values Voter Summit doesn't care about this at all! It is easier to stick with how football is under attack than to deal with the real suffering of Americans who need to hear some hope that we are a moral and just country because right now it is hard to remember that.
Across D.C., away from the thundering music and the flashy graphics on huge screens is a small group of pastors who are offering a different vision of values for America. The are standing outside in the rain across from the United States Capitol reading the 2,000 verses in the Bible that deal with justice for the poor and the downtrodden in an action they are calling the Faithful Filibuster and they will stay there until the Congress passes "a budget that cares for the poor and vulnerable."
The do not have the money, or the "stars" of the Value Voters Summit, but they have come this far by faith -- and with the God of justice, compassion and peace on their side -- they will not turn around.