You are in their prayers

The subtext of the rightwing revivalists is not hard to read

In Saturday I wandered through The Return, a “national and global day of repentance” for Christians of an intense variety on the Mall. The event promo says this was to be the centerpiece of “10 Days of Prayer, Fasting, and Repentance – Starting with the Biblical Feast of Trumpets and ending with the Day of Atonement (September 18-September 28)...”

I was not around for the trumpets, which may have been rams’ horns — several of the thousands of celebrants carried them at the event, along with other Jewish and/or Israeli accoutrements, such as Israeli flags and star-of-David shawls. The speakers also often referred to Jesus by the Hebrew word Yeshua, and made joyful reference to the relationship of the United States to Israel, especially in “the undivided capital of Jerusalem.”

(What there was less of was face masks — I’d say about 5% of attendees wore them — though nearly everyone I could see through the gate of the VIP quarters, where the speakers, musicians, and volunteers gathered, was masked, and a sign at the quarters’ gate asked everyone to wear a mask to “help us ensure the safety of all attending.” For the folks out front, one imagines, the Lord would provide.)

You probably know that Israel figures prominently in the Armageddon scenario that gives many of these Christians comfort that the end of the world will come soon and be a net positive for them. But many principals of The Return are also into a straight-up merger of the faiths. When the Jews and the Christians went their separate ways, Jonathan Cahn, a Messianic Jewish (Jews for Jesus) preacher and one of the event’s organizers, said at the rally, the two religions lost “the power of the Book of Acts,” but now God was “restoring” that power, bringing “the Jewish people back to the Messiah and the Church to Israel.”

Cahn was joined in this prayer by his Christian co-organizer Kevin Jessip, who told the crowd America was by “a spiritual umbilical cord tied to the nation of Israel that can never be severed, hallelujah.” (The mission of Jessip’s company, Global Strategic Alliance, is “to engage the ‘Body of Christ’ in upholding our Judeo-Christian principles and discipling the nations for the Kingdom of God”; he’s mobbed up with Mike Pence and other powerful rightwing Christians.)

Major religion superhero team-up aside, The Return took the form of an ordinary religious revival with lots of preaching, lots of praise-and-worship music, and lots of instruction of how damned we are and how blessed we’ll be. From the Return promo copy:

America and much of western culture, were founded on a Biblical foundation stone that has turned away and even against the foundation on which it was birthed. In the days after 9/11, people flocked to churches and it looked as if there could have been a spiritual revival and awakening.

(It occurs to me that while conservatives have surrendered their 9/11-era pretense that they ever cared about New York City, they still love to reminisce on the togetherness and spiritualism the World Trade Center attacks engendered — maybe because terrifying people into communion and faith is for them not only an acceptable but their preferred way to achieve those results. Cahn called Ground Zero “God's consecration ground.”)

But that awakening, the promo continues,

never came. Because there was no repentance, turning back to God, no changing of course, no repenting – And without repentance, without that turning, there can be no revival.

If you're an ordinary conservative, the flag-pin patriotism and endless Middle Eastern wars and crony contractor graft were the bright side of 9/11; but for these guys it was all in vain because our pride was not crushed like a viper under the heel of the Lord.

So America fell even farther, spiritually, morally, away from God. We have driven God from our public squares, we have called what is good evil and what is sin, good, we have sacrificed the lives of over sixty million unborn children, and we now seek to do so up to the time of birth.

You will not be surprised that abortion is a big deal for these guys. For the hour and a half I was there, that was the focus of most of the people yelling on the jumbotrons — occasionally they denounced “LGBT” and general permissiveness, but most of the harangues were dedicated to fetuses and the great wrong somebody was doing to them. The fetal body count was rehearsed in a variety of ways, judges and doctors who used to countenance and perform abortions stepped forward to receive adulation for turning against them, a band played a remarkable song taking the point of view of a fetus who can’t wait to be born but then notices his host body is going to the hospital “way too soon” and finds himself sucked out of the womb and into the arms of Jesus Christ.

Cahn preached on John Winthrop’s vision of a city on a hill that “would stand against the dark powers.” America was great because it was good — but that goodness was gone. In this preacher’s view, however, this was not because America had exploited its workers and its oppressed peoples, and given most of its wealth to a small group of wealthy crooks, but because it had come to worship false gods. Some of those false gods were “prosperity” and “materialism” — but there was not much call at the rally for people to downgrade their McMansions and new cars in renunciation.

Nor was there a call for the attendees to give up their abortions, because it was presumed that they weren’t having any. No, it was someone else who was having the abortions; however, the attendees were told that America suffered collective guilt for these abortions — because it showed that the nation had turned away from its destiny as a city on a hill — and as the attendees were part of America, they had to get on their knees and pray for forgiveness for them. And so they did.

You could look at this, if you are of a generous turn of mind, as an admirable guard against self-righteousness and holding oneself better than one’s sinful neighbors. Or you might look at it as collective punishment for the sins of others, like the D.I. making the platoon do push-ups for Private Pyle’s jelly donut in Full Metal Jacket. Thereafter, you may remember, the recruits do the punishing of Pyle themselves.

So there was a lot of rejoicing at the prospect of a change in the Supreme Court, but only some glancing mentions of the people who were bringing it about. It was an interesting elision. We all know who they’re voting for — no one would expect any of the attendees to deny Trump their vote just because of his appallingly self-evident sinfulness; after all, aren’t we all sinners? You might think they mostly left his name out of it because they didn’t want the revival to look like a Trump rally; small chance of that, though, without any jokes about beating journalists and locking up one's political opponents — and besides, these guys don’t care what you or I think. My impression is that they don’t like to think of how their salvation sausage is being made. Unlike Proud Boys and cops, they probably don’t dream of attacking and killing their enemies; they just like to imagine the aftermath of their destruction, delivered not at their hands but at the hands of the Creator — a day when they’ll wake up and everything and everyone that displeases the Lord has disappeared. That is what they’re praying for.