Americans can be forgiven for assuming Michele Bachmann was deadly serious when she repeatedly joked this weekend that God was using an earthquake and hurricane to send a divine message to restrain federal spending. After all, Bachmann has not only proclaimed time and again that the Almighty called her to seek higher office; in 2009, she joined an evangelical "prayercast" asking for divine intervention to halt health care reform. As it turns out, she has plenty of company among the Republican 2012 White House hopefuls. When it comes to policy foreign and domestic, from frontrunner Rick Perry on down the GOP field is offering the ultimate faith-based initiative.
For years, the leading lights of the Party of Lincoln have been turning Honest Abe's mantra ("My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side") on its head. But when it comes to making divine intervention the centerpiece of public policy, Texas Governor Rick Perry is hoping to be the chosen one.
Before entering the GOP presidential race, Governor Perry tried in vain to end the drought in Texas by proclaiming "the three-day period from Friday, April 22, 2011, to Sunday, April 24, 2011, as Days of Prayer for Rain in the State of Texas" and urged "Texans of all faiths and traditions to offer prayers on those days for the healing of our land, the rebuilding of our communities and the restoration of our normal way of life."
But while God didn't hear Perry's call, Perry heard His. As he explained last month before formally jumping into the GOP race:
"I'm not ready to tell you that I'm ready to announce that I'm in. But I'm getting more and more comfortable every day that this is what I've been called to do. This is what America needs."
If the Lord is calling on Rick Perry to lead the United States, Perry plans to call Him back when it's time to actually run it.
On August 6th in Houston, Governor Perry tunnelled under the wall separating church and state to lead The Response, an evangelical day of prayer and fasting seeking divine intervention for America. As Perry put it:
"I sincerely hope you'll join me in Houston on August 6th and take your place in Reliant Stadium with praying people asking God's forgiveness, wisdom and provision for our state and nation. There is hope for America. It lies in heaven, and we will find it on our knees."
"I think it's time for us to just hand it over to God and say, 'God, You're going to have to fix this.'"
By "this," Perry meant "financial debt, terrorism and a multitude of natural disasters." And as he made clear during the August 6 gathering, God's invisible hand was needed to calm a jittery stock market. As Politico reported:
"Father, our heart breaks for America," Perry said, leading the crowd at Reliant Stadium in prayer. "We see discord at home, we see fear in the marketplace, we see anger in the halls of government. And as a nation, we have forgotten who made us, who protects us, who blesses us."
To which Michele Bachmann would doubtless reply, "Amen."
Long before Rick Perry started to sap her support among evangelical voters, the Congresswoman from Minnesota made clear understood their language (if not American history). The self-proclaimed "fool for Christ," who in 2006 warned that "we are in the End of Days" and counseled "wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands," has been also called on by God.
As it turns out, more than once. In 2006, Bachmann announced that "God then called me to run for the United States Congress." But after explaining that she needed "inner assurance" from the Lord before taking the presidential plunge, Bachmann confirmed to Iowa Public Television that she had received it from Him.
"Well, every decision that I make I pray about as does my husband and I can tell you, yes, I've had that calling."
And Bachmann, who asked "that the Lord will give us a special anointing on how to put our team together," has in turn called on Him to smite her political opponents. In December 2009, Bachmann joined an evangelical "prayercast" asking God to stop health care reform. "We deserve Your wrath," Bachmann prayed and asked, "but would You yet give our nation mercy?" And in 2010, Bachmann proclaimed her vengeful God would really get his wrath on if the United States did not support Likud policy in Israel:
At a Republican Jewish Coalition event in Los Angeles last week, Rep. Michele Bachmann offered a candid view of her positions on Israel: Support for Israel is handed down by God and if the United States pulls back its support, America will cease to exist... "I am convinced in my heart and in my mind that if the United States fails to stand with Israel, that is the end of the United States...[W]e have to show that we are inextricably entwined, that as a nation we have been blessed because of our relationship with Israel, and if we reject Israel, then there is a curse that comes into play. And my husband and I are both Christians, and we believe very strongly the verse from Genesis [Genesis 12:3], we believe very strongly that nations also receive blessings as they bless Israel."
Of course, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann have a lot of company among the Republican contenders claiming that God is in their amen corner. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who famously warned against the prospect of "man-on-dog" marriages, blamed liberal Boston for clergy sex abuse there and declared the American Left "hates Christendom," explained that his 2012 presidential run is "about going on to the battlefield and defending God's truth in the World." He knows this, because God told him so:
"It really boils down to God's will. What is it that God wants? ... We have prayed a lot about this decision, and we believe with all our hearts that this is what God wants."
Ditto for former pizza mogul Herman Cain. Cain, who would require special loyalty oaths for Muslim government officials and supports local bans on mosques, told a Tea Party event in April that the Lord wanted him to go from the pizza over into the fire:
Cain told the crowd about his battle with cancer in 2006, saying he's been "totally cancer free" for the past five years.
"You want to know why? God said, 'Not yet Herman,'" Cain told the crowd. "God said, 'Not yet. I've got something else for you to do.' And it might be to become the president of the United States of America."
While Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin have been no-shows for the 2012 race, they too pass the God Pledge twin tests with flying colors. While God apparently didn't call Huckabee's number for 2012, last time around the Arkansas Governor explained his early success by citing "the same power that helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a crowd of 5,000 people and that's the only way that our campaign could be doing what it's doing."
The hand of God wasn't merely behind his strong performance in the 2008 primaries, Minister Huckabee insisted, but was responsible for other victories, too. As the Virginia Pilot recounted two years ago, the Almighty had helped the GOP battle Teh Gay:
"The notion that we are just one of many among equals is nonsense," Huckabee said. The United States is a "blessed" nation, he said, calling American revolutionaries' defeat of the British empire "a miracle from God's hand."
The same kind of miracle, he said, led California voters to approve Proposition 8, which overturned a state law legalizing same-sex marriages.
Voters "did it because some things are right and some things are wrong and they had to make a stand."
As for the half-term Alaska Governor, Sarah Palin explained to the February 2010 Tea Party Convention that:
"It would be wise of us to start seeking some divine intervention again in this country, so that we can be safe and secure and prosperous again."
And Palin, who asked Alaskans to pray for a natural gas pipeline, called the Iraq war "a task that is from God" and declared that her selection as John McCain's running mate was "God's plan," believed that despite grim polling numbers He would be with her on Election Day 2008:
"To me, it motivates us, makes us work that much harder. And it also strengthens my faith, because I'm going to know, at the end of the day, putting this in God's hands, that the right thing for America will be done at the end of the day on Nov. 4. So I'm not discouraged at all."
God, it seems, wanted Barack Obama in the White House.
For conservatives, the disappointments and ironies from Above were once again on display during the Hurricane Irene weekend just concluded. While New York Times columnist Ross Douthat chastised the religious right's liberal critics for their renewed warnings about "American Theocracy," his boss and editor Bill Keller suggested that the press needs to be "asking candidates tougher questions about faith." Just days before the 2007 Iowa straw poll victor Michele Bachmann joked about the message from God contained in the earthquake that rocked the east coast, Pat Robertson made a similar point in all earnestness. As the 1987 GOP Iowa straw poll winner put it:
"Ladies and gentlemen I don't want to get weird on this so please take it for what it's worth. But it seems to me the Washington Monument is a symbol of America's power, it has been the symbol of our great nation, we look at that monument and say this is one nation under God. Now there's a crack in it, there's a crack in it and it's closed up. Is that a sign from the Lord? Is that something that has significance or is it just result of an earthquake? You judge, but I just want to bring that to your attention. It seems to me symbolic. When Jesus was crucified and when he died the curtain in the Temple was rent from top to bottom and there was a tear and it was extremely symbolic, is this symbolic? You judge."
"Allah has struck New York and the capital city Washington by an earthquake as a punishment for their disbelief...
"If they don't listen and don't stop, Allah will strike them again by an earthquake or a hurricane. You have no other way but to repent and move away from your path that will take you to the abyss."
Meanwhile, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and most of the Republican presidential wannabes have yet to release the details of their plans to expand the economy, create jobs or just about anything else. But for all intents and purposes, the message at the heart of the 2012 Republican platform is already finished.
(This piece also appears at Perrspectives.)