Delaware GOP Senate nominee Christine O’Donnell this weekend attended the annual conservative Values Voters summit in Washington, DC. There, she emphasized that although she is backed by the Tea Party, she is also a politician who “toiled for years in the values movement,” alluding to her longtime work as a Christian activist.
What is the Tea Party? Is it “a recession-era version of the religious right?” Is it something else? And if the Tea Party is not a religious movement, why is it raising up candidates like O’Donnell who has a strong background of religious activism?
“You cannot serve both God and wealth (Luke 16:13).” I fear that the Tea Party may to be trying to do just that.
To be clear, the Tea Party is not a religious movement even though it does have religious elements within it – mainly evangelical Christians who have a heartfelt desire to serve God. What’s actually more common than the Christine O’Donnell “values movement” style of activism among Tea Party candidates is a harsh libertarian streak. These conscious or unconscious devotees of Ayn Rand trust that hyper-individualism is the foundation for the American dream and so work toward a world where there is no government that would meddle in anything which might hinder their pursuit of wealth. It’s a kind of religious zeal that fuels this kind of Tea Partier.
I see the Tea Party as a strange amalgam of these two elements: those seeking to serve God and those seeking to serve wealth. So the question then is who benefits from these unlikely bedfellows?
Best to apply that wisdom from the political tsunami that still blows chaotically through American politics, Nixon and Watergate: “Follow the money.” Sadly, very, very few of these Tea Party candidates would have gotten to the first chicken dinner or the nearest voter database in the general election without masses of money flowing in from people who are neither Christian nor libertarian. Jane Mayer in The New Yorker has served the country best in shedding light upon who these big-money backers are and what they really care about. These men are happy to eviscerate government or turn it to serve them. Either way, they win.
Sadly, this flood of corporate money will no doubt continue until Election Day.
So Jesus turns out to be correct: wealth, not God, will most likely be served in this election. And it’s the values voter like me who sees Jesus paying primary attention to the poor and government as a counterweight to human greed that will get swept away by the storm.