The Ruse of the Religious Right's Call for `Racial Reconciliation'
Bill Berkowitz printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Nov 03, 2011 at 10:34:58 AM EST
Over the years, the use of the term 'racial reconciliation' by the Religious Right has never been meant to promote social justice, advance the cause of civil rights or strengthen America's tattered social safety net. Instead, 'racial reconciliation' was incorporated into the agendas of various right wing religious/political organization as a marketing tool; an attempt to recruit African Americans to conservative politics.

As researcher and writer Rachel Tabachnick recently pointed out at Talk To Action, the New Apostolic Reformation's use of Reconciliation ceremonies "are not about pluralism, but about proselytizing - for both charismatic evangelical belief and right wing politics."

During their halcyon days of the late 1990s, the Promise Keepers men's movement made 'racial reconciliation' a focal point. These days, Lou Engle, a prominent player in the New Apostolic Reformation, is using 'racial reconciliation' to promote rallies that TheCall is organizing.

'Increasing the movement's political power'

"It's important to first understand that everything the Religious Right does is in the service of one goal and one goal only: increasing the movement's political power," Rob Boston, Senior Policy Analyst with Americans United, told me in an email. "Over the years, some Religious Right leaders have seen outreach to African Americans and Latinos as a step toward building a powerful voting bloc based on 'culture war' issues.

"The thinking is that since some black and Latino churches oppose gay rights and are wary of legal abortion, members of these communities can be drawn into the Religious Right's orbit. Thus, these sporadic attempts at 'racial reconciliation' have nothing to do with improving relations between the races, facilitating inter-racial dialogue or addressing past instances of injustice. They are merely efforts to add a new constituency to the Religious Right in the hopes of making the conservative movement (read: the Republican Party) more powerful."

'Racial reconciliation' Promise Keepers style

On October 4, 1997, the Promise Keepers (http://www.promisekeepers.org/) movement reached its Pikes Peak-like pinnacle with its Stand in the Gap rally in Washington, D.C., where, depending on who was doing the counting, somewhere between 500,000 to one million men that gathered that day. The men's movement. founded in 1991 by then head football coach for the University of Colorado, Bill McCartney, was picking up steam and speed, and hoping to roll across the country.

As Religion Dispatches' J. Terry Todd pointed out in an August 2009 piece: "Understanding Promise Keepers, studying it, fighting it, or defending it became a kind of cottage industry among journalists, academics, and activists. Smackdowns were common, and sometimes ugly, pitting NOW, the Feminist Majority Foundation, and the Center for Democracy Studies against PK's supporters: Focus on the Family, Pat Robertson, and many other evangelical groups" (http://breakfastwww.religiondispatches.org/archive/politics/1731/ promise_keepers_2.0%3A__women_and_jews_invited).

While the major focus of the organization was building a core of righteous evangelical men, one of the organization's focal points was a concept called "racial reconciliation." (It even developed a "reconciliation division" aimed at recruiting minorities.) PK's interpretation of "racial reconciliation" veered sharply from traditional civil rights organizations in that it wasn't so much a call for social justice, or to dismantle institutional racism, or to expand social safety net programs, but rather, it was aimed at recruiting African American pastors to the movement and convincing them to accept the organization's credo.

Within a few years, Promise Keepers collapsed; fundraising faltered, layoffs ensued, internal (read that leadership) problems developed, and the mainstream media, once enthralled by the PK stadium and arena gatherings, lost interest.

In 2009, PK mounted a comeback of sorts. Coach McCartney had rejoined the operation and there were some new and improved strategies being touted. As J. Terry Todd reported, "PK 2.0" included "the ladies ... a sign of the movement's reinvention," and it also included Messianic Jews. "Promise Keepers will remain a men's ministry, but it has placed 'reconciliation between men and women' at the 50-yard line."

In the intervening years, Promise Keepers has mounted a few unsuccessful comebacks, failing to regain its spot amongst the most powerful conservative organizations.

In a recent dust-up at the University of Colorado, McCartney, who was chosen by the university's homecoming committee to be grand marshal of the homecoming parade, decided to withdraw after a group called the Gender Justice Commission raised objections about his presence. The GJC reminded the community that speaking "from a CU podium in 1992, McCartney referred to homosexuality as 'an abomination against almighty God' in support of Amendment 2, which prohibited laws protecting gays from discrimination," the Denver Post reported.

Lou Engle's TheCall reaches out to African American churches

Lou Engle's organization TheCall, has scheduled a major event for Detroit on November 11: "Detroit was chosen," according to The Call's website,  "because it 'has become a microcosm of our national crisis - economic collapse, racial tension, the rising tide of the Islamic movement, and the shedding of innocent blood of our children in the streets and of our unborn,'" Rachel Tabachnick recently reported.

According to Tabachnick, "Preparations for TheCall Detroit have also included outreach to African American churches in the region, but the major focus of the event is what the organizers are describing as a spiritual battle against the 'demonic spirits' of freemasonry and Islam. By bringing together black and white believers in repentance and reconciliation, the leaders claim that demonic forces that cause the region's problems will be expelled, allowing for mass conversion of Michigan's Muslim population."

Although Engle is not a well-known figure to the general public, he is an important player in the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) movement. He "has been a part of the inner circle of prophets of the NAR, called the Apostolic Council of Prophetic Elders, and is part of the apostolic network of Ché Ahn, a leading figure in the movement and co-founder of TheCall in 2000.

Although efforts to draw African Americans to the right has been going on for years, Boston said that those efforts "have not been very successful." According to Boston, "One of the problems is that the Religious Right has essentially signed on to the conservative economic agenda of a do-nothing, minimalist government that favors benign socialism for the rich and dog-eat-dog capitalism for everyone else.

"Religious Right groups have cast their lot with groups like the Heritage Foundation, which constantly attacks social service programs. Yet polls show that minority groups tend to favor a more activist government and believe the state has a role to play in helping everyone succeed. The economic portions of the Religious Right's agenda are very unattractive to most minority voters."




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