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01/26/2015 06:19 pm ET Updated Mar 28, 2015

The Real Problems With Bobby Jindal and His Prayer Rally

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Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal skipped an Iowa stage crowded with Republican presidential wannabes on Saturday so he could host a prayer rally on the campus of Louisiana State University. Jindal and others have mischaracterized objections to the rally, suggesting that its critics were somehow out to silence people of faith. So let's be clear about the real issue: Bobby Jindal used the power and prestige of his office to promote an event backed by some of the nation's most religiously divisive and stridently anti-gay activists. And in a bid to boost his own political future, he sent a clear message of support for the Christian-nation views of the event's extremist organizers.

Christians Only, Please

Let's start with the invitation, sent on Jindal's official state letterhead. "We are in need of spiritual and transforming revival," he wrote, "if we are to recapture the vision of our early leaders who signed on the Mayflower, 'In the name of God and for the advancement of the Christian faith.'" Leadership to solve the country's problems "will not come from a politician or a movement for social change," he wrote in this time civil rights movement anniversaries. So how will we solve our problems? "Jesus Christ, Son of God and the Lord of Life, is America's only hope." In a separate letter he wrote to the other 49 governors inviting them to his rally to pray for "spiritual revival" and "heaven's intervention" over the country. "There will only be one name lifted up that day -- Jesus!"

What does all this suggest to non-Christian Americans (including non-Christian governors) about how Jindal views their contributions? Jindal's letters reflect the attitudes of rally organizer David Lane, a political strategist who believes America was founded by and for Christians. The event was paid for by the American Family Association, whose chief spokesman, radio host Bryan Fischer, believes the First Amendment's religious liberty protections apply only to Christians.

The rally was also a showcase for the dominionist views of self-proclaimed "apostles" who promoted and spearheaded the event. One of those "apostles" was the event's emcee. Doug Stringer has called the 9/11 attacks "a wake-up call" that happened because God was not around to defend America due to abortion, homosexuality, and kicking God out of public schools. While introducing Jindal, Stringer made a brief mention of "Seven Mountains" theology, which states that all the "mountains" in society -- arenas like business, entertainment, and government -- must be led by the right kind of Christian. A later speaker, Gene Mills of the Louisiana Family Forum, spent more time on the "Seven Mountains." Mills said these spheres of influence belong to God but are currently occupied by the "enemy." They therefore need to be evangelized and "occupied by the body of Christ."

Not Political? Not Credible

Jindal and organizer David Lane declared, unbelievably, that the rally was not political. Lane is a self-described political strategist who works to turn conservative evangelical churches into voter turnout machines for right-wing candidates and causes. Lane is trying to get 1,000 conservative evangelical pastors to run for public office, and he held a recruiting session the day before the prayer rally. Jindal and Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma were among the speakers. Another example of the disconnect between rhetoric and reality: Stringer made the claim that the rally was not meant to lift up any politicians while he was standing in front of a huge screen featuring a quote from Bobby Jindal.

The "not political" claim was hard to take seriously given the amount of time devoted to making abortion illegal and declarations that what will tip the scales will be the "the voice of the church in the voting booth." Jim Garlow, who led church organizing for California's anti-gay Proposition 8, and who believes the marriage equality movement is demonic, dropped all "nonpolitical" pretense, railing against marriage equality and IRS regulations that restrict the involvement of churches in electoral politics.

Opponents = Enemies

One of the biggest problems with treating politics as spiritual warfare is that you turn your political opponents into spiritual enemies. People who disagree with you on public policy issues are not just wrong but evil, or even satanic. That makes it pretty hard to work together or find compromise.

In daily prayer calls leading up to the rally, organizers prayed for God to forgive students who were organizing protests, as if disagreeing with Bobby Jindal were a sin -- or a form of anti-Christian persecution. "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do," prayed call leaders, comparing their pleas to Jesus asking God to forgive those who crucified him, and Saint Stephen asking for mercy for those who were stoning him to death. On one call, a prayer leader decreed a "no-go zone for demons" over the sports arena where the event was to be held. At the rally, one speaker talked of storming the gates of Hell. Bishop Harry Jackson finished his remarks by leading the crowd in a chant he has used at anti-gay rallies: "Let God arise and his enemies be scattered!"

Jindal Unplugged, Unhinged, and Unapologetic

Jindal seems to have decided that his best chance in a crowded Republican field is to plant himself at the far right of an already far-right group. In the days leading up to the rally, he drew criticism for comments denigrating Muslims and for repeating bogus charges about Muslim "no-go zones" that Fox News had already apologized for spreading. During a radio interview a few days before the rally, Jindal said liberals pretend that jihadist terrorism isn't happening and pretend "it's a good thing to kill journalists, to kill teenagers for watching soccer, to kill over 150 schoolchildren, to treat women as second-class citizens...." He decried political incorrectness and multiculturalism and said of immigrants who do not embrace American exceptionalism, "That's not immigration; that's invasion."

On "This Week" on Sunday, ABC's George Stephanopoulos noted that Jindal had declared at his prayer rally that "on the last page, our God wins," and asked him if that was appropriate in a religiously diverse country. Jindal praised religious liberty but ducked the question.

On the same show, Jindal said he would back a push for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to allow states to discriminate against same-sex couples, all while saying, "I am not for discrimination against anybody." (Jindal describes himself as an "evangelical Catholic," and his contradictory rhetoric parallels the language of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which says it opposes "unjust discrimination" against gay people but defines the term "unjust discrimination" in a way that applies only to those people with "same-sex attraction" who remain celibate.)

Jindal has also promoted far-right policies as governor. As Brian Tashman at Right Wing Watch has noted:

Jindal has reached out to the party's increasingly extreme base by undermining the teaching of evolution in public schools; promoting wild conspiracy theories about Common Core, an effort to adjust school standards that he supported before it became the target of the Tea Party's fury; and hyping the purported persecution of Christians in America, specifically citing the plight of Christians with reality television shows.

Whose Agenda?

Jindal's rally was not an original idea. In fact Jindal's "Response" recycled materials and themes from a similar event that Texas Gov. Rick Perry held in 2011 to launch his presidential bid. Here's what I wrote about Perry's event, which applies equally well to Jindal's -- not surprising since both were organized by the same groups of extremists:

Organizers argued (unconvincingly) that "The Response" was about prayer, not politics. But groups like the American Family Association (AFA), which paid for the rally and its webcast ... are not designed to win souls but to change American law and culture through grassroots organizing and political power-building. They have a corrosive effect on our political culture by promoting religious bigotry and anti-gay extremism, by claiming that the United States was meant to be a Christian nation, and by fostering resentment among conservative evangelicals with repeated false assertions that liberal elites are out to destroy religious liberty and silence conservative religious voices.

Jindal, of course, has the right to talk about his faith. But it is wrong for him to use his public office to proselytize and denigrate the faith of others. Teaming up with anti-gay extremists and Christian-nation advocates gives them credibility they do not deserve. His actions speak volumes about his judgment, values, and commitment to religious pluralism and equality under the law.