Is the Tea Party a Religious Movement? ‘Anthem’ Invokes God, Judgment Day


                                                                                                              David Goldman/AP Photo

If there’s an anthem for the Tea Party, it’s Krista Branch’s song “ I am America,” her fans say.

Its call for freedom and accountability has made Branch a hit in conservative circles, but the song’s religious theme has been more attention-grabbing.

“I’ve got some news: We’re taking names, we’re waiting now for the judgment day,” Branch warns to the “kings” – politicians – sitting on their thrones.

In the background, a little girl holds a sign that reads “2 CHR 7:14,” pulling attention to a verse in the Book of Chronicles: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Frequently quoted by pastors and evangelicals, the verse is often understood to mean that God will forgive his people, or U.S. Christians, and heal the United States if people ask for forgiveness.

It’s no surprise that the religious theme of the song is appealing to Tea Partiers, religious scholars say.

The Tea Party “is in part a religious movement. There are ways in which its political philosophy resonates with evangelical Protestants in this country,” said Mathew N. Schmalz, professor of religious studies at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., and a blogger for the Washington Post.

The song itself “reflects this nationalistic vision. … [It] doesn’t mention that we’re a melting pot, that we come from different races and ethnicities and religion. There is this sense of monolithic American identity that everyone has to subscribe to and if they don’t, they are somehow un-American.”

Polls show that Tea Party followers are largely Christians and attend church more regularly than Americans as a whole. Their profile is also similar to those of evangelical Christians, says Daniel Cox, research director at the Public Religion Research Institute.

More than 7 in 10, or about 70 percent, of Americans who are part of the Tea Party movement are white Christians, compared with 53 percent of the general public, according to a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute. Three-quarters of those who identify with the Tea Party movement describe themselves as “a Christian conservative.”

“The idea that ‘I am America’ is really in the context of the Tea Party movement, but their views on so many issues are so different than the general public,” Cox said.

On issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and minimum wage, “we see them really by themselves, often times more conservative than Republicans.”

A survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life earlier this year found similar results. Tea Party supporters are much more likely than registered voters as a whole to say that their religion is the most important factor in determining their opinions on social issues, and they draw disproportionate support from the ranks of white evangelical Protestants, the poll found.

Their emphasis on the founding fathers is also grounded in Christianity, experts say.

“I think in some ways the founding fathers are almost divinized,” religion professor Schmalz said. “They don’t say this explicitly. There is this resonance they were these far-seeing individuals who had more than normal human perception.”

Glenn  Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally last year, which drew a large number of Tea Partiers, had clear religious overtones and a message to turn “back to God.” “We need to go to God boot camp,” Beck told the audience.

Tea Party groups, however, are quick to step on the connection, saying their movement is not about religion but about fiscal issues. That the Tea Party movement doesn’t have one leader, and is made up of many different kinds of groups – many of which sometimes clash with each other – also makes it difficult to quantify the perception.

“It’s not about religion,” said Jenny Beth Martin, founder of the Tea Party Patriots, whose co-founder, Mark Meckler, is Jewish. “Our movement started and has been more focused on fiscal responsibility and we really haven’t focused on religious issues or social issues. Each member within the movement has their own religious beliefs. Generally those don’t come into play at Tea Party events.”

Branch sang at a Tea Party Patriots’ event last year. Martin says Tea Partiers appreciate her song because “she stood up for our values.”

Republican candidate and Tea Party favorite Herman Cain has made “I am America” his campaign song. Branch, a mother of three, has become a sensation among conservatives, singing at high-profile events such as Beck’s rally.

The Oklahoma native herself is a Christian musician and daughter of a pastor whose songs often invoke Judgment Day.

Branch never imagined the song would become a rallying call for Tea Partiers, but welcomes that title.

“We had no intention of it being any sort of Tea Party anthem or even get much publicity at all,” Branch told radio personality and Washington Times reporter William J. Kelly last year. It “wasn’t intentional, but I’m glad for the title.”