A shift from the secular?

A SHIFT FROM THE SECULAR?…. Almost immediately after Tea Party groups started organizing events last year, there’s been an underlying tension between two main contingents. A secular libertarian-minded faction emerged, which focuses almost exclusively on fiscal issues and the size of government. The other is a more religious-right-style bloc, with an emphasis on more socially conservative issues.

There have been simmering tensions between the two for quite a while, but if yesterday was any indication, one side seems to be edging ahead. I still have no idea what, exactly, the far-right zealots actually want, but it now seems to have something to do with religion.

An enormous and impassioned crowd rallied at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday, summoned by Glenn Beck, a conservative broadcaster who called for a religious rebirth in America at the site where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech 47 years ago to the day.

“Something that is beyond man is happening,” Mr. Beck said in opening the event as the crowd thronged near the memorial grounds. “America today begins to turn back to God.” […]

[T]he program was distinctly different from most Tea Party rallies. While Tea Party groups have said they want to focus on fiscal conservatism and not risk alienating people by talking about religion or social issues, the rally on Saturday was overtly religious, filled with gospel music and speeches that were more like sermons.

Mr. Beck imbued his remarks on Saturday and at events the night before with references to God and a need for a religious revival.

This wasn’t a conservative message with religious appeals sprinkled in for effect; it was the other way around. Indeed, Beck and his cohorts laid it on thick. (That Beck is a Mormon — a faith many Christian evangelicals find theologically problematic — may not have been widely known.)

But what I think bears watching is whether this shift in emphasis is what activists actually want. A few days ago, when former RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman announced that he’s gay, the NYT reported that the response was muted because the right is focused on the economy, not the culture war. If that’s true, does the right want to be told that the new goal is to turn America “back to God”?

The Tea Partiers’ agenda has always been rather fluid, but at a minimum, their priorities have tended to emphasize secular issues like taxes, debt, entitlements, and health care reform. These activists not only showed less of an interest in religious issues, in many instances, they deliberately ignored them. Indeed, for over a year, the theocratic elements of the conservative movement were openly disgusted by the shift in focus.

“There’s a libertarian streak in the tea party movement that concerns me as a cultural conservative,” the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer said in March. “The tea party movement needs to insist that candidates believe in the sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage.”

Yesterday didn’t tell us much in the way of substance, but the rally certainly wasn’t about taxes and the deficit. The question then becomes whether far-right activists are comfortable with being footsoldiers in Glenn Beck’s army, bringing America to Glenn Beck’s vision of God.