Hey, what was said at the rallies?

Once upon a time, I had one of the best seats at the famous “Stand in the Gap” rally held on the National Mall in 1997 by the Promise Keepers organization, since I served as a kind of religion-news color commentator for MSNBC — the only network that covered that massive event from dawn to dusk.

At the end of the day, several things intrigued me.

First of all, it was obvious to me that hardly any of the journalists present gave a flip what anyone on the stage was saying. Everybody was there to cover the interactions that they hoped took place between the counter-demonstrators and the men, young and old, for what I called the “Woodstock of the charismatic renewal movement.”

Alas, all the men wanted to do was sing and pray. Bummer.

Since hardly anyone in the press was listening, few people noticed that (a) many of the speakers were Democrats of color and (b) that hardly anyone was taking potshots at President Bill Clinton. In fact, most of the rhetoric that day stressed that the nation’s problems most pressing problems were moral in nature and, thus, couldn’t be solved with legislation. There was a profound sense of disappointment in the air that day with politics in general. If anyone needed to be worried, I said on the air, it was Newt Gingrich and the GOP leadership since many of the keepers sounded like they were upset with Beltway politicians — period.

So what does this have to do with the Glenn Beck rally yesterday at the Lincoln Memorial?

Probably very little, since (a) I know next to nothing about Beck (I have never seen his show) and (b) I don’t know much about what happened at his big show since the main story in the Washington Post about this event offers next to nothing in terms of content from any of the presentations. Honest. Please read the thing for yourself.

Conservative commentator Glenn Beck on Saturday drew a sea of activists to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where he championed a religious brand of patriotism and called on the nation to recommit itself to traditional values he said were hallmarks of its exceptional past.

On the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, steps away from where it was delivered, Beck and fellow “tea party” icon Sarah Palin staked a claim to King’s legacy and to that of the Founding Fathers. They urged a crowd that stretched to the Washington Monument to concentrate on the nation’s accomplishments rather than on its psychological scars.

“Something that is beyond man is happening,” Beck said. “America today begins to turn back to God.”

Boy howdy, I can really sink my teeth into that. Later on, we get this chunk of content:

Beck, a Fox News host, has developed a national following by assailing President Obama and Democrats, and he warned Saturday that “our children could be slaves to debt.” But he insisted that the rally “has nothing to do with politics. It has everything to do with God, turning our faith back to the values and principles that made us great.”

King’s niece Alveda King, an anti-abortion activist, addressed Beck’s rally with a plea for prayer “in the public squares of America and in our schools.” Referencing her “Uncle Martin,” King called for national unity by repeatedly declaring “I have a dream.”

So Alveda King spoke (video here)? That’s interesting, although I think it is a bit narrow to call her an anti-abortion activist — period. I am sure that she considers herself both an ordained minister — so this reference should, under Associated Press style, refer to her as the Rev. Alveda King — and a human-rights activist. She is a former legislator in Georgia, too, elected as a Democrat. (Here is a piece that she wrote before the rally.)

By the way, if African-Americans are conservative on life issues, does that cancel out everything else that they do? Curious.

The key for journalists, once again, is not what anyone actually said at the Beck rally or at the counterpoint rally led by the Rev. Al Sharpton — who is allowed, unlike King, to retain his ordination. What really matters, you see, is the political implications of these events. Quoting lots of religion talk might warp the template prepared in advance for the coverage.

One more detail struck me.

The simultaneous rallies rendered the country’s political and racial divisions in stark relief.

Sharpton drew a mostly black crowd of union members, church-goers, college students and civil rights activists. …

The Beck crowd, meanwhile, was overwhelmingly white, and many in the crowd described themselves as conservatives with deep concern about the country’s political leadership and its direction.

OK, I like the attempt to give us a bit of insight into the composition of the Sharpton crowd. But where is the similar information about the faithful in the Beck congregation? Any church-goers? College students? Any Catholics? Conservative Jews? Human rights activists on issues such as international slavery, sexual trafficking, hunger, the right to life, etc.? Were the folks in one crowd worried about politics and the folks in the other crowd unconcerned about that subject?

Enough. Once again, I wish I knew more about what people on both sides actually said. I’d like to make up my own mind, if possible, about the content of both events.

It also sounds, to me, that if anyone should be concerned after the Beck event, it should be the whole Vice President Dick Cheney wing of moral libertarians who are not all that interested in social and religious issues. Right? Also, does this mean that the Tea Party Movement’s leadership is slightly out of touch with its own base, in terms of thinking that economic issues are all that matters?

Just asking.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://www.muchmorethanwords.com/2010/08/what-religion-was-glenn-beck-preaching.html gfe

    I saw about the first two hours of the rally yesterday, and I’ve seen that very little of the coverage adequately stated how religious in content the rally was. This was not a Tea Party rally, where the talk was about cynicism toward government. It was almost like a religious revival meeting with a bit of pro-military talk thrown in.

    Perhaps the most insightful piece I saw was on a CNN blog. That blog post began like this:

    Among those surprised by all of conservative TV host Glenn Beck’s recent religious talk – including at Saturday’s Washington rally, where Beck said that “America today begins to turn back to God,” – is the Rev. Richard Land, a Southern Baptist leader. … “This guy’s on secular radio and television,” Land said Saturday, “but his shows sound like you’re listening to the Trinity Broadcasting Network, only it’s more orthodox and there’s no appeal for money … and today he sounded like Billy Graham.”

    Very interesting indeed. There’s definitely a religion story there, but most of the media are missing it.

  • Michael

    I’m a little worried that you haven’t heard or seen Glenn Beck before. If your a newshound, after working for the decadent MSNBC I would think you would be; Glen Beck is a unique story unto himself. I think that he can be a little problematic with his rhetoric, but he does have a religious side especially lately as he discovers, or rediscovers, the Godly bent of our first fathers of the Republic. As an ex-Catholic and now Mormon, Mr. Beck can tell you of his problems with acceptance in his own right, and he discusses those regularly on his radio program. In fact, while the MSM makes fun of his crying spells and sniffles on air, he is quite accepting of his apparent blinding disease of his eyes and even make fun of it. Also, your characterization of Ms. King’s pro-life statement as being part of her ministerializtion is absolutely wrong. She is a card-carrying administrator of Priests For Life, a very powerful Catholic national anti-abortion organization. (Representing the Black American woman who aborts their babies at a higher rate than the white American woman.) It would behoove you to at least try to get a copy of the entire program. Especially when Alveda gives her talk and when Glenn Beck does his hour-long monologue towards the end. Yes the rally was a good ol’ fashion revival, but it does show you that both sides can get together to express their dissatisfaction with the moral direction of the country which is, effectively, caused by the progressive socialist bent of our administration and congress. Will the “good feelings” last? I hope so. In your comparison of this revival and the one you witnessed in the Promise Keepers, I can’t answer that question. But I do know, or at least hope, that the political part of this rally will terminate the socialists in November.

  • Harris

    New York Times seemed to be more than generous. The hed made it clear, “A Call for Religious Rebirth.” Interesting that their estimates of crowd size were on the larger side as opposed to McClatchy estimates of less than 100k.

  • Jeffrey
  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie


    She may be one, but I don’t think the document you link to says that. Although it does say a lot about Republicans.

  • Jeffrey

    Second page, first column, last paragraph begins “As a Republican, my goal . . . ” She endorsed Steve Forbes in 2000. The publication she says she is a Republican is put out by the Black Republican group.

  • David

    I second Michael’s concern, expressed in Comment No. 2, about Professor Mattingly’s ignorance of Glenn Beck, whose show on Fox News probably has a greater audience than all of MSNBC’s talk shows combined. That’s rather like a baseball writer admitting ignorance of Alex Rodriguez. Like Michael, I suspect he’s in for a rude awakening in November.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    I am spiking comments that are just general info or slaps at Glenn Beck. When you get info on THE RALLY, which is the subject of the post, please pass them along.

    Also, I put the King reference in the past, in terms of her role as a Democrat. I will make that more clear.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    For the record, MSNBC was a rather different media animal 13 years ago.

    I don’t watch political commentary shows at all these days. I read, including tons of material about Beck, Olberman and other entertainers.

    OK, I do watch Colbert Report every now and then and get the occasional show from iTunes for use in class.

  • Maureen

    Re: the “revival” context of Beck and King, it would seem that people have forgotten that MLK’s civil rights speeches were pretty much all religious sermons.

    The Rev. Alveda King’s speech was exactly the same kind of interweave of poetic rhetoric and Bible quotes as was her uncle’s famous Dream speech. I suppose it’s possible that today’s politerati are so Biblically illiterate that they don’t recognize this….

    Also, a big huge of the great political movements of American history, for good or for ill, have been heavily religious in their rationales. Any political reform movement? Religious. Any rights movement till the last few years has been religious, too. Every time there’s been a “Great Awakening” movement of people getting serious about their religion, it has led to political consequences in some form. (Which is logical, because politics is created by people’s beliefs and longings as well as their mundane needs, duh.)

    Now, this doesn’t mean that all religious ideas lead to helpful political movements. Temperance’s prohibition movement was not as helpful to the US as the abolition movement. And of course, enlisting religion for good or ill raises the stakes and the drama levels.

    So Beck’s event was not some bizarre anomaly in American history. The only unusual feature is that it was a gathering organized by an American TV pundit, and by a Mormon. Even female Protestant ministers have been part of the American political scene since before we were independent — remember Anne Hutchinson?

    What’s disturbing is that so many people don’t recognize Americana when they see it. Apparently their American history and civics classes were their naptimes. (All the way from K-12, at that. No Pilgrims, no Puritans, no Shakers, no Know Nothings, no abolitionists, no suffragists, no progressivism, no WCTU, no MLK… what _did_ they study in school?)

  • Maureen

    Oh, and the Mormons, of course. Classic American religious movement with obvious political implications. Founding a nation of your own is sorta kinda political. :) But all those upstate New York religious movements were political, especially Oneida.

  • David

    The ultimate issue here is whether or not the founding of America was providential in Judeo-Christian terms. What sets Beck apart from most of the rest of the commentariat is his continual focus on this issue. That, coupled with the size of his audience, is why it’s a mistake for religion reporters to ignore him.

  • http://www.post-gazette.com Ann Rodgers

    Regarding Alveda King’s status as a minister: I don’t believe “the Rev.” is correct. She is currently listed as a “pastoral associate” for Priests for Life, which is a Catholic organization. Having that title with a Catholic organization would imply she is Catholic (but I didn’t call to check and couldn’t find a reference to her current church in her online bios). There is no ordained ministry for women in the Catholic Church, thus no “the Rev.”

  • http://paulaustin.wordpress.com Paul

    What is interesting is that the content was religious, yes, but it was very nebulous at the same time. ‘God’ was invoked many times, ‘Jesus Christ’ and ‘the Lord’ several times, but Beck is Mormon, and a rabbi joined him onstage. Beck said, “Faith is in short supply these days.” Okay, faith in what, or who? Who are we talking about when he says ‘God’?

    To me it’s understandable why reporters, especially political reporters, would be unclear.

    Maybe every most news organizations went for the human angle, thinking that someone else would write the speech story..

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    She was ordained in a Baptist context, while in ministry.

    Have you seen a reference that says she has JOINED the Catholic fold? It sounds as if you have not. Neither have I (said tmatt, researching with urgency).