What's Really Brewing at the Tea Parties?

I rushed out of the house on a Monday morning at 9:30, heading to the Nutter Center to pick up some tickets for the Freedom Rally sponsored by the Dayton Tea Party. I figured if I left any later I’d have to stand in a very long line. But when I pulled into the parking lot, I saw two other cars there- WHIO Channel 7 News, and a couple walking up to the ticket booth. Very anti-climactic. The reporter began setting up his camera while I chatted with a lady who was from the UK, and had seen firsthand the downside of the kind of health care system being proposed by the current administration. 

A few minutes later, cars began pulling in, one after the other. Soon there were over 50 people in line, laughing and talking, excited about what we were all there to do. The reporter started interviewing people here and there, and the consensus was that our elected officials were ignoring a huge block of American citizens who did not want bailouts for large corporations, tax increases, or any sort of federalized health care.

While many felt that our health care system had some problems that needed resolving, they all agreed that government intervention and control was not the way to go. I heard the FairTax mentioned several times. Since I was second in line when the box office opened, I quickly obtained our tickets and drove away, noting that people were still pouring into the parking lot. I felt encouraged by what I’d seen. These were people who knew what they were talking about, who weren’t planted by the Great Right Wing Conspiracy and who were not hostile. Rather, they were ordinary Joe Sixpacks and Suzy Homemakers who had found a way to combine their voice with others in order to be noticed by those serving in our representative Republic.

Origins

The origins of the Tea Party movement are somewhat hard to define, but my research suggests it probably began when Graham Makohoniuk at the Market Ticker Forums and some folks at FedUpUSA suggested mailing tea bags to their members of Congress in January of 2009 to protest the The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, H.R. 1424 proposed and passed by the Bush Administration. But then there was the Rant Heard ‘Round the World—Rick Santelli on the floor of the Chicago Market Exchange in which he accused President Obama of “promoting bad behavior” with the mortgage bailouts and encouraged a Chicago Tea Party in July.

In the months that followed, what began as small groups of people getting together here and there to voice their opposition to runaway federal spending has grown into an “official” political movement. Crowds of 150-200 in public parks have become major events held in civic centers filled to capacity and covered by national news outlets. Local politicians and businessmen were the headliners in early days, but now we see Senators and well-known conservative pundits from television and talk radio standing at the mike.

Experiences

My husband and I have attended several Town Hall Meetings and Tea Parties in the Dayton/Cincinnati area of Ohio, and it’s been an incredible experience. The attendees are a variety of working class Americans from every political ideology. We met Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and Libertarians. There were senior citizens, teenagers and college students, moms pushing strollers, dads with their children riding on their shoulders, and workers from every vocation imaginable. Many had never attended any sort of political gathering before, much less a protest. We even met a few who had voted for President Obama and were disappointed by his proposed bailouts and stimulus packages. People carried signs that read “$11 Trillion and climbing—Now that’s a lot of change,” “Can We Bankrupt The Country? YES WE CAN,” and “Armed and Dangerous … WITH MY VOTE.” My husband attended with his own form of protest—The Obamacard. Quite a few attendees were supporters of the FairTax and passed out information about their alternative to the IRS.

Our experiences are not a measure of every Tea Party or Town Hall meeting, but they are a complete contradiction to media portrayals of a “Republican political machine,” “scary mobs” and “violent racists.” Despite the palatable sense of frustration and anger, attendees were still peaceful and displayed good humor. The prevalent attitude was indignation at being ignored and overrun by government, and a feeling that they’ve had enough of what they believe is taxation without representation. A typical “angry moment” would be the response at the Voice of America Tea Party, when Republican Mike Turner was responding to questions from the crowd, which we witnessed personally. The people around me were shouting, “No more spending!” and “Answer the question!” I was a bit surprised, since Mike Turner is “one of us,” but the folks weren’t interested in being pacified with pat answers, and they were offended that we should even consider the notion of ”the money is going somewhere—why not grab some for ourselves here in Ohio?” Come to think of it, it wasn’t any more violent than the average Baptist Camp Meeting. I think I even said “Amen” a few times.

The Huffington Post has a slideshow of the most “shocking” signs carried at Tea Party Protests across the country. I tend to agree with those who feel that the Tea Party attendees and organizers are being misrepresented in the mainstream media. There is no evidence that these gatherings have incited hatred or involved violence. Andrew Breitbart addressed the recent accusations by Rep. Andre Carson of “divisive and reprehensible language” that he says he heard from Tea Party protesters:

When I offered a reward of $100,000 to be donated to the United Negro College Fund if anyone produced video and audio evidence that this occurred, I was accused of a publicity stunt (because everyone knows that the best way to get publicity in America is to accuse a civil rights icon of lying about racism). Rep. Carson himself suggested that my challenge was “a veiled attempt to justify actions that are simply unjustifiable.” Get it?  He calls protesters racist and if you ask him to prove it, you’re a racist, too.

Needless to say, no one has claimed the $100,000.

Future

The organizers of the original Tea Party movement have expressed no intention of trying to create another political party, but there are states that have already formed and are nominating Tea Party candidates. There is some concern that the “Tea Party” is being co-opted by people who have not been a part of the movement until now—that these individuals are banking on the reputation and popularity of this grass roots movement to gain their own political footing. And it seems that there is little in America that doesn’t become another product to be marketed to consumers. When my husband and I became involved, our intent was to influence the debate by working with our present two-party system, and to encourage every day Americans to become aware of the issues and speak out about what they believe is best for the country.

The fact that the Tea Party has grown to such proportions has had repercussions. What were once loosely organized gatherings of relatively small crowds now take place in arenas with tight security, major headliners, booths selling T-shirts and other political novelties—and with entertainment such as a rapper performing “Abe Lincoln and The Babes.”

Concerns

Should a Christian be part of a political rally or protest? My husband and I have acted according to our conscience within the bounds of what our government allows and even encourages—free speech, the balance of power that a representative Republic provides, and the accountability of elected officials to their constituencies. Some folks aren’t comfortable being involved in politics, but as with anything else, we have to monitor our priorities. I believe it is possible for politics to have a place in our lives along with any other hobbies, interests, or activities.

Personally, I still believe in what the Tea Party is doing to bring attention to economic conservatism. It has made inroads because it has given everyday Americans, the “silent majority,” an opportunity to be heard as a group in a way that they’ve not been heard before. Politicians are taking notice, but in my opinion, the more they try to downplay these gatherings and the issues involved, the more they provoke this voting block to make some major changes come November.


Susan Raber is the wife of Ken Raber (23 years), a mother of four, and has been homeschooling since 1992. She and her family are currently members of Charity Baptist Church in Kettering, OH. Susan also moderates and helps process membership applications here at SharperIron.

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There are 10 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I appreciate the report! Never been to any kind of protest. Still not likely to attend one.

I'm not a fan of grass roots movements, in general. But I do believe there are times when the governing class needs the wake up call of an angry electorate. They do get a bad case of groupthink at times in Washington.
Long term, I'm doubtful that this movement will survive. With no shared understanding of deeper principles like human nature and the role of government, there is not alot to hold it together apart from the shared anger/anxiety over the current rapid expansion of government and government debt. But given the willingness of this congress & administration to keep going that direction, the anger may not even have peaked yet.

But how many politicians are really going to rethink their political philosophy (if they even have one) as a result?
If there's going to be any enduring move back toward smaller gov't and less debt, it'll have to come from a generation of leaders that understands what is possible and impossible for civil governments to achieve... and then also what's wise and foolish for civil governments to even attempt.

RPittman's picture

Thank you, Susan, for writing a well-balanced article. You have fairly and accurately described the Tea Party Movement. This is pretty much the same description that I hear from people all over America who are involved. I love it because I'm a grassroots sort of person. This was the spirit of our Founding Fathers in pursuit of liberty and self-determination. The flip side of the liberty coin is individual responsibility.

The Tea Party Movement is a significant feature of America's current political scene. It's influence will be widely felt. Political scientists are re-evaluating the influence of George C. Wallace's third-party Presidential campaigns in the twentieth century. The consensus is that Wallace was more influential in determining the course of American politics than those who were elected President. Both major parties, Democrat and Republican, were forced to the right as Wallace built a grassroots following. This paved the way for the election of Ronald Reagan a decade later. Likewise, the Tea Party Movement will wield a significant influence regardless whether it continues to exist as a visible political entity.

JobK's picture

That is the question.

The issue is that there are often going to be sincere, Bible-believing Christians on both sides of almost any political issue, and even more so on a partisan divide based on a lot of issues. It would be one thing if it truly were a hobby, interest or activity. In general terms, there is no problem with one group of Christians supporting the New York Yankees and another supporting the New York Mets. But politics is a different area, especially when support for one political party or movement or another is taken to be a measure of someone's moral or religious beliefs and convictions. The choice to root for the Mets as opposed to the Yankees is not something that a lot of people decide to do because of their moral or religious beliefs, but whether to be liberal, conservative, Republican, Democrat, libertarian etc. often is.

It gets even more complex when one factors in that no political party or movement measures up to God's standard. Whichever you choose, you are going to compromise something. You are going to have to decide that the sinful positions of that movement and the sinful activities of its leaders matter less than the sinful positions and activities of the other side. And in making this decision, you don't have scripture to guide you. Instead, the person who chooses the Democrats over the Republicans or vice versa solely determines his or her criteria for doing so according to his or her own standards with him or her as the final authority. Again, if the choice is the Mets over the Yankees because they have a better leadoff hitter and steal more bases, then fine. But if it is the Democrats over the Republicans or the Tea Party over A.C.O.R.N. because they are closer to your religious beliefs and moral system ... that could be problematic, especially when you find yourself in fellowship with Bible-believing Christians who make different political choices, and these choices aren't due to differing theological systems and creeds, but rather differing priorities and values that often arise from differences in backgrounds and experiences.

Had the Roman Empire been a democracy, would Paul and Luke have supported the same political party? Think about it. Paul was a Jew, a former Pharisee Sanhedrin member and Roman citizen, meaning that he was relatively privileged with access to the powerful elites in both Jewish and Roman society. By contrast Luke was a Gentile and (based on his physician trade) likely a noncitizen and a slave, alien to Jewish society and at the bottom of the Roman one. Coming from such different backgrounds with vastly different interests, it is doubtful that they would have had similar political aspirations and affiliations, and the same is true of a lot of the varied groups of Christians who often feuded in the New Testament (i.e. Jewish Christians versus Gentile Christians in Romans, poor Corinthians versus rich Corinthians, Philemon and Onesimus, even Palestinian Jewish Christians versus Greek Jewish Christians in Acts 6:1-6).

So while the New Testament exhorts us to pray for and submit to our leaders, it doesn't give us much advice in terms of how we should help choose them, or how we should organize to influence them. As a fellow who came to regret both his votes for Bill Clinton AND both his votes for George W. Bush, I have formed the opinion that there are very reasons for those omissions. Of course, I am aware that many Bible-believing Christians disagree.

Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura
http://healtheland.wordpress.com

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

I thin it is acceptable to work within the guidelines of one's gov't. If part of the process is that officials are elected to do the will of the people, and if one of the ways for people to communicate their wishes is to gather together to voice their concerns, then it seems to fit within what is allowed Scripturally- or at least it doesn't contradict anyt principle that I'm aware of.

I can't discuss what political party Peter, Paul or Jesus would belong to- but I bet they'd register to vote and be at the polls on Election Day. Biggrin

The Tea Party movement has mostly been focused on a shared view of conservative economic policies and a smaller, less intrusive gov't. There is no discussion of abortion, LGBT rights, or foreign policy. It has had a very specific focus, which is why I am not sure that they could become a political party per se, because all these others issues would eventually have to be addressed, and that is where folks would start parting ways. I think at that point the 'party' would essentially disintegrate.

The word 'protest' has baggage, but just because people gather in protest doesn't mean they are gathered in rebellion. These are folks who pay their taxes, abide by the law, and are working WITH the system to make desired changes.

npaul's picture

I've been to one tea party which happened to be on tax day, April 15th, 2010, in Washington, DC. I was visiting relatives in the area, and heard about it somewhere, although it wasn't very well advertised. I went to the nearest train station and found other tea partiers already there, and since they knew where they were going, and I only had a general idea, I followed them downtown, onto another train, and exited on the mall, then walked over to the Washington Monument.

This one was sponsored by FreedomWorks Foundation, and I frankly thought the show was put on for the benefit of FreedomWorks, as there was more than a little self-promotion. In addition to the FreedomWorks speakers, of which the only one worthwhile was Dick Armey, there was a parade of congressmen and women speaking, some of whom I thought were there just to punch their tea party ticket and use it as political capital in the next campaign. There were also a couple of college age Obama supporters there carrying signs. I left during Ron Paul's speech, as I'm not a Ron Paul-type libertarian. Unfortunately, from what I later heard, I missed the best speech of the night which was a speech by a black preacher, C. L. Bryant.

I'd go back again to a tea party if/when I find one in my area not sponsored by FreedomWorks. Perhaps Bush was afraid he wouldn't get congressional spending approved for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he should have used the veto a LOT more than to did to rein in earmarks and unconstitutional congressional spending, and then in the last 16 months, the constitution has been trampled, so there's a dynamism and enthusiasm amongst a large group of people to return to constitutional government. It varies in strength across the country, and it's really hard to measure until people go to the ballot box, but the events of yesterday and the last month will hopefully either dump a bunch of incumbents or put fear into their hearts when they cast votes on the Hill.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

I agree that whomever the rallies are sponsored by affects the atmosphere and focus of the gatherings.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

JobK wrote:
Had the Roman Empire been a democracy, would Paul and Luke have supported the same political party?

A very interesting question. My answer is that to the degree the party in question embraced their own answers to the big questions (things like human nature and the role of government), yes, they would. The party situation is messy, to say the least, but if we select half a dozen very important questions about morality, labor, property, individual responsibility--then gather biblical answers to the degree that's possible (and simply wise answers beyond that), does one party tend to hold to these same answers more often than the other?

As for the problem of believers having differing party preferences... this is no different from the problem of believers having different beliefs on certain doctrines, different applications of principle to lifestyle choices, differing convictions about worship style, and lots of other things. In the final analysis, there are only a few kinds of differences that are possible among us:
a) Differences in which one view is as good as another as far as any of us can really tell
b) Differences where one of us is right and the other is wrong
c) Differences where we're both wrong

Probably a few more, but not many.

When it comes to party... well, it's easy to make the case that neither of the Big Two is very good. But it's also not all that hard to make the case that a certain set of ideas is closer to the truth when we look at political questions through a biblical grid. And when it comes to embracing the right principles, some Christians are right and some are just wrong.

JobK's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
My answer is that to the degree the party in question embraced their own answers to the big questions (things like human nature and the role of government), yes, they would ...The party situation is messy, to say the least, but if we select half a dozen very important questions about morality, labor, property, individual responsibility--then gather biblical answers to the degree that's possible (and simply wise answers beyond that), does one party tend to hold to these same answers more often than the other? ... And when it comes to embracing the right principles, some Christians are right and some are just wrong.

Now I am not a sociologist, economist or anthropologist by any means, but I am going to make some conjecture based on certain things that I have read.

Consider a person whose culture and/or place of origin is not primarily western (or more specifically American) but instead is communal in nature, tribal so to speak. Exactly how much would such a person value private property, to speak nothing of limited government and low taxation? This is not to say that a person from a communal, tribal would be opposed to private property rights, limited government and low taxation. Instead, such a person would value family, culture, community and education far more in his thinking. It is based on those things that such a person would make his political choices. And if promoting family, community, culture and education means higher taxes and bigger bureaucracies, then so be it. (I am aware of the very convincing argument that Great Society and other government programs harmed families, communities, culture and education, and also that many communal and tribal cultures stress self-reliance. My point was merely that a different background could lead to a different perspective.)

Another example: suppose a person has spent his entire life (and his forbears in generations past their entire lives) in a situation where 5% or 10% of the population owned 90% to 95% of the land, wealth, and businesses, and used their position of influence to do things like pay the rest of the population as little as possible, and making class mobility artificially difficult by withholding capital, usury, and wielding other devices to limit economic and educational opportunity. It is not difficult at all to imagine how such a person would be hostile to notions of private property (especially as it is kept within families from generation to generation) and would be very receptive to such ideas as redistribution of wealth.

The rub is that both the communal tribal person and the "bottom 90%" person would easily be able to locate Scriptures (interpreted literally and in their proper context) that support their views and are applicable to their personal situations. Indeed, they would be on more solid theological ground than the many fundamentalist and conservative evangelical figures who are known to say things like "our laws should honor and be based on the Ten Commandments" while ignoring such important details that the Ten Commandments A) cannot and should not be isolated from the entirety of the Mosaic law and Cool the Mosaic law - including the Ten Commandments - was given for God's purposes to a nation and people that were uniquely created and ruled by Him (i.e. promises such as that the land would be orderly and blessed with peace and prosperity for keeping the Mosaic law - again including the Ten Commandments - and the curses that would come as a result of failing to keep them only applied to Old Testament Israel).

As for Luke and Paul ... suppose that there were two candidates running for president or what have you. One candidate offers much more autonomy to the Jews (Paul), but wants to let Gentile noncitizens (Luke) retain their current status. The other candidate offers social, legal and economic advancement to the noncitizen Gentiles (Luke) but will allow things with the Jews (Paul) to remain as they were. Now keep in mind two things. 1. Neither candidate is proposing making anything worse for either Jews or disenfranchised Gentiles. They are only proposing advancing one group while allowing things for the other group to remain as they are. 2. Solid Biblical cases can be made for both giving the Jews more autonomy and making things fairer for noncitizen Gentiles. So ... who do you suppose Luke votes for? And who do you suppose that Paul votes for? Well, maybe using Paul and Luke are problematic because of the former's apostolic anointing and the latter's writing 1/4 of the New Testament text. So, replace them with two prominent, sincere Christians in the early church representing the Jewish and Gentile wings respectively.

It is not difficult at all to imagine that Gentile noncitizen Christians would have seen the Jewish leader's political choice as a betrayal of their interests and a failure on his part to live up to scripture as it relates to their very real lives and experiences. Meanwhile, Jews desperately wanting not only more "local control" but to remove the pagan temples and altars that had been built all over their landscape would feel the same way about the Gentile. What do you propose would have been the result of that hypothetical situation? I say that it would not have been a good one for early Christianity, and that scenarios such as that one (which isn't too far-fetched, and is actually similar to many of our own contemporary political debates) are precisely why I am very glad that the early church was not exposed to electoral politics in any significant way.

Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura
http://healtheland.wordpress.com

RPittman's picture

JobK wrote:
Consider a person whose culture and/or place of origin is not primarily western (or more specifically American) but instead is communal in nature, tribal so to speak. Exactly how much would such a person value private property, to speak nothing of limited government and low taxation? This is not to say that a person from a communal, tribal would be opposed to private property rights, limited government and low taxation. Instead, such a person would value family, culture, community and education far more in his thinking. It is based on those things that such a person would make his political choices. And if promoting family, community, culture and education means higher taxes and bigger bureaucracies, then so be it. (I am aware of the very convincing argument that Great Society and other government programs harmed families, communities, culture and education, and also that many communal and tribal cultures stress self-reliance. My point was merely that a different background could lead to a different perspective.)
Arguing from this perspective can go on forever. "What if's" are purely speculative questions with a multitude of possible answers. Biblical Christianity can exist and thrive under a wide variety of conditions--both good and bad. We, as believers, can exist and function in a manner pleasing and honoring to God regardless of the physical, cultural, political, or personal circumstances (Philippians 4:10-13).

One of the guiding Biblical principles, I think, is to strive for the conditions most conducive to the spread of the Gospel and godly living (I Timothy 2:1-4). IMHO, this is a social-political-cultural situation allowing the maximum liberty and expectations of individual responsibility. We can safely conclude, I think, that morality cannot be legislated and societal illnesses cannot be cured by political-social action that replaces one tyranny with another and substitutes one set of social problems for another. Salvation is individual and societal goodness is the cumulative effect of individual choices and responsibility. This is best achieved in an environment allowing liberty and responsibility. As Christians, our duty is to preach and teach righteousness to convert our fellow citizens that will cumulate in an improved society.

In sum, we need not look for a Christian consensus in policy but we can agree on right principles that are Biblical.

Whereas all believers may not support the same policies, believers can approach a consensus of principles that are clearly Biblical.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

JobK, you've described some scenarios where I do think persons would think quite a bit differently about "political" questions.
My short answer to that would be that as long as they are living in settings where personal property is meaningless, etc., their goal as Christians would be to apply biblical principles as much as possible to what is under their control.
A believer living in soviet Russia during those days, for example, simply had no choice about a great many things. He couldn't help the fact that he lived in a situation where labor and the rewards of labor were intentionally isolated from one another, for example. We are responsible to live biblical principles to the degree we have choices to make.

In the case where folks from these backgrounds relocate to a society that, for the most part, strongly connects personal labor to personal prosperity and various other positive differences, he has many more opportunities to enjoy life in a culture with varying degrees of Christian influence. Understanding these influences to positive, he also has the opportunity to try to preserve them through the political process. But in the case of someone coming from a profoundly different background, his goal should be to come to understand his new situation and its new advantages (as well as its new temptations).

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