03.20.12

“Get Out!” Says Christian-Supremacist Pastor. Does Rick Santorum Agree?

At a Baton Rouge revival yesterday, a pastor introducing Santorum told non-Christians to “get out” of America. Jay Michaelson wonders if there’s anything Santorum won’t tolerate.

Is there anything too far out for Rick Santorum?

At a Baton Rouge revival yesterday, the Republican presidential candidate was introduced and blessed by the fire-breathing pastor Dennis Terry. To a cheering crowd, Terry shouted that ours is a “Christian nation,” that “we don't worship Buddha, we don't worship Mohammad, we don't worship Allah,” and that anyone who doesn’t like “the way we do things” should “get out.”

Santorum said nothing. And when the time came to receive a blessing from Terry—right hand over Santorum’s shoulder, left hand on his back—Santorum accepted it, nodding in reverence.

Of course, what Terry said is nothing new. Father Coughlin said it back in the 1930s, Pat Robertson said it in the 1980s, and countless other populist preachers have said it before and since. What is new is that someone who is essentially the co-frontrunner for the Republican party presidential nomination has not strongly disavowed such views.

Let us be clear on exactly what Terry said. His harangue was filled with the usual references to abortion and homosexuality. But he went further when he said that we–“Americans,” presumably–are Christians who worship “one God, and his name is Jesus Christ.” Anyone who doesn’t like that should “get out.” That explicitly includes Buddhists and Muslims, but also Jews, Hindus, atheists, and anyone who is not part of Terry’s “we.” And it includes “liberals,” who also don’t like “the way we do things.” All of these groups, Terry says, should “get out.”

It is one thing to espouse an extreme view and say that it represents all of America. It is quite another to order all who disagree to leave the country.

After the event, Santorum told reporters that he does not agree “that America shouldn’t do that,” by which he appeared to mean, it should not conduct an ethnic/ideological cleansing of non-Christians. “I believe very much in freedom of religion, and folks should be able to worship whoever they want to worship,” Santorum said, adding, “I wasn’t quite listening to everything, to be honest with you.”

He also denied clapping during the pastor’s most controversial remarks. But is that even remotely enough? These views cannot be a part of civil discourse. It is one thing to espouse an extreme view and say that it represents all of America. It is quite another to order all who disagree to leave the country. Should Terry’s words not be condemned for what they are: incitement to ethnic cleansing?

Compare his remarks with the controversial statements made by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who had been Barack Obama's pastor prior to the 2008 campaign. As extreme as Wright’s statements were, he never called for anyone to “get out” of the country. And yet Obama still cut ties with him, giving a 45-minute speech on race and America that arguably reshaped the 2008 presidential campaign. In contrast, Santorum's milquetoast “disagreement” looks pathetic and unpresidential.

Terry’s fiery words are upsetting for a further reason. In his concluding prayer, he asked that God place “the man in office that you want.” This subtle point reflects a major theological shift that should worry all of us. Mainstream Christians used to believe that God was more or less omnipotent, and that while God works in mysterious ways, His will is reflected in how things turn out.

In the last few years, however, the Christian right, including Santorum, has taken a very different line. It has embraced a gnostic theology in which Satan is making war upon the United States, demons are possessing entire cities, and God is actually losing the battle.

Santorum espoused this worldview back in 2008, in a speech to Ave Maria University. And he has closely aligned himself with the New Apostolic Reformation, which believes that demons have possessed leading politicians and that “territorial spirits in the hierarchy of darkness” have taken over American cities. 

Terry’s concluding prayer was part of this tradition, implying that some presidential candidates are chosen by God but others–even winning ones–are not. And it is of a piece with his rant about non-Christians and non-conservatives. Just as America must be made free of Jews and liberals, so too must it be purged of its leaders who are part of the hierarchy of darkness. There is no accommodation possible with a demon, after all.

Is that OK with you, Senator Santorum?