Haroon Moghul, an associate editor at Religion Dispatches, went “undercover” at the Nov. 11 prayer rally at Ford Field in Detroit to report on what went on. It was pretty predictable, to say the least. And interesting, he notes, how similar the event’s ideological positions are to the very people they claim to despise so much:
The Muslim Brotherhood used to have a popular slogan: “Islam is the solution” (Islam huwa al-hall). “Jesus is the answer” is the same kind of sloganeering. I’m not just saying that because I know it would drive Engle nuts. It is an overly and therefore problematically easy answer to some very knotty problems. And hearing Engle insist on this point brought me back to the very format of TheCall, which rushes through speakers, condenses their points, and squishes them between loud music and unreflectively emotional appeals. There’s little time to ponder what it means for America if only Jesus can solve our problems.
In an introduction found in the event program, Engle wrote:
Revolution is in the air. But the revolution that is needed is not a revolution of snarling protesters or angry mobs; it’s a Jesus revolution, a revolution of forgiveness, racial reconciliation, compassion.
It’s one thing if he genuinely disavowed politics, but time and time again his supposedly apolitical efforts have an undeniable political goal. In fact TheCall is deeply and suspiciously political, and—at least here he is honest—revolutionary. It seeks to heal America by making a different America in its place, one whose moral conversation displaces its political discourse, one whose reference point is Jesus. Rick Perry’s prayer rally The Response was modeled on Engle’s interpretation of the solemn assembly described in Joel 2, which in turn shaped TheCall. Engle himself has traveled to Sacramento, Washington, and Kampala to praise efforts to restrict the rights of LGBT people and has led elected Republicans in a prayer session that predicted God would punish America for passing health care reform.
But most relevant here was the vacuity of the content: The solution to America’s great crisis was prayer, from start to end, and apparently little else. Any religiosity that encourages worship without broader social engagement—non-Christians were barely acknowledged over the course of an event designed to heal America’s profound crisis—while allying with those who seek to do away with much of our government is anything but apolitical. It just doesn’t have the courage to admit it.
Engle argues that America is in crisis. So do a lot of folks. But then he argues that the only way out is through Jesus. Undoubtedly every political and social crisis has a moral dimension, though to admit that means little. What matters more is to think this logic through: How will we solve political and social crises if we read them through religious lenses? While a universalized, transnational Christianity has its appeal, it doesn’t leave much room for other Americans—or America as a political project. The more I listened to Engle diagnosing America’s problems, the more I thought of old-school Islamists.
An excellent point.