By any measure, the “Restoring Honor” rally staged by Glenn Beck on the Washington, D.C., Mall on the 28th was huge. The tip-off as to how meaningful it was came via CBS News soon after the affair was over when that outfit – Dan Rather’s own – indicated the crowd numbered 87,000. CBS suffers from the “sour grapes syndrome.” The New York Times, no lover of conservatives, estimated the crowd at some 300,000 souls and the consensus seems to be in the 250,000 to 350,000 range.
Actually, Beck took the opportunity to turn the whole nine yards into what once was called a “brush arbor revival,” harkening back to the late 19th-century meetings in rural areas featuring fervent preaching. In addition, he was wise enough not to make the observance into a tiring all-day affair, everything over in good order in about three-and-a-half hours. In his advertising of the event, Beck had requested that no signs be brought, and no protest signs were seen, though plenty of American flags were in evidence, as were thousands of young people and children.
Beck did not shock or surprise – there was no bait-and-switch. He had claimed that the rally would be religious in nature, a sort of “turning back to God at a time when the nation is floundering.” He was true to his word. He had also promised that the rally would not in any way be political. It was not…not even remotely, even though Sarah Palin, vice president candidate in 2008, was one of the few speakers.
Beck made a big deal of the M.L. King (“I have a dream”) event on 28 August 1963 in the same place, even flashing film of part of King’s effort on the huge screens set up so people who were far from the action could see it as well as everything else that happened at center stage, which was on a lower level in front of the Lincoln Memorial. A number of African Americans were part of the effort, including King’s niece, Dr. Alveda King, who also spoke. Also on the program were St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa and first baseman Albert Pujols, who received an award for off-field charitable and religious work. Fabulously succesful businessman Jon M. Huntsman received an award for charitable giving…in his case, huge amounts.
Beck could easily be the envy of every preacher in the land…well-prepared and without notes or teleprompter, charismatic, spellbinding and very much in control. Unabashedly, he spoke about his religious faith and that the nation could only be saved from its obvious trend toward self-destruction by a return to the same kind of reliance on God that was evident on the part of the founding fathers. He made it plain, however, that there would need to be sacrifice on the part of the people and disclosed that he and his wife tithe the family income, the better to help the church do its job.
Beck made no pretense to credibility based on academic ahievements, mentioning that his college education consisted of one college course when he was age 30. In light of this, one wonders about other times when religious awakenings have happened in this country. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Billy Sunday, whose father, a Civil War soldier, died a month after Sunday’s birth in 1862, endured privation and orphanages, then became a professional baseball player-turned-evangelist and turned the country upside down with his preaching. Academia had not spoiled him.
In the late-nineteenth century, un-lettered Dwight L. Moody, a onetime shoe-store clerk, became the preeminent evangelist in both this country and the British Isles and later established what became the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. He preached to millions in his weeks-long crusades at a time when there were no microphones and led tens of thousands to belief in Christ.
In the 20th century, Billy Graham, although well-educated in college and seminary, kept his sermons so simple that his peers have ridiculed him for being shallow. His accomplishments as an evangelist are so stupendous as to defy belief. He did not get bogged down in the fine points of homiletics…he merely “brought the word” without trying to pose as a know-it-all. The confidant of presidents, he earned the trust of the nation (the ordinary people, not the sophisticates) and didn’t talk down to anyone.
So…could it be that Beck, virtually self-educated beyond high school and inordinately successful career-wise while being an able communicator, might at least begin another awakening? Without question, while silly church leaders, seminary professors and other religionists argue about whether or not men should marry men (could anything be more off-the-wall?), religion as a force is on the wane in this country. According to Beck, the founders premised the nation on faith in God. He insists that this faith will save us or we’ll go down, not a collective faith but individual faith as each soul trusts. In this corner, the word is that he’s right. All over Washington is the inscription “In God We Trust.” But do we?