"Teavangelical" is word you're going to be hearing for a while this year. It's a label that was made up to describe something that was well under way even before the "tea party" packaging was invented.
The tea party packaging was invented by conservative leaders outside of official government. (It wasn't a grass roots phenomenon, as teabaggers would have you believe.) The purpose was to keep ultra-right types fired up and in the Republican fold. The confidence of many Republican conservative voters in the GOP's ability to govern America had collapsed in the wake of chronic disasters fostered by the Bush government, Republican Congress, and the conservatives on the Supreme Court.
The new "teavangelical" label refers to a fact: that the tea party has always been shot through with a strong right wing evangelical leadership presence. The Christian Right is interested in occupying every facet of the American right. So even before the tea party began, their representatives were on it, burrowing in.
That's why I heard local evangelical radio broadcasters here in Minnesota encouraging listeners to get aboard free buses for the tea party rally in Washington, years ago. That's why Michele Bachmann was positioned early on as a leader of the tea party movement.
If you listen to the tea party faithful, they'll deny that professional politicians like Bachmann "lead" the movement (Bachmann herself has denied that she's a leader; she was very careful to describe the Tea Party Caucus that she founded in the US Congress as a mere "listening post.")
Part of the movement's appeal to ultra-right types was that it excoriated business-as-usual Republican leadership--but business-as-usual Republican leaders were and are all over it. Some of the most prominent people associated with the tea party were members of the corrupt and ineffectual Republican Congress that the tea party faithful claimed to reject. (Since that's the case: what are we to make of the intelligence of the tea party faithful?)
And ostensibly the tea party was and is a non-sectarian political movement. An NYT review of a book written about the tea party didn't even mention the Christian Right as guiding factor in the movement. (After reading the review, I decided that I didn't need to read the book. I figured if the author didn't stress the role of the Christian Right in driving and sustaining the tea party, the book probably didn't didn't portray the movement accurately.)
What should have tipped the media off, to pervasive influence of the Christian Right in the tea party? Well...there's the fact of Bachmann's early and consistent presence as a tea party leader. A career-long protege of the national Christian right and slavering fan of the discredited Bush administration--*she* was selected to deliver the tea party response to President Obama's State of the Union Address. Bachmann's early and high profile influence in the tea party should have tipped off political journalists to the interest and power that the Christian right had in the movement. But it didn't.
And American political media seemed genuinely surprised when Glenn Beck's speech to ultra right fans in Washington, D.C. contained so many references to God. And Beck's meeting with right wing Christian leaders prior to his speech seemed to take mainstream political media by surprise, too. ("Why is Beck looking to them to green-light his efforts? Is this tea party thing really a conservative Christian thing, when you get right down to it?")
They were puzzled, but they continued to present the tea party and the Christian right to the public "as if" they were in different boxes.
Studies show that conservative Christians comprise at least half, if not more, of the Tea Party. So why have they signed up?
"I really think a lot of the motivation behind these Tea Party crowds is a spiritual component," Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., told CBN News. "I think it's very akin to the Great Awakening before the American Revolution."
"People are seeing this massive government growing and they're realizing that it's the government that's hurting us," he said. "And I think they're turning back to, God in effect is our salvation and government is not our salvation."
The passage I just quoted is from an article that appeared on Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network website, four days ago.
It acknowledges a reality that was always there but rarely discussed by mainstream media, political observers and tea party members themselves: the huge presence of devout theocrats in the movement.
A lot of the true believers in the movement were probably surprised when they found out that the (ostensibly secular and independent) tea party movement was being co-opted by theocrats promoting right wing Christianity. That wasn't the way that mainstream and right wing media described the goals of the tea party to them when they joined. The tea party was courting disillusioned Republican libertarian elements. (There were reports of gatherings were Ayn Rand fans found themselves sitting next to right-wing evangelicals.)
It wasn't in the interest of conservative strategists promoting the tea party to tell prospective supporters and television audiences that the Christian right would play a pervasive or even predominant role in the movement's agenda. So they weren't told, and the media didn't point out what Robertson's network just told you, up there in that quote.
But now they can tell you; now they can come out of the closet and tell you the theocratic angle of the movement. I think that the reason they feel safe in disclosing this is: the tea party met with disaster in the GOP presidential nomination contest. Despite their best efforts to put a tea party sympathizer at the top of the ticket, establishment "liberal Republican" Mitt Romney won.
So now the charade (that the tea party is an inclusive and primarily non-sectarian body) is less useful.
They'll continue to welcome wing nut conservatives with fantasies of returning American to imagined nineteeth-century past, regardless of their faith beliefs. (Since the 1970s, the leaders of the Christian right have emphasized the necessity of forming "coalitions" with conservatives who don't necessarily share their faith beliefs.)
But the public embrace of the term "teavangelical" (this month) signals that the Christian right believes the pretense of a non-sectarian agenda is no longer necessary. I guess it isn't, once you acknowledge the sectarian bent of more than fifty per cent of the movement's members. With those kind of numbers and very sophisticated national and local political networks--the Christian right can comfortably dominate the tea party. (That counts for a lot in local elections around the country; in districts and elections where a conservative presence is strong.)
So, we are urged to welcome the label "teavangelical" and the openly theocratic tea party:
"Well, I absolutely am [a Teavangelical] because I believe that we are taxed enough already," Tea Party Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., told CBN News.
"Government shouldn't spend more money than what it takes in," she said. "We should follow the Constitution. And I'm a believer in Jesus Christ, so I think that makes me a Teavangelical."
You know: Bachmann's opponents in the Sixth District can make use of her words, there--if they dare to.