OK, so we know now that whatever Rick Perry is readin' this summer, it ain't a science book. Because until 142 percent of all scientists agree on something, science is just theories, and people don't need theories right now. They need jobs. Jobs and provocative rhetoric. Oh, and dead prisoners! That's it: Jobs, provocation and dead prisoners, some number of whom are most likely innocent. The Texas Triple Threat.
Anyway, back to those book thingies. A week or so back, when Politico set about determining whether Rick Perry was "dumb," Perry's campaign identified a couple of books on the governor's summer reading list: On China by Henry Kissinger and something called Turning the Tide by Atlanta pastor Charles Stanley.
Who knows if Perry's actually reading those books. When a reporter asks about a candidate's reading list, it's an invitation to send a message to voters. You can always make a Half Price Books run later. If he is reading them, that obviously doesn't mean he prescribes to their preachings.
But the spokesman's choice to announce those two titles said a little something about where Perry's head is these days. And when some limited information came out about that second book, there were concerns that Perry's head was swiveling around the nation's synagogues in search of Jews whose hearts he could stuff with the everlasting love of Jesus. The book, a multifaceted call to Christians to reverse the tides of immorality and corruptness washing over America and the steps of Congress, quickly became known simply as "the one that wants to convert the Jews and Muslims."
Not surprisingly, Turning the Tide is about a little more than that, and it isn't quite as wacky as some have implied. The first 264 pages barely mention Judaism and, unless I missed it, make no mention of Islam. There's an early chuckle at the ancient Israelites' silly expectation that an earthly savior, "a mighty military or political leader like King David," would save them from their oppressions, a notion Christians understand to be foolish. It was a "sad reality," Stanley writes.
So many in Israel were so intensely focused on earthly success and security -- rather than on the Father's plan -- they missed the One they were truly yearning for. Their hope was placed in the wrong thing.
From there, though, the book's a standard-issue Christian sermon sauteed with a healthy medley of Republican talking points (although it disavows political affiliation and mentions no living politician by name): Taxes are too high; we should ask Him to ask our leaders to lower them. The Founding Fathers' cries for religious freedom are being misappropriated; we should ask Him to ask Congress to return prayer and the Bible to our nation's schools. "The United States is a Christian nation," Stanley asserts, but Perry made sure we knew that when he rented out Reliant Stadium for Jesus Appreciation Day.
Frankly, the kookiest passage comes on Page 137, where Stanley somehow links our nation's woes to Happy Hour. I know what you're thinking: You don't remember any $3 chicken wings in the unemployment line. But that's not quite how Stanley sees it:
Perhaps as you've traveled through the years, you have noticed signs advertising something called "Happy Hour." And perhaps, like I have, you've observed the great irony in that term. I've spoken to people who have frequented them, and they assure me they have never found any true joy there. ...
In many ways, I see our nation as seeking their own Happy Hour. People in our society seem to want a place of escape -- where their sins are hidden in the dark and where they can find relief for their pain. However, as believers, we know they will never find solace as long as their transgressions lay buried in their hearts. ...
They will find salvation only when they lay bare those transgressions for Him to see. Or, presumably, when they beat the high score on their local Golden Tee machine. Whichever comes first, I guess.
But that's not the point. Not even in the Happy Hour bit does Stanley seem intent on doing any converting, unless you count converting the livers of America's cubicle farmers into actually functioning organs. The next 100 pages or so make no mention of Jews or Muslims, and they even preach some basic religious tolerance.
But on 265, there it is, the single paragraph that earned Stanley's book its alternate title, Convincing Jews and Muslims That The Unlikely Parables They Use to Distract Themselves From the Infinite Darkness of Death Are Actually Way Less Likely Than These Other Parables. For Dummies, Of Course. (You can see why Stanley's publisher went with the original title.)
"Pray for God to protect Israel," it begins ...
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... for the United States to continue to be her most faithful ally, for Jews worldwide to be saved, and for even her enemies to receive salvation through Jesus Christ. Throughout history, God has always had a very special relationship with the people of Israel. ... The Father is still active in keeping His covenant with His people -- drawing Jews throughout the world back to Himself and showing them that Jesus is the promised Messiah. Please pray that, as a nation, the United States will recognize the importance of Israel and support her. Also, pray that Jews worldwide will accept Him as their Savior and that even Israel's enemies will accept the gospel of salvation.
So there you have it. Very troubling stuff, Pastor Stanley, even if it does neatly encapsulate why the AIPAC guys don't endorse specific candidates. I feel compelled to respond with an arresting video made several years ago by a group from the Promised Land*, in an effort to counter alarming rhetoric such as yours. I hope you watch it, and I hope Perry does too. The turning of the tides depends on it.
*Cleveland, obviously. Where did you think I was talking about?