First up from the God Machine this week is a look at the "Under God: Indivisible" rally, held last week in Arlington, Texas, in conjunction with Glenn Beck's "Restoring Love" gathering. The rally, one of the largest religious right gatherings of the year, drew a reported 6,000 enthusiastic conservative attendees.
As part of the event, the crowd heard from disgraced former Republican lobbyist Ralph Reed, who called the 2012 election the most important since the Civil War, and said God will have "mercy" on Americans on Election Day, but only if we beg God to forgive us "for what we have allowed to happen to this country."
Attendees also heard from anti-gay Bishop Harry Jackson who said gay people "want to recruit your kids"; Family Research Council president Tony Perkins who said hate-crime laws are a sign of "chaos"; and Glenn Beck himself who praised the religious right for being willing to "wield the sword of righteousness" that will make "the leaders of the world ... pee their pants."
Not surprisingly, one of the central messages of the gathering was the 2012 presidential election, and the right-wing organizers' intention to defeat President Obama. The event also helped solidify Beck, the former Fox News personality, as an increasingly-relevant voice within the religious right movement.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, representing nearly all of America's Roman Catholic nuns, will hold its national assembly in St. Louis next week, and will decide how best to respond to attacks from the Vatican that the nuns aren't politically conservative enough.
* Wheaton College, an evangelical liberal arts school in Illinois, wanted desperately to fight against President Obama's policy on contraception access, when it noticed a small problem -- Wheaton's health plan already covered emergency contraception. The school had to quickly change its policy, so it could pretend to be outraged that Obama is forcing Wheaton to do what it was largely already doing voluntarily.
* On a related note, the University of Notre Dame is suing the federal government over contraception access, but a growing group of ND students are organizing on campus against the lawsuit.
* Another megachurch sex scandal erupted this week, with Jack Schaap, a former pastor at the First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, being investigated for possibly having sexual relations with a teenage girl from his congregation (thanks to reader R.P. for the tip).
* And Richard Land, the controversial head of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, announced this week he will retire in October, 25 years after assuming his current post. He'll leave behind an unfortunate, scandal-plagued legacy.