I’ve been stewing for a couple of days over John Hagee’s comparison of Rick Perry to Abraham Lincoln. It’s just one sentence, but it’s a very dangerous one:
“We pray for our governor Rick Perry who has had the courage today to call this time of fasting and prayer just as Abraham Lincoln did in the darkest days of the civil war.” (LINK)
To begin with, this is one of those sentences with “weasel words.” If you’re not familiar with weasel words, they’re something salesmen, politicians, and con artists use to great effect. They’re powerful words designed to change people’s emotions regardless of the content of the sentence in which they’re used. Any great salesman will tell you the truth of this concept: It’s not what you say. It’s what people hear.
On the surface, this sentence is relatively innocuous. Abraham Lincoln did call for a national day of prayer. Perry did institute a statewide day of prayer. The country is in economic crisis today. The country was in economic crisis in Lincoln’s day. Valid comparison.
But that’s not all there was to Hagee’s comment. Not by a long shot. Abraham Lincoln represents far more than just another president who signed a day of prayer into being. George Washington and John Adams established the precedent, not Lincoln. Hagee wanted the faithful to remember the Civil War. And in comparing Perry to Lincoln, he wanted the audience to picture Perry as a modern-day Lincoln — the much beloved “good guy.” The one fighting for the sovereignty of the godly nation against those uppity rebels, intent on spreading their moral turpitude to every state in the nation.
The image of Lincoln also reinforces a prevalent Christian belief. Many evangelicals really do see Christian life as an ongoing war — a cosmic struggle between good and evil. They see the agents of Satan working to subvert the will of God. Demons and angels are fighting it out in the spiritual trenches, and the hearts and souls of humans are the battleground. The drought, the economic crisis, the debate over abortion? These are not the main issues. They are side-effects of the greater conflagration occuring in our country’s collective spiritual well being.