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Pulpit policies

Politics | Republican National Convention events include evangelical prayers and Tea Party fervor

TAMPA, Fla.-Convention trivia: What does a suit-clad pastor behind a Plexiglas pulpit and a Tea Party activist decked in Colonial garb have in common? Answer: They both appeared at the same convention-related event here in Tampa.

While Republicans struggled to re-boot their delayed convention after canceling Monday's meetings in the wake of Tropical Storm Isaac, crowds swelled at a pair of overlapping events on Sunday evening at a nearby megachurch.

The River at Tampa Bay Church-a large ministry center in east Tampa-hosted the back-to-back events: first, a prayer service that drew high-profile Christian leaders, and then a Tea Party rally that drew a pair of high-profile politicians. (Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., spoke at both.)

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The evening delivered both earnest prayers and Tea Party policy, and produced something else: a sometimes-dissonant mix of religion and politics.

Not that religion and politics don't mix. Christian leaders like Eagle Forum President Phyllis Schlafly and Vision America President Rick Scarborough urged those attending to exercise a Christian conscience when voting-an idea that's not new. Many Christians base their political convictions about critical issues like abortion and marriage on biblical principles-just like other voters make decisions based on their own worldviews.

Instead, the evening's dissonance seemed to flow from the setting. As many of the 1,500 people inside the worship center raised hands in prayer, sang praise songs, listened to pastors' call for revival, and asked for God's blessings on their churches and country, a different scene unfolded a few feet away.

Glancing through the sanctuary's floor-to-ceiling windows revealed Tea Party activists assembling outside for the next event. As participants inside the church prayed for God's forgiveness for America, supporters in a small courtyard outside lined up at food carts for "Just Smokin'" barbecue sandwiches and "Cuppin' Cake" desserts.

An RV advertising the Fair Tax sat nearby, and some in the crowd snapped photos with Tea Party activists clad in revolutionary garb, and holding muskets and Gadsden ("Don't tread on me") flags.

A large-screen television and loud speakers broadcast the inside prayer rally outside, while vendors sold Tea Party-related merchandise like Post-it notes with pre-printed messages opposing Barack Obama's policies and decks of "czar cards" with caricatures of the president's top advisers.

As the prayer rally ended, the church began a shortened Sunday evening service. More Tea Party supporters arrived outside, carrying signs like "Time to End Obamanation." A pair of women-who rode a bus with other supporters from Georgia for the Tea Party event-carried a sign with a cutout of Obama's face bearing a Pinocchio-like nose.

Some of those gathered outside said they were interested in both events. Linda Gadd kneeled in prayer in front of the jumbo screen during the church's worship service while holding a sign that said, "You think healthcare is expensive now? Wait until it's free. Nurses against Obama."

Gadd-who wore a nurse's hat with an American flag print-attends a church in nearby Lakeland, Fla., and said that both Tea Party principles and social issues like abortion and marriage are important to her.

"We love God and we love His principles and His law, and we want to keep our freedoms and rights that have been endowed by our Creator," she said. "We don't think government is the answer. God's freedom is the answer."

On healthcare, Gadd said she worried that Obama's healthcare bill would drive up costs and drive down her salary.

Others were less interested in the prayer rally and waited in the rain for the Tea Party gathering to start. Nearly 2,000 people attended the Tea Party event inside the church that kicked off with an emcee who referred to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as a "WINO: Wife in Name Only."

Headliners included former presidential candidate Herman Cain who warned the crowd of a coming "taxmageddon" if the government doesn't stop reckless fiscal policies. (He also told the crowd: "Stupid people are running the country.")

Bachmann assured the Tea Party audience that they had succeeded in influencing policy. In one of the few references of the evening to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Bachmann said Romney has "promised to repeal Obamacare on the very first day, without batting an eyelash. The Tea Party needs to take a bow for that."

Before the rally began, John Henly from Atlanta sold Tea Party-themed flags that he designed bearing the message: "God-Country-Liberty." During the church's evening service, Henly talked above strains of the hymn "Amazing Grace" coming over the loudspeakers. "We've got get back to our Founding Fathers," he said. "God's got to be there. It doesn't matter what religion you are. Everybody knows God. And that's what made this country."

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