The spot opens on a deserted road. A man in a truck is seen and the words “A Prayer for America” are flashed on the screen.
“Lord, look at this place. Parents kicked out of schools, paying people not to work. They even shut down my church,” says the voiceover, the man now lying on a hammock. “Things are happening today that have never happened before. I know you're still there. We just need more people to know you and be your friend. I'm here. Guide us back. Guide. Us. Back.”
In another commercial, a man sits in an empty church. After an announcer mentions the importance of hard work and faith and photos of a family cavorting on a sofa are shown, the man says, “I still believe we are one nation under God. And with his favor, we can save our country.”
In yet another ad, a man on a street says no problem in America is bigger than God.
Those were just three of the Oklahomans involved in last Tuesday's Republican senatorial primaries. We have two races in 2022. Come for the piety; stay for, well, more piety.
The first two candidates — Luke Holland, in the F-150, and T.W. Shannon, in church — were running for the seat of retiring Senator Jim Inhofe, who has been Oklahoma’s U.S. senator since Nebuchadnezzar was in swaddling clothes.
Shannon, the former speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, made the runoff against 2nd District Congressman MarkWayne Mullin, who, in his ads, had his children (one boy, one girl) in "Team Mullin" shirts and then schooled us on the difference between men and women, while Holland, Inhofe’s chief of staff — and nobody shut down his church — finished fourth in a field that included former Oklahoma attorney general, former Trump EPA director and former tactical pants fashion maven Scott Pruitt.
The guy on the street was James Lankford, the state's junior senator, who is running for re-election. He beat back two challengers who claimed he was too liberal, which strained credulity to the point where credulity pulled a muscle. So, what in God's name -- you should pardon the expression -- was going on?
Ever since Percy Crawford started the first nationally televised religious broadcast in 1949, evangelists from Mother Angelica to Billy Graham to Oral Roberts to Pat Robertson to Joel Osteen have been aiming their messages, usually as sermons, at über-religious television audiences.
But now the audience is more mainstream religious and the messenger isn’t an evangelist — he or she is a politician.
According to the Public Religion Research Institute, 52% of white evangelical Protestants believe God intended America as a “promised land” for European Christians, and GOP candidates — and not just in Oklahoma — are taking to their airwaves to blame liberals, immigrants, Black Lives Matter, the 1619 project, and transgendered teen field hockey players for mucking up the celestial plan.
(Shannon, incidentally, is black and a member of the Chickasaw Nation.)
Back in December, reacting to a decrease in church attendance nationwide, The Signatry and The Servant Christian unleashed a $100 million ad campaign entitled He Gets Us, designed to reintroduce Americans back to God.
“What if,” one of the early ads asked, “Jesus was the biggest brand in your city?”
He was, and in Oklahoma, he’s about to be elected senator. Twice.