Dispatches from Freedom Cruise
The irony of a Christian gospel gathering on a steroidal pleasure boat is not lost on the Freedom Cruisers (for one thing, Southern Baptists don’t drink). While they sit in this darkened theatre, their fellow passengers are gambling, attending seminars on how to get a celebrity smile and flawless skin, playing bingo, watching a slideshow on Jackie Kennedy’s jewellery, or taking part in one of the contests—earlier I saw Debby from Kansas City and Wendy from Phoenix shake their asses before a cheering crowd to win a Raspberry Crème Brûlée Martini.
Guy Penrod, a lupine fiftysomething country and gospel rocker with waist-length grey hair and a trimmed goatee, is the star of the Freedom Cruise concerts. He’s also the most vocal about the opportunity his fellow Christians have this week. They can get out there on the ship and minister to the lost—those “who have not met the lover of their soul.” Penrod is the son of a Baptist preacher and he met his wife Angie, with whom he has eight children, at Liberty University in Virginia, founded by the televangelist Jerry Falwell. “The Bible is a manual for living,” he tells the crowd. “You can spread that news, you can be Jesus to them.” The audience applauds and amens and raises its hands in praise. The guitar strikes up, the lights swirl, and he sings: “Though none go with me, still I will follow, I will follow Jesus.” Such scenes are at best foreign (and at worst, anathema) to the Republican party’s economic libertarians and Wall Street conservatives, who for the last 30 years have found themselves in an odd political marriage with evangelical Christians.
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