CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Speaking from a pulpit and flanked by a giant American flag, past and possibly future GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee told an overflow crowd at Charlotte's First Baptist Church on Sunday that the Fourth of July is a "holy day" on which Americans should thank God for granting them rights and for inspiring the Founding Fathers, "who believed, in fact, that they were uniquely chosen."
In a two-hour event that was part religious revival, part political rally, the former Arkansas governor and longtime Baptist preacher also called on his evangelical Christian audience of more than 1,800 to get involved in politics as a way of restoring America's moral bearings.
"What America really has is not a money problem, it is a moral problem," said Huckabee, who also hosts a weekend TV talk show on Fox News and, starting July 26, a daily news show on some Fox-owned stations.
He said the 2008 debacle on Wall Street, for example, was caused less by a lack of regulation or a failure in finance policy than by the business traders' flouting of "ethical principles ...Wall Street really became Las Vegas-East. It became a legitimized casino."
Want to see government shrink and become less expensive?
Help promote families and schools that will "build a better kid," Huckabee said, a child who knows about honor and decency, right and wrong.
Then instead of "breaking windows" - and costing taxpayers by going to jail or getting in a government program - these kids will "break academic and athletic records," and "break new ground" in areas that benefit society.
Buoyed by applause and heads nodding in agreement, the pastor-turned-politician also said the Founding Fathers' vision of a government that was limited and mostly local was undone over the years by Americans' refusal to follow one basic, God-given law: To treat others as they would like to be treated.
Failure to follow the Golden Rule, Huckabee said, led to government passing more and more laws and spending more and more money.
"If we all lived by that one ... rule, we'd have no need for other laws," Huckabee said. "And it gets real expensive when we don't live right."
First Baptist's "July 4 Celebration featuring Gov. Mike Huckabee" mixed religious hymns and prayers with a steady parade of patriotic sights and sounds. There was a medley of Armed Services anthems, the waving of tiny U.S.A. flags, and, at the end, a blizzard of confetti and the dropping of 2,000 red, white and blue balloons.
Huckabee, who's noted for his wit, joked about climbing onto the stage just after a 30-foot-by-60-foot American flag ascended into place behind him.
"I felt like Patton," he said, alluding to the famous first scene of the 1970 Oscar-winning movie in which George C. Scott, as General George S. Patton, addresses his troops in front of a movie screen-sized version of the Stars and Stripes.
Other guests Sunday included U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C., and Cliff Barrows, the choir director for decades at Billy Graham crusades.
But the spotlight was clearly on Huckabee, right down to his signing of books in the lobby and church handouts whose covers looked like Huckabee campaign brochures.
Rev. Mark Harris, senior pastor at First Baptist, said he invited Huckabee not to promote Huckabee's possible 2012 bid for the White House - churches, as tax-exempt institutions, are not permitted to endorse candidates - but to showcase for his flock an average man who was willing to get involved in hopes of improving the country. He said that fit into the church's 2010 theme, which calls on Christians to "mobilize" to make a difference.
But, in an interview before the service, Harris acknowledged that he voted for Huckabee in the 2008 N.C. GOP primary. And though Huckabee is still on the fence about 2012, Harris said that "personally ... nothing would thrill me more" if he ran again.
"The Lord has taken this man and used him," Harris said when later introducing Huckabee.
The ex-governor's words hit home with many in the pews Sunday.
Norman Poole, 77, a retired mail carrier from Gastonia who wore an American flag tie Sunday, said he's been worried that America "has been in a moral free-fall." Huckabee's words, he said, "were very encouraging to me."