ORLANDO, Fla. -- By the time Herman Cain took the stage, Jesus had already been crucified, resurrected and returned to Earth to collect the faithful once that day.
Cain made a campaign stop Friday at The Holy Land Experience, a Christian-theme amusement park in central Florida where visitors pay $35 to watch a reenactment of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ just minutes from Disney World.
In the park, which is run by the religious television station Trinity Broadcasting Network, employees dressed as shepherd boys, Pharisees, Roman soldiers and merchants from first-century Israel lead the faithful on tours through the re-created streets of old Jerusalem, perform re-enactment shows and serve as baristas in the coffee shop. Over the course of a day at Holy Land, you can take communion--fed to you from the hand of a bearded actor playing Christ with flowing brown hair--browse an impressive collection of early Bibles, rock out to praise-song karaoke, get baptized and even have your picture taken with Jesus on a Harley.
And on this day, you can meet Herman Cain.
Entering the park, I'm greeted by a girl in her 20s wearing a traditional Jewish headdress tapping away on a computer keyboard with freshly painted nails. A poster with Cain's face is taped to the front window. She rings up my ticket and I stumble upon a first-century city street swarming with actors dressed in ancient garb.
"Crucifixion's at 2:30," a robed disciple/greeter says as I walk in, pointing toward an amphitheater. "You'll want to get there early to get good seats."
"Will we have time to see Herman Cain?" I ask.
"Definitely," he replies. "Cain won't start until Jesus returns, which will be after the resurrection."
The presentation that follows, which takes the audience through the scenes of the Passion story--Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas' kiss of betrayal, the trial in front of Pontius Pilate, the flogging, the placement of the crown of thorns, the walk down the Via Dolorosa, the crucifixion, and finally, the resurrection--culminates in front of a life-sized model of Herod's temple in Jerusalem.
On the steps of the temple for the grand finale, angels wearing capes prance to the sound of trumpets that welcome the Second Coming of Christ. Jesus emerges from the back and strides triumphantly toward the temple wearing a flowing robe and a gold crown of rubies. Meanwhile, another angel lassos Satan with a gold chain and hauls him away by the neck. The blaring music crescendos as the crowd stands up to cheer the return of the king, and Christ restores himself as the eternal ruler of the universe.
After Jesus disappears into a cloud of smoke at the temple door, a plain-clothed man directs the crowd to a nearby theater, where a cardboard cut-out of Jesus wearing a jeans with holes in the knees greets everyone at the entrance. Now that Christ has returned, it's time for Herman Cain.
Inside the auditorium, shepherds escort people to their seats. There's a lectern on stage surrounded by a wall-to-wall painting of landmarks from ancient Jerusalem with Herod's temple in the center. A singer kicks off the program with praise and worship songs, and Cain enters through a side door with TBN founder Jan Crouch and his new Secret Service detail.
Cain, a layman pastor and gospel singer, appears right at home as he walks up to the stage in his suit and signature gold tie.
"You all have to forgive me, but this feels like a pulpit and I am a preacher," he says during the talk. "It's just a natural thing when I get into this setting, ya know?"
"Preach it, brother!" a man on the front row yells.
Cain speaks for nearly a half an hour and despite a couple fleeting "999" mentions, keeps his speech to topics of faith and his recent battle with cancer. He begins with a story about how he knew he would survive when he discovered that his physician was named "Dr. Lord," that the hospital attendant's name was "Grace" and that the incision made on his chest during the surgery would be in the shape of a "J."
"Come on, y'all. As in J-E-S-U-S! Yes! A doctor named Lord! A lady named Grace! And a J-cut for Jesus Almighty," Cain boomed.
He did have a slight worry at one point during the chemotherapy process when he discovered that one of the surgeon's name was "Dr. Abdallah."
"I said to his physician assistant, I said, 'That sounds foreign--not that I had anything against foreign doctors--but it sounded too foreign," Cain tells the audience. "She said, 'He's from Lebanon.' Oh, Lebanon! My mind immediately started thinking, wait a minute, maybe his religious persuasion is different than mine! She could see the look on my face and she said, 'Don't worry, Mr. Cain, he's a Christian from Lebanon.'"
"Hallelujah!" Cain says. "Thank God!"
The crowd laughs uneasily.
After a mini-campaign stump speech, Cain wraps with a diatribe against liberals, the media and "Beltway elites" that he says are trying to stop him.
"They don't like the fact that I'm not afraid to say God Almighty Jesus Christ!" Cain says.
"One of the biggest crises in this country is a moral crisis," he goes on to say. "We've lost our moral compass. We need to get it back. One of the reasons I'm running is because I plan to bring that moral compass back to this country."
When he finishes, Cain heads out the door and his motorcade rolls away past the replica Damascus Gate in front of the park.
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