Rick Perry's Prayer Rally

June 09, 2011

Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican, recently announced that he is hosting a big prayer rally in August and has invited the other 49 governors across the nation to join him at the event in Houston. Planned for August 6 at the stadium where the Houston Texans play, the event is being called "The Response." Here's part of how Perry describes the call to prayer on the website:

Right now, America is in crisis: we have been besieged by financial debt, terrorism, and a multitude of natural disasters. As a nation, we must come together and call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles, and thank Him for the blessings of freedom we so richly enjoy. ... Therefore, on August 6, thousands will gather to pray for a historic breakthrough for our country and a renewed sense of moral purpose.
Joining Perry is leading his initiative will be the American Family Association, a conservative Christian organization often involved in political efforts. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, a Republican, has already said he will attend. However, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, a Republican, has already announced that he will not.

American United for Separation of Church and State have urged Perry not to lead the event. Reverend Welton Gaddy, president of Interfaith Alliance, similarly argued that the event "raises serious concerns about [Perry's] commitment to the boundaries between religion and government." He added:
It has been my experience that when elected leaders invoke religion in this way, it almost always has more to do with furthering a political agenda than a religious one.
Unfortunately, Gaddy is correct, which is why this event is concerning. Obviously, I believe prayer is very important, including the need to pray for our nation and its leaders. However, this is an initiative that should come from churches, not politicians (and should be held in closets rather than a stadium). Perry says this event is not political, but the issues being prayed for have serious political implications.

Some critics of the prayer rally believe it might be Perry's effort to launch a presidential run, especially since the event will occur just one week before the Iowa straw poll. Although he has often said he will not run, Perry has started to express interest in jumping in. With no major Southern leader in the race and his ability to meet the rhetorical expectations of our age of confessional politics, Perry could easily mount a serious challenge in key early states like Iowa and South Carolina. Perry's opening could especially grow after today's news that several top campaign aides for Newt Gingrich resigned from his presidential campaign (which follows several stumbles by Gingrich). Two of those who resigned are longtime aides of Perry and would be key to him launching a campaign. Interestingly, Perry was recently on the TV program of evangelist James Robison, who is leading a behind-the-scenes effort to defeat President Barack Obama. Another individual in that group, Jim Garlow, is a key leader in Perry's prayer rally (and serves as the head of a religious-political organization started by Gingrich). Even if Perry does not run, this event could become a key religious-political moment, much like a Robison-led rally in Texas was in 1980.

UPDATE [6-15-11]: The Houston Clergy Council issued a statement opposing Perry's prayer rally. Meanwhile, three Houston's largest churches--Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church, Second Baptist Church, and First Baptist Church have offered support. Additionally, it turns out that although Perry is urging people to come pray in a stadium for national revival that he has not been tithing that much.