More on Perry's Political Prayer Rally

July 18, 2011

Republican Texas Governor Rick Perry's religious-political prayer rally in a football stadium is now less than three weeks away. New information about the event and its leadership confirms the political angle of the event despite claims from Perry and others. Perry continues to claim it's "not political," as he did recently on a radio program with Tony Perkins and Tim Wildmon. Yet, he uses language that clearly paves the way for a political agenda, such as when he added in that radio program that he wants to "fill up Reliant Stadium with people who are Christ-loving and realize that our country's gotten off-track." Such language can quickly shift from a spiritual focus to a political one. Speaking less carefully, Richard Land (the Southern Baptist Convention's top political guy) gave away the political ties of the event (the photo is one I took of Land at the conference of Ralph Reed's Faith & Freedom Coalition). While he was speaking about the rally recently on his radio program, Land connected the rally to next year's presidential election. Land, who will speak at Perry's rally, argued:

I believe this is the most important election in American history since 1860. What better time for Americans to come together for prayer. So on August the 6th, tens of thousands are going to gather in Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas ... to pray for a historic breakthrough for our country and a renewed sense of moral purpose.
Land also reassured a caller that this will not be an interfaith event since "all the co-chairman that I know of so far are conservative Christians." Currently, only about 6,000 people have signed up to attend the event--which would be a pretty small crowd in a football stadium that holds 71,500. Additionally, only one other governor--Republican Sam Brownback of Kansas--has committed to attend. An atheist group even sued to try and stop the rally but that lawsuit will not go anywhere. Although the mixing of religion and politics in this way creates a lot of serious problems, there are not legal violations here.

Adding to the political ramifications of the prayer rally is the fact that Perry is inching closer to running for president. The Wall Street Journal reported on efforts by several conservative evangelical leaders to push Perry into the race. The article mentioned that Perry spoke to James Robison's group last month, a story I broke in articles for Ethics Daily (see articles here, here, and here). One of the individuals listed in the WSJ article--Richard Land--is complaining that he never said he wanted Perry to run. Land added that he does not endorse candidates. Yet, Land was at the Robison meeting with Perry. Additionally, although he might not ever officially say he is endorsing a candidate, he makes his voting preferences very obvious--as seen last time with his swooning over Fred Thompson. The WSJ has added a note to the article that says that while Land claims he has not endorsed Perry, he did tell the reporter the reasons he wanted Perry to run. Robison plays the same game as he claims he does not endorse candidates--although he admitted to me that his preference for Ronald Reagan in 1980 was probably obvious despite not giving an official endorsement. After meeting with conservative evangelical leaders like Robison, Land, and Perkins, Perry even recently claimed that he is feeling called by God to run (such claims are common in our age of confessional politics and have been made in the past by candidates like George W. Bush and during this campaign already by Michele Bachmann). Perry told the Des Moines Register:
I'm not ready to tell you that I'm ready to announce that I'm in. ... But I'm getting more and more comfortable every day that this is what I've been called to do. This is what America needs.
As Perry continues to consider a presidential run, it only makes his prayer rally seem even more political as it will occur just one week before the Iowa Straw Poll. Hopefully, pastors and other church leaders will shy away from the event as long as such obvious political factors are involved.