Rick Perry’s Big Gamble

By Alan Bean

It no longer matters whether Rick Perry’s The Response extravaganza draws 8,000 or 80,000 ardent Christians to Houston’s Reliant Stadium; the event will be remembered (if it is remembered at all) as a cynical attempt to build a base by driving another wedge into an already fractured religious community.

Perry’s big event would have been inconceivable during the nation’s formative years, and it is hard to imagine any 20th century presidential candidate thinking he could enhance his political stature by consorting with fringe elements on the religious right.  True, George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan courted these same people, but always behind closed doors.

The take-away from The Response is that a Republican presidential aspirant believes an event of this sort is in his political interest.  Rick Perry’s personal religion is irrelevant here; tomorrow’s event is pure politics.

Will the gamble pay off?

In the short run, it well may.  The American hard right believes it is losing its place in the American mainstream.  To outsiders, these people may be surging from victory to victory; but that’s not the way they see it.  Hence the nostalgia for a “normal” America that was all-Christian and all-white all the time; an America with no social safety net (you never know what sort of person might fall into it), no income tax, and no government beyond what is required to fund beat cops, prisons and marines.

If that doesn’t sound like the kind of America you want to live in, you probably aren’t attracted to Mr. Perry’s Houston Christian-0nly bash.  If you do find yourself drawn to Reliant Stadium tomorrow, that’s precisely the kind of America you want to see.

Frankly, I would be astounded if The Response draws fewer than 50,000 people.  1,000 churches have signed up for the live feed, and if each of those churches sends just five people . . . well, you get the picture.

Does Barack Obama have the temperament to call this species of politics by its proper name?  If he doesn’t, he may soon find himself steamrolled into political obscurity.

John Burnett’s excellent piece for NPR provides some excellent background on the event.

Rick Perry’s Religious Revival Sparks A Holy War

August 5, 2011

Rick Perry, the longest-serving governor of Texas, is a Methodist by tradition who, with his wife, Anita, now attends an evangelical megachurch in Austin. He is open about his deep Christian faith.

On Saturday, Perry, who is widely expected to enter the race for the White House, is hosting a religious revival in Houston to pray for what he calls “a nation in crisis.”

While the governor claims it’s nothing more than a Christian prayer rally, the event has touched off a holy war among critics, who claim it is Jesus-exclusive and political.

‘We Need God’s Help’

“With the economy in trouble, communities in crisis, people adrift in a sea
of moral relativism, we need God’s help,” he said. “And that’s why I’m calling
on Americans to pray and fast like Jesus did.”

An event spokesman, who is a former Perry speechwriter, says the daylong
affair will be filled with prayer, inspirational messages, Scripture readings
and praise music. More than 8,000 people have registered for the prayer rally,
which is being held in the 71,000-seat Reliant Stadium, normally used for rodeos
and NFL games.

Perry invited all his fellow governors. The only one to accept was Sam
Brownback of Kansas, but he is now backing away. His office says Brownback is
“on vacation,” and if he goes, “it’s at his discretion and on his dime.”

Among prominent religious leaders expected to speak: James Dobson, founder of
Focus on the Family and now a radio broadcaster; Richard Land of the Southern
Baptist Convention, and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. Perry is
not scheduled to address the crowd.

‘The Fringe Of The Fringe’

Other names on the list of coordinators and endorsers have raised
eyebrows.

“I mean, when you talk about the religious right, this is the fringe of the
fringe here,” says Dan Quinn, communications director of the Texas Freedom
Network, an Austin-based watchdog group that tracks the far right in Texas.

“This is clearly, when you look at it, religious extremism and naked partisan
politics,” Quinn says. “I think it’s one of the most cynical displays of using
faith as a political tool we’ve seen in a long time.”

Late last year, shortly after he won his third term, Perry, a Republican, began to envision the event that is now called “The Response.”

The event is being paid for by the American Family Association, which
describes itself as being “on the frontlines of America’s culture war.” The
Southern Poverty Law Center characterizes the AFA as a hate group because of its
fierce anti-gay agenda.

Among the participants:

— John Hagee, a San Antonio evangelist whose endorsement was rejected by John
McCain in 2008 because of Hagee’s anti-Catholic statements.

— Mike Bickle, a founder of the International House of Prayer in Kansas City,
Mo., who has called Oprah Winfrey a “pastor of the harlot of Babylon.”

— Alice Patterson, founder of Justice at the Gate, in San Antonio, who has
written that there is “a demonic structure behind the Democratic Party.”

— And then there’s John Benefiel, head of the Oklahoma-based Heartland
Apostolic Prayer Network, who once said this about the Statue of Liberty: “You
know where we got it from? French Freemasons. Listen, folks, that is an idol, a
demonic idol right there in the middle of New York Harbor.”

A Rush To Judgment?

The gathering in Houston appears to some observers as an early attempt to
line up the support of conservative evangelicals for Perry’s expected
presidential run. The event’s executive committee includes religious/political
activists David Lane and Jim Garlow, as well as Wayne Hamilton and David Barton,
both former officials of the Texas Republican Party.

But wait, organizers say: Don’t condemn an event before it happens.

“We do need to come together, and pray, and to seek the Lord on behalf of our
nation,” says Doug Stringer, who runs a Christian world outreach ministry in
Houston called Somebody Cares. “If we can do that without being against
anything, then I [am] pleased to be a part of it.”

Stringer says he agreed to be an organizer if they guaranteed there will no
long-winded sermons or political speeches.

“And so as a result, they’ve allowed me to be a prayer captain, and if
anything goes off-track to where I feel it should be focused on the Lord and
prayer and worship, I can come to the microphone and kind of give redirection to
it.”

Yet “The Response” remains divisive.

Earlier this week, 50 Houston religious leaders, led by the Anti-Defamation
League, signed a letter expressing their concern that the Texas governor, and
possible presidential candidate, is “sending an official message of religious
exclusion” to non-Christian Texans.

An event spokesman insists that everyone is welcome.

One thought on “Rick Perry’s Big Gamble

  1. I’ll be praying on Saturday for extra love and compassion in Reliant Stadium, and for understanding from non-Christians everywhere that think that organizations like the American Family Association are representative of Christians. When we did a survey in Canada, the word people 35-45 associated most often with “Christian” was “judgmental”.

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