Perry puts faith in Houston rally

June 7, 2011


With plans for a public prayer rally at Reliant Stadium, Gov. Rick Perry again is putting his faith up front, leading supporters to admire his reliance on God, opponents to question his blending of church and government, and political experts to speculate that he is reaching out to conservative Christian voters amid rumors that he will seek the Republican nomination for president.

Perry on Monday proclaimed Aug. 6 as a day of prayer and fasting and invited fellow governors and citizens to join him for “The Response,” which his office called “a non-denominational, apolitical Christian prayer meeting.”

“Given the trials that beset our nation and world, from the global economic downturn to natural disasters, the lingering danger of terrorism and continued debasement of our culture, I believe it is time to convene the leaders from each of our United States in a day of prayer and fasting, like that described in the book of Joel,” Perry said.

“I urge all Americans of faith to pray on that day for the healing of our country, the rebuilding of our communities and the restoration of enduring values as our guiding force.”

Perry has partnered with the American Family Association and leaders of the Christian restoration movement to organize the free event.

It has been in the works since December, according to Eric Bearse, a former Perry staffer and spokesman for the AFA, a Christian group that promotes conservative positions on moral issues and opposes homosexuality, urging supporters to boycott promoters of what it calls the “homosexual agenda.”

Some for it, against it

Two of Houston’s largest churches, Lakewood Church and Second Baptist Church, applauded efforts to bring the prayer rally to the city.

The Secular Coalition for America, Interfaith Alliance and the Texas Democratic Party all issued statements Monday criticizing the event for having too much of a Christian focus.

Despite the purported apolitical nature of the event, it is being viewed through the national buzz about the prospect of him running for president- something Perry has said he will think about.

Perry spokeswoman Catherine Frazier, however, said Monday, “He’s made it clear. The situation hasn’t changed. There is not an intention of running.”

Turned to God previously

Perry, a Methodist, has been prone to turn to prayer throughout his career in office, including for elections, the oil spill and the drought currently plaguing Texas. He came to Houston last year to pray during the National Day of Prayer and Memorial Day.

The new event is the largest display of faith he has planned, and it occurs a week before the Iowa straw polls.

“It’s a continuation of his so-far successful effort to keep his name in the papers. He’s been maintaining a high profile — some think to run for president, others think for different reasons. This is surely that,” said Bruce Buchanan, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, whose specialties include presidential politics.

“It also bespeaks the kind of constituency that he wants to reach and address — what he thinks his base is, for whatever purposes he may have.”

Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, called the rally “an obvious appeal to fundamentalist Christians, who comprise 60 percent of the turnout in the Iowa caucuses. It could be even higher in South Carolina, another early primary.”

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, said she understood how some Republican Christians may be holding out hope for Perry to join the race, particularly after Mike Huckabee announced he would not run in 2012. Huckabee, who also used the restoration movement during his campaign, had been a favorite in Texas.

“A lot of religious activists are looking at the field right now and wondering if there’s a candidate for them,” Posner said.

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