“Pray for your Governor,” exhorts the Lord of Hosts, “for I desire to use him and raise him up. Pray for his protection and for those around him, for all that concerns him in this critical hour, for he is Mine…. He is a key player in the shift that must take place, indeed that has already begun issuing forth from My innermost chambers.” Tom Schlueter, A Statewide Call to Prayer Day Thirty-Four, Texas Apostolic Prayer Network
“Next time I tell you someone from Texas should not be president of the United States, please pay attention.” Molly Ivins
It is no secret that Rick Perry, Texas’ longest serving governor, is viewed by many conservatives as the answer to their GOP presidential candidate prayers. In a July Gallup poll, “any GOP candidate” could beat President Obama. Unfortunately it appears that none of the current crop of declared candidates can meet the electability quotient of “any GOP candidate.” Enter Rick Perry, as yet undeclared.
Rick Perry is no stranger to prayers. His deep religious belief extends well beyond the realm of the personal into the political landscape. He belongs to a growing group of aggrieved right wing Christians who see the stability of our democracy as incumbent upon a return to the Christian values of our nation’s founders. Those putative Christian values clearly include public participation in collective prayer.
Back in April of this year, when Texas faced unprecedented drought and devastating wildfires, Perry’s official response was to issue a Proclamation for Days of Prayer for Rain, an act well outside of the mainstream exercise of executive power. Other Texans, no less concerned about the future of our democracy, question Perry’s blurring of the separation of church and state, also a precept of our founding fathers. For Perry, that blurring seems to be the point of his continued application of religious fervor in the political sphere when he then announced that he was sponsoring a day long event, The Response: a Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis, on August 6, 2011.
Perry invited the Obama administration and elected officials across the whole nation to attend and participate, specifically reaching out to all other state governors. Citizens were likewise invited to this Christian prayer meeting. I am sure that Perry imagined all 70,000 seats of Houston’s Reliant stadium filled with the faithful, including the high and the mighty, when he first announced this event.
On the eve of the event, only around 8,000 people had responded that they would attend; numerous protests and alternative events had been planned, including a Day of Debauchery and Gluttony; and even Perry himself had distanced himself from his initial involvement in it.
Concerns were quickly raised that the call to prayer, in which forgiveness and salvation were sought in Jesus’ name, was less than ecumenical in nature. Critics point out a religious diversity that exists today that our founding fathers could never have imagined and which The Response chose to ignore.
Perry also partnered with some of the most politically active and controversial members of the religious right. The American Family Association is the driving force behind The Response. This group is responsible for political advocacy against women’s rights and LGBT equality, yet their extremist positions look positively mainstream when compared to the event’s other partners, members of the New Apostolic Reformation.
Within the ultra-right religious movement itself there are criticisms that the New Apostolic Reformation is a fringe cult and practitioner of apostasy. It is hard to determine the degree to which Perry identifies with them. Forrest Wilder of the Texas Observer writes about thisin depth.
“If they simply professed unusual beliefs, movement leaders wouldn’t be remarkable. But what makes the New Apostolic Reformation movement so potent is its growing fascination with infiltrating politics and government … As a first step, they’re leading an “army of God” to commandeer civilian government. In Rick Perry, they may have found their vessel. And the interest appears to be mutual.”
I have been watching the streaming video of The Response from time to time. More than 25,000 people have shown up at the event, but national and state elected leaders, sensitive to a potential political liability, are clearly absent. Rick Perry prayed and spoke, emphasizing that the event was not about politics or any government. A sea of reverent people sways to the music, their arms raised toward heaven.
The one theme that occurs throughout is “There is no human remedy to the problems we face as a nation.” For those of us looking at the recent collateral damage inflicted upon the citizenry by intransigent politicians, that is a sobering message. It is a contrarian response to the very real human problems we create and a disturbing abrogation of our human responsibility to address them.
It remains to be seen whether Rick Perry is a prayer answered for the GOP or religious groups anxious to usher in the kingdom of God on earth. I am left to wonder how many of those participants are also praying for a human remedy in the form of a job, an opportunity to hang onto a home or business, or access to necessary medical care. They will ultimately get to decide whether Governor Rick Perry is indeed an answer to their prayers.