Rick Perry’s Political Prayer
This past weekend, Texas Governor Rick Perry hosted a prayer event called “The Response,” announcing to a half-empty stadium that, “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.”
Perry’s controversial prayer event was co-sponsored by right-wing organizations like the American Family Association, which has attracted wide-ranging criticism for its extreme, out-of-the-mainstream views. In fact, while Perry invited a number of governors, saying, “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,” 48 governors declined to attend. (Along with Perry, Gov. Sam Brownback (R-KS) attended, and Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) sent a taped message.) In an article in the Houston Chronicle, Professor Mark Jones of Rice University explained why:
“For a Democrat, there is nothing to be gained by attending, and politically it’s best for them to quietly decline,” he said. Even for Republicans, attending the event could be risky if a speaker says something controversial, he added.
Given the dubious reputation of the organizations backing the event, and the narrowly sectarian focus (Perry intentionally didn’t invite non-Christians to the event), the event seems like little more than a political stunt to curry favor with the Religious Right.
While religion does and should play an important role in people’s–and public officials–lives, and can and should be a positive force for good in the world of public policy, this event promoted a narrow religious agenda in a manner that made atheists and non-Christians, as well as fellow Christians, uncomfortable. As Michael Keegan, president of People for the American Way, put it, “Gov. Perry’s prayer rally isn’t an affirmation of the role of faith in public life: it’s an expensive, politically-charged advertisement of a very narrow slice of one faith community that aims to impose its extreme views on the rest of us.”
And Politico has confirmed that just one week after his controversial prayer rally, Perry plans to announce that he’s running for president. While the event was billed as non-political, the timing (and the coverage that resulted) tells another story–that Perry was using this explicitly Christian public event to try to catapult him to the top of the GOP leaderboard via the real audience for Saturday’s event: the Christian Right. The question is, what will general election voters think of a political stunt that excludes and offends many Americans while promoting the extreme views of a small but vocal organization?
Photo: Gage Skidmore, Flickr