James Richard (Rick) Perry, the current governor of Texas, may well be the Republican nominee for President in 2012. Gov. Perry (b. 1950) has not announced his candidacy. But he is getting high rankings in the polls and has strong backing from conservative Christians across the nation.
I envisioned this column before hearing about Gov. Perry possibly running for the presidency. Several months ago he proclaimed August 6 as a “solemn day of prayer and fasting on behalf of our troubled nation.”
All of the other governors of the nation have reportedly been invited to the prayer meeting, and I have (from the Internet, of course) a copy of the letter Gov. Perry wrote, on official stationery, to the governor of Alabama on May 18. The official announcement about the prayer meeting was made on May 23.
As far as I have been able to determine, only two governors have accepted Gov. Perry’s invitation: Gov. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), and Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-Lousiana). Gov. Gary Herbert (R-Utah) sent regrets but signed a proclamation supporting Perry’s event.
To promote the prayer meeting, Gov. Perry has created a website, “The Response: A Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis.” On that website, the Houston Reliant Stadium event is described as “a non-denominational, apolitical Christian prayer meeting.”
The “host entity” for the August 6 prayer meeting is the American Family Association (AFA), whose founder and chairman emeritus is Rev. Donald E. Wildmon, an influential conservative (fundamentalist) Christian leader.
The Response website indicates that it has adopted the AFA statement of faith. That means that the prayer meeting is clearly intended only for Christians, and even many moderate or liberal Christians would not be able to agree with the AFA statement.
A few weeks ago, Interfaith Alliance President Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, a fellow Baptist minister whom I have known since we were in seminary together, called on Gov. Perry to refrain from using his public office for religious purposes. Rev. Gaddy wrote,
“Governor Perry’s call for governors around the country to join him in prayer and fasting this August raises serious concerns about his commitment to the boundaries between religion and government. It has been my experience that when elected leaders invoke religion in this way, it almost always has more to do with furthering a political agenda than a religious one.”
I agree with Welton.
Certainly, I have nothing against prayer, and I would not at all discourage politicians from praying. But that praying needs to be done primarily in their own “closet” and not publicly at a 70,000-seat football stadium.
I fully agree with Welton’s closing statement as well: “At the very least, I would hope that Governor Perry publicly confirms that no government funds or resources are now or will be in the future used to further this spiritual rally.”
As I wrote previously, there is a very close tie between conservative Christians and the Republican Party. And now it looks suspiciously like Gov. Perry is using, within the Republican Party, a public prayer meeting for political purposes. If so, that is far from commendable.