In a parking lot, behind a nondescript, beige building, the young man stands out as heartbreakingly earnest. In a black t-shirt, with a bit of stubble around the chin, the looks out and begins the litany. “Economic collapse,” he says. “Injustice. Violence.” Suddenly, in the same parking lot, an even younger, more fragile looking adolescent appears. “Perversion,” this one says. “Division. Abuse.”
And so begins the video, imploring viewers to partake in “The Response”—Gov. Rick Perry’s Aug. 6 gathering for Christian worship and fasting at Reliant Stadium, home to the Houston Texans. There’s been a lot about the event, which the website describes as “a call to prayer for a nation in crisis.” But have you seen the video advertising it?
Throughout the two-minute web-video, 15 different people appear on the screen, all of decidedly different ages and ethnicities. Even the background changes—from the parking lot to a classroom, inside a house with framed photos on the wall, in a field near a feeder. Everyone featured is deeply perturbed, as at first they reel off their concerns, which come to include “terrorism” and “natural disaster.”
Then things take a personal turn. “I just want my children to be happy,” says one woman looking into the camera. “To get a job when I graduate,” says our t-shirt-clad young man. “For my daddy to love me,” says a little girl with messy hair.
The abrupt shift—just in time to cue a nice techno beat—is one of the major elements in this entire event. The gathering attempts to connect both large-scale concerns with deeply personal worries. The event aims to move from the general to the specific, and in doing so, it invites any attendee to project whatever their own concerns are onto a welcoming canvass. A very pious, Christian canvass that is.
Because, while “The Response” may be about anything, it’s not for just anyone. While Perry is listed as the “initiator” of the event, the American Family Association will be bearing the costs of the gathering. Listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, AFA is known for its extremist views against gays and non-Christians. The event is specifically geared toward Christians. The website details the AFA’s belief that salvation requires belief in the Holy Spirit, and in an interview with the Texas Tribune, AFA president Tim Wildmon explained that “Those who don’t [believe] go to hell.” The Anti-Defamation League and Council on American-Islamic Relations have both spoken out against the event.
Meanwhile, speculation grows that Perry may make a late presidential bid, the governor is out in front. In a public letter on the site, he urges people to “call upon Jesus to guide us.”“There is hope for America,” he writes. “It lies in heaven and we will find it on our knees.”