George W. Bush was the Decider. Rick Perry is the Initiator. And, oh Lord, has Perry initiated one hell of an event.
Called “The Response: A Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis,” the event is a Christians-only rally on Aug. 6 at Reliant Stadium in Houston. The event’s website lists Perry as “The Initiator” and bills the rally as a “non-denominational, apolitical Christian prayer meeting.” It is anything but. Politicians thinking of running for president don’t throw apolitical rallies weeks before the Iowa straw polls. The Response appears to be a long-planned, high production-value ploy to wrap Perry in the heartland mantle. If that were the end of it—a religious rally to boost political standing—we’d give Perry a pass. We’ll forgive the governor some religious pandering now and again.
But there is a darker side to the event, and it lies with those whom Perry has cast his lot.
The organizational and financial backing for The Response is coming from a rogues’ gallery of far-right bigots and fundamentalists. Footing the bill for the event is the American Family Association, a zealously homophobic and anti-Muslim organization listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Even within the American evangelical movement, the American Family Association stands out for its vicious stance on gays and lesbians. In 2010, one of its principals, Bryan Fischer, proposed criminalizing homosexuality and posited that “homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and six million dead Jews.”
Two of the main groups involved in The Response are TheCall and the International House of Prayer, both based in Kansas City. TheCall’s founder, Lou Engle, is a virulent opponent of gay rights. Last year Engle showed up in Uganda to lend aid and comfort to religious activists who favored a law imposing the death penalty on gay people.
Perry has also enlisted the help of Alice Patterson, a San Antonio GOP activist associated with the Texas Apostolic Prayer Network, an Arlington-based group that believes Texas is a “Prophet State” that will act “as a fulcrum point or anchor for a ‘teetering nation.’”
Keep in mind that Perry isn’t just a speaker at The Response. He’s the organizer, er, Initiator. These are his invited guests. It’s one thing to organize a prayer rally. It’s quite another to partner with zealots. We wish Perry would use prayer to bring people of all faiths together. Instead, his upcoming rally appears bigoted and divisive.