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2012 Presedential Race, politics

So Jesus, Rick Perry and the AFA walk into Reliant Stadium…

Texas Governor Rick Perry is the “Initiator” of an event entitled “The Response: A Call To Prayer For A Nation in Crisis” to be held at Reliant Stadium in Houston on August 6th. On the homepage of the event, Perry writes:

Fellow Americans,
Right now, America is in crisis: we have been besieged by financial debt, terrorism, and a multitude of natural disasters. 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. Some problems are beyond our power to solve, and according to the Book of Joel, Chapter 2, this historic hour demands a historic response. Therefore, on August 6, thousands will gather to pray for a historic breakthrough for our country and a renewed sense of moral purpose. I sincerely hope you’ll join me in Houston on August 6th and take your place in Reliant Stadium with praying people asking God’s forgiveness, wisdom and provision for our state and nation. There is hope for America. It lies in heaven, and we will find it on our knees.
Sincerely, Rick Perry, Governor

One point immediately jumps out: Perry and the organizers of the event specifically and enthusiastically refer to Jesus throughout the website.

  • “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.”
  • “The ancient paths of great men were blazed in prayer – the humility of the truly great men of history was revealed in their recognition of the power and might of Jesus to save all who call on His great name.”
  • “Who knows what can happen in our generation when we gather together to worship Jesus, fast and pray, and believe for great change in our nation?”

The explicit references to Jesus contrast with the more ecumenical intent of last year’s significant rally, Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor.” Beck The Responseintentionally sought to avoid making his rally a “Christian” event as he explained on his radio program, “He [Beck] said: ‘I had a couple people that had helped put this together, and some of them had been involved in the Christian Coalition. And when I first called them and talked to them, I said, ‘Look, I know you were involved in the Christian Coalition, but this isn’t Christian, this has to be everybody, and it cannot ever be made about politics. If it’s about politics, it’s worthless.’ And all of them said the same thing: ‘Amen.'”

Like Restoring Honor, The Response is intended to be an “apolitical event” (see What Does The Response Believe?). However, the site reports: “Governor Rick Perry has invited all US governors as well as many other national Christian and political leaders. People of all ages, races, backgrounds and Christian denominations will be in attendance to proclaim Jesus as Savior and pray for America.” To be clear, an intent of this rally is to “proclaim Jesus as Savior.”

I find all of this to be incredibly interesting. First, there is the notion of an “apolitical event.” In theory, we certainly ought to be able to say that a “call to prayer” is not a political act. But, let’s be real, this is highly political. This isn’t just a call to prayer, this is a call to prayer for a “nation in crisis.” What is the crisis? “We have been besieged by financial debt, terrorism, and a multitude of natural disasters.” It is no mistake that the lead crisis is “financial debt.” Economic policy is the number one political issue in this country right now and you can believe that Perry the Presidential Candidate will be hitting President Obama hard on this one. Yes, The Response mentions natural disasters and the moral peril our youth are facing but the political aspects of the “crisis” cannot be denied. A political leader calling upon other political leaders to pray to Jesus for the economic crisis this nation is facing is political and very much so.

The event is political not only because it is in “Response” to political issues but also because it is being done in the name of Jesus and “has adopted the American Family Association statement of faith.” We can debate whether or not this should make an event “political” but the reality of the political climate in America says that it does. In fact, a quick search online will show many criticisms against Perry and the event including a particularly absurd charge that the event is anti-LGBT merely by associating with the so-called hate group, AFA.

With all that being said, I find this to be a refreshing move. While others may call it opportunistic, I call it ballsy. Perhaps he is pandering to Christians with this event but If you’re going to call for a day of prayer and fasting for the nation then go ahead and make it clear exactly who it is you’re praying to for crying out loud. Make the doctrinal justification for such a call explicit. Last year I was critical of conservatives who bash organizations such as Co-Exist who (co-)exist in order to “promote for the benefit of the public, religious harmony between Jews, Christians and Muslims” while whole-heartily supporting a non-Christian, multi-faith effort such as Restoring Honor for the benefit of the public. Either lay off the Co-Exist folks or apply the same level of criticism to conservative efforts as you do to progressive ones.

It is nonsensical to call for moral and spiritual renewal while glossing over the differences between Christians, Jews, Muslims, adherents to other religions or no religion at all. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, went on NPR last year and said, “We had rabbis praying. We had Catholic priests praying. We had Muslim imams praying and participating. We had Protestant Christians. And [Beck] kept saying over and over again: This is not a political event, and politics is not the answer. The answer is spiritual renewal and rebuilding a civil society one person; one family; one church, mosque, synagogue, temple and one community at a time.” Bill O’Reilly asked Glenn Beck, “There isn’t a right God or wrong God?” and Beck replied, “No, that’s why I had all the pastors, priests, rabbis, imams.” Conservative Christians mockingly call Oprah the nation’s pastor and denounce her for deceiving people with her new age beliefs and yet they jump up to celebrate a spiritual renewal movement with no one right god? Politics is not the answer but this is?

The “sectarian” nature of Rick Perry’s Response has become avant-garde for such a public figure. While others are going “spiritual,” he’s proclaiming “Jesus as Savior.” If you’re a Christian, it’s hard to get around that “Christ” part and why would you even want to try? Two years ago outspoken atheist Penn Jillette talked about his experience with a Christian who gave him a Bible and said, “If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and that people could be going to hell, or not getting eternal life, or whatever, and you think that, well, it’s not really worth telling him this because it would make it socially awkward…how much do you have to hate someone to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate someone to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?” Penn is right, isn’t he?

Whether Perry ought to be doing this or not is certainly open for discussion but he is doing it. I have no problem with a Christian, even one who is a governor and candidate for President, praying in the name of Jesus and calling upon others to do the same. I actually find it to be refreshing. For the Christian, is Jesus not “above every name that is named” (Ephesians 1:21)? For the non-Christian, is it not fair to expect a Christian to pray a Christian prayer and invite others to do the same? If this event is not to be tolerated because of Jesus then I suppose we ought to add the opposing groups to the intolerant “hate” list right next to the AFA.

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