Anyone paying attention to the 2012 presidential race knows that Texas Governor Rick Perry is a likely candidate and that he'll run to the right of, well, everyone else in the race. With this GOP field that will be a hard feat but Perry will try. Many observers believe the un-official kick-off of his campaign will be a massive Christian-only "prayer rally" scheduled for August 6th in Houston. Perry has teamed up to host the event with an array of far-right Christian leaders who combined have targeted women, democrats, gays, lesbians, Roman Catholics and Muslims with hate filled rhetoric and a warped theology most will never hear preached in your neighborhood church. Now it seems clear Perry wants to hand his state and our nation over to God to govern. The Houston Chronicle reports:
Employing deeply religious language that national experts say affords both power and peril for his political career, Gov. Rick Perry in late May told a group of East Texas business leaders that he was "called to the ministry" at age 27, suggested that the governor's office was his pulpit and that God put him "in this place at this time to do his will."
According to a transcript of the private meeting, organized to raise funds for Perry's Aug. 6 "day of prayer and fasting" at Reliant Stadium, the governor stated that property rights, government regulation and a "legal system that's run amok" were threatening the American way of life and "it's time to just hand it over to God and say 'God, you're gonna have to fix this...' "
According to a transcript of the Longview meeting, Perry said his faith grew after his service in the Air Force, when he returned to live in his parents' home in Paint Creek. "God was dealing with me," he said. "At 27 years old, I knew that I had been called to the ministry. I've just always been really stunned by how big a pulpit I was gonna have. I still am. I truly believe with all my heart that God has put me in this place at this time to do his will."
To advocates of religious tolerance, that borders on "a theocratic declaration," said C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Interfaith Alliance."The problem is not faith. The problem is the public assumption that he understands God and the will of God so perfectly that he can implement for everybody God's policies for this nation," Gaddy said. "I think there are a lot of people uncomfortable with that -- and I am one of them."
Perry seems intent on misusing faith as a political weapon to win the GOP nomination. The road to that nomination runs through early states like Iowa and South Carolina where Christian fundamentalists -- far outside the mainstream of Christian tradition -- wield enormous influence over the nominating process. Most candidates running for the presidency see building coalitions as a virtue -- reaching out beyond their natural base a necessity, particularly when thinking about the general election. Extremists don't generally go far in national politics even if they win their party's nomination (remember President Goldwater or Vice-President Palin?). The list of Perry's extremist allies is long and it leaves one to wonder if Perry honestly believes that the American people will embrace his views or if Perry, who once famously said Texas could succeed from the Union if the state didn't like President Obama's policies, has another agenda that transcends traditional political considerations.
Thankfully, Houston clergy are putting forth another face of faith. A coalition of area faith leaders wrote recently:
As clergy leaders in the nation's fourth-largest city, we take pride in Houston's vibrant and diverse religious landscape. Our religious communities include Bahais, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Unitarian Universalists and many other faith traditions. Our city is also home to committed agnostics and atheists, with whom we share common cause as fellow Houstonians. Houston has long been known as a live-and-let-live city where all are respected and welcomed. It troubles us that the governor's prayer event is not open to everyone. In the publicized materials, the governor has made it clear that only Christians of a particular kind are welcome to pray in a certain way. We feel that such an exclusive event does not reflect the rich tapestry of our city. Our deepest concern, however, lies in the fact that funding for this event appears to come from the American Family Association, an organization labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The American Family Association and its leadership have a long track record of anti-gay speech and have actively worked to discriminate against the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. The American Family Association and its leadership have also been stridently anti-Muslim, going so far as to question the rights of Muslim-Americans to freely organize and practice their faith. We believe it is inappropriate for our governor to organize a religious event funded by a group known for its discriminatory stances.
They go on to urge that "Gov. Perry leave the ministry to us and refocus his energy on the work of governing our state."
If wishing made it so.
...a governing problem that he's trying to disguise through calls for prayer and the over-the-top rhetoric of some extremist megachurch pastors.
This is the politics of distraction played out as religious revivalism. Thus, I tend to agree with Wayne Slater of the Dallas News that Governor Perry won't be repudiating the extremist megapastors who are supporting this Houston prayer rally like John Hagee of San Antonio, Texas or Colorado Springs evangelist Peter Wagner. Governor Perry needs these religious extremists and their Muslim-bashing, Christian supremicist rhetoric to divert voters away from the fact that Texas is in a fiscal crisis.
And what a crisis.
Texas leads the nation in the number of uninsured children -- denying them needed health care -- is the number #1 state in carbon pollution, and schools in Texas will begin the school year without new textbooks, according to Think Progress. The state is a paradise if you're an oil rich business man. For everyone else, God may be the only hope you have. "The reason Governor Perry is apparently pushing prayer and fasting as a solution for what's wrong with Texas is because he hasn't been able to fix Texas the ordinary way, through governing effectively. His state is falling apart. When you abandon actual governing, you'd better hope Jesus is coming soon to solve your problems. Otherwise, voters will start to figure it out," writes Thislethwaite.
Let's hope U.S. voters figure out Rick Perry before he leaves Texas for Washington, D.C.. We need our next president, whether that means we re-elect Barack Obama who clearly believes in pluralism or elect any of the GOP candidates, to be committed to democracy, not theocracy.
Follow Rev. Dr. Chuck Currie on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RevChuckCurrie