Rick Perry Ignored Critics, Controversy to Hold Historic Prayer Rally

08/07/2011 10:16

Urban Christian News:  Rick Perry has yet to announce a presidential run, but he's made clear that his Christian faith will define it if he does.

While most of the announced Republican presidential candidates stumped in Iowa on Saturday ahead of next week's straw poll, Perry designed and took to his own national stage: The Response, a Christian day of prayer and fasting that the Texas governor started organizing over a year ago, before starting to seriously consider a national run. But instead of running from the controversy sparked by the gathering, with a politically problematic list of speakers and complaints about the blurred line between church and state, Perry stepped to the podium to pray -- while hitting the themes that would drive his presidential campaign.

"Father, our heart breaks for America," Perry said as he led the crowd in prayer, delivering his smooth, emotional 12-minute speech with the cadence of a pastor in the pulpit. "We see discord at home, we see fear in the marketplace, we see anger in the halls of government. And as a nation, we have forgotten who made us, who protects us, who blesses us."

Perry prayed for people who have lost their jobs or homes in the recession. He prayed for the president. And he choked up as he prayed for the 31 American servicemembers who were killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.

Still, he preached an anti-politics message that, paradoxically, is a central force driving conservative voters: "He is a wise, wise God, and he's wise enough to not be affiliated with any political party," Perry said.

His aides insist The Response wasn't about politics. But the simple act of speaking here -- an inconceivable choice for many of his potential Republican opponents -- shows that Perry has decided not just to accept the political risk that such a religious event represents. He has embraced it, and is even counting on it -- making a bet that he is ahead of another broad current sweeping his state and potentially the nation.

Perry has, so far, been ahead of the political curve his whole career. As governor, he was partisan just as the state was turning away from the more conciliatory politics of George W. Bush's governorship. He has almost always been not just a budget cutter but a government cutter -- and finds himself on the cusp of a presidential campaign just as that issue has come to dominate the national debate.

He's making the same type of bet by putting his approach to Christianity on display in Houston. While Bush drew an entire Frontline series on his faith and its role in his presidency -- and plenty of outrage from liberal groups for his religious beliefs -- he more often used "dog whistle" signals to let supporters know where he stood. There was a mention of "wonder-working power" in a State of the Union address, and a reference to a wounded traveler on the road to Jericho during his inaugural address.

But Perry is different. "Rick Perry is a more overt kind of person, in his politics and his religion," said Response speaker Richard Land, the former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and a longtime Bush associate.


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