Prayer and Fasting. With Politics on the Side?

by Jose Medina

Big news over the weekend: Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced that he’s hosting a Christian prayer rally and day of fasting this summer in Houston.  He claims the event  isn’t political. But if that’s the case, why is the event being hosted by, well, a politician — in particular, a politician with possible presidential aspirations and who has a history of using faith as a political weapon to divide voters? And why was a documented hate group — the American Family Association — picked as the event’s main funder and organizer?

This won’t be political? We’ll see.

We’re referring to the news that broke during the weekend regarding “The Response: A Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis,” a prayer event planned for early August at Houston’s Reliant Stadium. Gov. Perry is apparently the main host for the event and has invited the nation’s other 49 governors to attend.

If this is in fact a nonpolitical gathering of Christians practicing their faith and praying for a better future for the country and the world, then more power to them. But if this will be a “we pray for (insert political goal here)” event, then it becomes divisive, and it should trouble all of us that the governor of Texas and potential presidential candidate treats God as a registered Republican.

In fact, the way this event has thus far been billed indicates this prayer rally will not be free of politics. The event’s website, including the glossy intro video, is full of apocalyptic language, calling the United States a “troubled nation” whose knees are “buckling” in the face of a “historic crisis.”

“Why is this happening now?” asks a woman in the intro video. She’s a followed a few moments later by a man asking, “Who is responsible?”

This is how Gov. Perry characterizes it on the event’s website:

“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.”

We’ll remind you that this is the same Gov. Perry with ties to the Texas Restoration Project, a political front group whose “pastor’s policy briefings” have been the venue for more than a half-dozen speeches by the governor. The Texas Freedom Network Education Fund documented the Texas Restoration Project’s cynical efforts to turn churches into parts of Gov. Perry’s political campaign machine in a 2006 report, “The Anatomy of Power.”

Gov. Perry’s past activities with these faith-politics hybrids are not unlike the activities of the leadership for this summer’s event. That leadership includes David Lane, who is quoted on the event’s website as saying, “What I do is spiritual. The by-product is political.” There is also Wayne Hamilton, a former executive director of the Texas Republican Party, former aide to Texas Republican Congressman Joe Barton and executive director for Perry’s inaugural committees in 2003 and 2007. Another organizer is Bob McEwen, a Republican lobbyist and former Congressman from Ohio.

We’ll be watching to see what comes of this later this summer — it’s sure to give us a glimpse of what type of presidential candidate Gov. Perry will be, if in fact he does become one.