Perry’s Misguided Mission

Texas Prayer Event Crosses The Church-State Line

Some political leaders have a bad habit of meddling in religion. Presidents, governors, mayors and others frequently issue proclamations calling on people to pray or recognizing religious events.

Much of it comes and goes without much notice. But what’s going on in Texas next month is a dramatic escalation of the state’s involvement in religion, much to the detriment of both institutions.

Gov. Rick Perry has conceived a day-long event of prayer and fasting that will take place Aug. 6 at a sports stadium in Houston. Called “The Response,” the event is being coordinated by the American Family Association (AFA), an extreme Religious Right group, as well as other religious groups and figures with controversial theological ideas. The rally is exclusively Christian in nature; in fact, it reflects a certain type of Christianity.

Mainline Christian, non-Christian and secularist groups have spoken out – and rightly so. Perry and his supporters don’t try to downplay the proselytizing nature of the event. They say non-Christians are welcome to attend to hear a message about redemption through Christ.

They ignore one thing: It is absolutely not the job of government to sponsor evangelistic rallies or encourage people to attend them. This type of proselytizing is only appropriate through private, not government-run, channels.

Perry’s partners in this gambit are also problematic. They are best known for angry and divisive rhetoric that often has more to do with politics than salvation. One of the organizers of the event is the International House of Prayer, a controversial congregation based in Grandview, Mo. The church’s founder, Mike Bickle, has been criticized for stressing the need to convert Jews to charismatic forms of Christianity and for a portrayal of Jesus that emphasizes militancy and violence.

The event’s most prominent sponsor, the AFA, is well known for slinging extreme anti-gay and anti-Muslim rhetoric. One of its bloggers, Bryan Fischer, says Adolf Hitler invented church-state separation and believes the United States should yield to biblical law.

Most Americans do not accept these extreme views. It’s bad enough that Perry is using his government office to promote a prayer rally; it’s even worse that the one he is promoting excludes the majority of Americans.

Yet Perry is not only moving forward, he has invited the nation’s other 49 governors to endorse the fundamentalist event!

Americans United urges them all to say no. In fact, we call on Perry to cancel this misguided event. Christians who believe in this type of faith are free to hold a rally on their own. They do not need – not should they receive – government support or sanction.