HOUSTON (BP)–Delivering one of the more explicitly Christian speeches in recent history by a major figure considering a run for the White House, Texas Gov. Rick Perry told more than 30,000 Believers in Houston Aug. 6 that America has “forgotten Who made us” and that God is the nation’s “only hope.”
“He’s calling all Americans, of all walks of life, to seek Him, to return to Him, to experience His love and His grace and His acceptance, experience a fulfilled life regardless of the circumstances,” Perry said before reading passages from Joel 2:12-17, Isaiah 40:28-31 and Ephesians 3:14-21 — the latter passage rich in Christian doctrine.
Perry’s participation in the event, dubbed “The Response,” was viewed as controversial by some political observers, and an unsuccessful lawsuit even sought to keep him from attending. Perry did not sponsor the event and was only a participant, although his possible candidacy made him the most high-profile speaker. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who is not considering a run for the White House, also spoke.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, participated in the event and broadcast his weekend radio program live from the stadium.
The event, sponsored by the American Family Association, was labeled a “day of fasting and praying for America.”
Perry, who has been in office for 10 years, is expected to announce in the coming days — perhaps as soon as Saturday — if he will seek the Republican nomination. Polls suggest he would be an instant contender, perhaps behind only Mitt Romney.
Perry prayed for America and for the president.
“Lord, you are the source of every good thing. You are our only hope,” Perry said. “And we stand before you today in awe of Your power — in gratitude for Your blessings, in humility for our sins. Father, our heart breaks for America. 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, and for that we cry out for Your forgiveness. We pray for our nation’s leaders, Lord, for parents, for pastors, for the generals, for governors, that You would inspire them in these difficult times.
“Father, we pray for our president, that you would impart Your wisdom upon him, that You would guard his family.”
He added, “You call us to repent, Lord, and this day is our response.”
Broadcasting from the stadium, Land said the event was not “a political rally” but was “a movement of the Holy Spirit.” He said a reporter asked him if Perry’s participation would hurt his possible run for the White House.
“I said, ‘Why would it hurt Gov Perry if he runs for president to call the nation to prayer?'” Land said, adding that Abraham Lincoln and George Washington also called the nation to prayer. “I said, ‘This is not considered exotic activity outside the elites and outside the beltway. This is considered normal, healthy activity — when there’s a time of crisis, people come together and pray.'”
Thomas S. Kidd, who teaches history at Baylor University, argued in a Patheos.com column that Perry had a constitutional right to participate but possibly should still have skipped the event.
“The secularists’ incessant lawsuits over constitutionality keep evangelicals and other Christians from having a sober discussion about what kind of religious events are appropriate (and not merely legal) for elected officials,” Kidd wrote in the Aug. 3 column. “While I would staunchly defend Perry’s right to hold ‘The Response,’ whether he should is another question. Do Christians really want prayer meetings to be campaign events? Is it possible to separate the piety of ‘The Response’ from Republican primary politics?”
Addressing the crowd, Perry said that he feels burdened for the nation.
“Like all of you, I love this country deeply,” Perry said. “Thank-you all for being here. Indeed the only thing that you love more is the living Christ. But our hearts do break for those who suffer, those afflicted by the loss of loved ones, the pain of addiction, the strife that they may find at home, those who have lost jobs, who have lost their homes, people who have lost hope. Those who cannot see the light in the midst of all the darkness. But because we know a loving God, we know the greatest darkness comes just before the morning.”
Perry added, “This God who knows our imperfections, He didn’t leave us to live a life in our sins, but paid the price for them. He who knew no sin, He gave His life in ransom for many. This loving and perfect God is also a personal God. He desires not a show of religion, but a deep connection with our innermost being.
“His agenda is not a political agenda. His agenda is a salvation agenda.”
Perry grew up Methodist but now attends Lakes Hill Church in Austin, a nondenominational evangelical congregation, according to Texas media.
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.