Texas Governor Rick Perry plans to host a "National Day of Prayer and Fasting" on Saturday, August 6 at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas, in an event is billed as a "non-denominational, apolitical Christian prayer meeting." Despite the "apolitical" label, the event has some political undertones, particularly since Perry has been flirting with a run for the Republican presidential nomination and currently serves as chair of the Republican Governors Association. Perry has invited the other 49 U.S. state governors to the event. The portrayal of the event as a "nondenominational" ceremony is a misnomer, too, since the event will be exclusively Christian, and no other belief systems will be represented.
Controversy surrounding Perry's Day of Prayer is growing quickly. The event is hosted and funded -- including the rental of Houston's huge stadium -- by the Tupelo, Mississippi-based American Family Association (AFA), which the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) labels as an anti-gay hate group. A June 11 editorial in the Houston Chronicle opposing Perry's Day of Prayer said "There could hardly be a more divisive, unforgiving group than the American Family Association," to host the event. The AFA makes no attempt to hide its disdain towards gays and other members of society it considers inferior. In 2010, Bryan Fischer, AFA's Director of Issue Analysis for Government and Public Policy, said, "Homosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and six million dead Jews." Fischer has also openly attacked native Americans. In a February, 2011 blog post (pdf), Fischer wrote that native Americans are morally and culturally inferior because of their refusal to accept Christianity. He wrote, "In all the discussions about the European settlement of the New World, one feature has been conspicuously absent: the role that the superstition, savagery and sexual immorality of native Americans played in making them morally disqualified from sovereign control of American soil." Moreover, Fischer blamed high rates of poverty and alcoholism among native Americans on their refusal to accept Christianity, writing, " ...Many of the tribal reservations today remain mired in poverty and alcoholism because many native Americans continue to cling to the darkness of indigenous superstition instead of coming into the light of Christianity and assimilating into Christian culture."
AFA's president, Tim Wildmon, dismisses SPLC's labeling of AFA as a hate group, saying AFA's stand on homosexuality represents the beliefs of "a lot of people who have traditional values." He adds that the purpose of the Day of Prayer is to pray for an end to the "debasement of our culture." Translation: to pray for an end to America's increasing acceptance of homosexuality.
The Rev. John Hagee, pastor of the Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, is listed as an event endorser. He is the guy who said in a 2006 interview that Hurricane Katrina was God's retribution against New Orelans for planning a gay pride parade. Like Harold Camping, the elderly radio pastor who gained fame in May, 2011 through his absurd failed global apocalypse PR campaign, Hagee preaches about the Rapture and the second coming of Jesus Christ. Hagee predicted on television that the world will end within 20 years. Hagee openly endorsed John McCain for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. Another event endorser, David Barton, is a religious activist in Texas, and also a political consultant to the RNC, who says the United States is a "Christian nation" and calls the separation of church and state "a myth." In appearances across the U.S., Barton has assured pastors that they are permitted to use their pulpit to endorse political candidates, even though doing so violates IRS rules.
Perry's Day of Prayer is causing concern among progressive Houston-area clergy, so much so that they wrote a letter criticizing the event for breaching the wall of separation between church and state, for excluding non-Christians, and for the event's partnership with AFA. In their letter, Houston Clergy Council members wrote, "We ask that Rick Perry leave the ministry to us and refocus his energy on the work of governing our state." They point out that Perry's event is inappropriate, particularly given the religious diversity of the Houston area.
The "Day of Prayer" event is drawing considerable national attention to Perry, coincidentally just as he considers a run for the Republican presidential nomination. Despite this, and the obvious ties between some event backers and the Republican party, Perry denies that the event is politically motivated. Whatever Rick Perry says, though, if he does declare he is running for president, he can credit this controversial event with boosting his name recognition throughout the country.