Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s prayer rally drew tens of thousands of participants and dozens of conservative Christian leaders to Houston on Saturday. Dubbed “The Response,” the event adds speculation that Perry will soon launch a presidential run.
Perry, who once worked as a door-to-door Bible salesman, wove several Bible verses and prayer into his 13-minute speech as he spoke about his personal beliefs on sin and salvation. He highlighted Joel 2:12-17, a passage he had used to promote the event.
“Father, our heart breaks for America,” Perry prayed. “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.”
“Father, we pray for our president, that you would impart your wisdom upon him, that you would guard his family,” added Perry, a Republican.
Organizers of “The Response” said more than 30,000 people attended the event at Reliant Stadium.
Perry’s response and remarks drew strong applause from the crowd, as did the remarks of other speakers. Among the speakers were a few other Republican politicians.
Republican Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback attended the event, urging prayers for the nation and its leaders. Brownback unsuccessfully sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.
“Thank you for praying for your country,” Brownback said. “Your nation needs your prayers.”
Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott offered remarks in a prerecorded video.
“I ask you to pray that the leaders of our nation and our states have wisdom in all their decisions,” Scott said from what appeared to be his office. “We join with you in calling on God for his guidance and direction, but most of all, we ask him for wisdom for our leaders and the people of our nation.”
Others who prayed and spoke included pseudo-historian David Barton, James and Shirley Dobson, controversial pastor John Hagee, Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins and evangelist James Robison.
The crowd often applauded during prayers, such as when Vonette Bright prayed for the Ten Commandments and prayer to be allowed in public schools.
Many platform personalities, including conservative preacher Harry Jackson, read their prayers. Jackson read his prayer to end abortion from an iPad. Others, like Perkins, gestured dramatically during their prayers.
In between prayers and short speeches from event leaders, the crowd joined music leaders in singing numerous hymns and praise music. The event also included times when those in the stadium broke into small groups to pray about specific topics.
Although the day was billed as one for prayer and fasting, concession stands at the stadium were open and attracting lines of hungry participants.
Last week, Perry said the inspiration for holding Saturday’s event came after he met with Robison and conservative political organizer David Lane.
EthicsDaily.com broke the news in June that Robison had encouraged Perry to lead a national prayer effort.
For several months, Robison has been leading meetings of conservative Christian leaders to strategize in the lead-up to the 2012 presidential election.
The group, which has included Lane and numerous other key leaders of “The Response,” met in September 2010 and met again in June 2011. EthicsDaily.com broke the news that Perry spoke to the behind-closed-doors June meeting.
Robison led a similar effort prior to the 1980 presidential election as he sought to defeat then-President Jimmy Carter. That effort culminated in an August 1980 rally in Dallas with then-Republican presidential nominee Ronald Reagan as the key speaker.
Southern Baptist Convention leader Richard Land, one of the honorary co-chairs of the event and a participant in Robison’s group, used “The Response” to attack liberals on his radio program “Richard Land Live!”
“This probably is going to drive Prozac sales up for liberals in America,” Land said as he broadcast live from the event.
Land, who exaggerated the audience by claiming more than 50,000 attended, also attacked liberals for claiming the event would draw only 8,000.
However, the 8,000 figure came from organizers of “The Response” and not from reporters or critics of the event.
Before the event, Land claimed it was important because the 2012 presidential election will be “the most important election in American history since 1860.”
He reiterated that claim Saturday during his live broadcast from the event. His guest at that moment, Family Research Council’s Perkins, agreed with that assessment.
Others also made connections between the event and the situation 150 years ago.
John Hagee, a megachurch pastor in San Antonio whose endorsement was rejected by 2008 Republican nominee John McCain due to Hagee’s controversial statements, led a time of prayer during “The Response.”
“We pray for our governor, Rick Perry, who has had the courage together to call this kind of fasting and prayer just as Abraham Lincoln did in the darkest days of the Civil War,” Hagee prayed.
“We pray for our leaders in Washington, D.C.,” Hagee also prayed. “That the cloud of chaos and confusion that engulfs that city may be lifted.”
Although most of the rhetoric at the event focused on spiritual issues and biblical citations, many comments – like Hagee’s – included thinly-veiled political references.
The numerous comments by conservative Christian leaders and Republican politicians about the need for national change could easily shift from a spiritual message to one that is also political.
The website for “The Response” even makes the connection between the spiritual and political messages in the biography of the event’s national finance chairman, David Lane, who was one of the two individuals Perry said inspired him to host the event.
“David Lane educates and energizes pastors to mobilize their congregations to vote their faith,” the website notes. “In 2010 he organized pastor meetings in key battleground states resulting in a significant increase in voter turnout. He often says, ‘What I do is spiritual. The by-product is political.'”
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.