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Dispatches from the front lines of Perry’s political revival

Photo: Photos by Michael Barajas, License: N/A

Photos by Michael Barajas

Organizers said over 30,000 attended the Perry-prompted prayer rally in Houston’s Reliant Stadium Saturday, dubbed “The Response.”

Photo: , License: N/A

Dozens of protesters took to the sidewalks outside “The Response” Saturday, claiming Perry’s event blurred the lines between church and state.

Buried in his 13-minute speech/prayer/scripture-reading delivered Saturday before a throng of 30,000 faithful, Texas Governor Rick Perry delivered two lines with the slightest of smiles beneath the bright lights of Houston’s Reliant Stadium. He said the Almighty’s agenda is “not a political agenda, his agenda is a salvation agenda,” and that “He is a wise, wise God and he’s wise enough not to be affiliated with any political party.”

It was enough to convince headline writers across the state that the Gov had somehow managed to keep the weekend’s much-anticipated religious revival — the Perry-prompted “Response” — apolitical. Yet even the slightest of scratches on Perry’s polish shows otherwise.

Even as Perry delivered those words intended to appease separation-of-church-and-state hounds, he was flanked onstage by Alice Patterson, the founder of San Antonio’s Justice At The Gate ministries. It is Patterson who claims in her 2010 book Bridging the Racial and Political Divide: How Godly Politics Can Transform a Nation that the Democratic Party is run by a shadowy horde of (yes, this is a literalist bunch, remember) demons.

Amid the calls to defend marriage from homosexuals and end abortion, an even more fundamental refrain kept repeating: Threaded throughout a steady stream of speeches, amplified prayers, and music, was a political pulse calling the (again) “faithful” to drive the nation and her leaders “back to God.”

Another America was taking shape here.

Among the thousands of rank-and-file evangelicals were worshippers staring at the stadium rafters, some teary-eyed and speaking incoherently in tongues as Perry prayed with the fire of a revivalist preacher. “Father, our hearts break for America,” Perry said. “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.”

Perry drew a swarm of criticism in announcing his sponsors for the event, which included fringe religious-right figureheads like the American Family Association, self-described as “on the frontlines of America’s culture war,” leaders within the controversial New Apostolic Reformation movement, and mega-church stars like San Antonio’s John Hagee.

“Many of the sponsors and endorsers of this event represent the extreme of religious conservatives,” Kathy Miller of the religious-right watchdog group Texas Freedom Network said last week. “They’re really on the fringe, from calling the Statue of Liberty a demonic symbol to suggesting that Oprah is the precursor to the anti-Christ” — views espoused by Response sponsors John Benefiel of the Heartland Apostolic Prayer Network and Mike Bickle of Kansas City’s International House of Prayer, respectively. “It’s disturbing, to say the least, that any elected official, including Governor Perry, would be willing to share the stage with people who have said those hateful and extremist things in the name of promoting their own narrow religious perspective,” Miller said.

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