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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.

And though he was mum on what his own role would be at the event, distancing himself and hinting that he may not speak at all, until the last minute, Perry took to the stage Saturday and owned the revival inside Reliant Stadium.

I found one source of the controversy plaguing Perry’s Response, AFA director of issue analysis Bryan Fischer, seated in the stands near the edge of the stadium floor. Fischer is one of the organization’s loudest voices, a man who holds homosexuals responsible for the Holocaust and asserts, among other things, that gays and Muslims should be banned from holding public office. While Fischer claims he had “no role whatsoever” in Perry’s event, the governor tapped the AFA, an organization the Southern Poverty Law Center deems a hate group, to lead and underwrite the million-dollar event. “It’s the truth,” Fischer said when asked of his long stream of divisive comments. “I’m not going to apologize for speaking the truth.”

In our conversation, Fischer blamed the cloud of controversy around Perry’s Response on a “sweeping effort on the part of secular fundamentalists to hurt this event.” As we discussed religion’s role in policy-making, the seminal concern sparking much of the protest outside Reliant Stadium, Fischer insisted there’s no decoupling faith and politics — the Response, he eventually conceded, wasn’t really apolitical, because for a true believer, apolitical doesn’t exist.

Fischer pulled out a leather-bound journal and read a quote attributed to John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, that it is “the duty as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.” Stretching out his arm, pointing to the crowd of thousands gathered below us, Fischer remarked, “This is exactly what the founders wanted, what you see here today. … Our founders believed that our public policy should be aligned with the laws of nature and the laws of God. … Marriage is one of those things. Marriage is between one man and one woman, and we tamper with that at our peril.”

Fischer’s sentiment was echoed to some degree by nearly all of those I spoke to at the stadium, those on the front lines of the revival.

Elizabeth Hilton of Houston, who came to the Response with her father and two-year-old son, stuck to the back of the stadium, singing, praying, and lifting her arms to the sky, periodically writhing and jumping in a spiritual daze. Hilton, who said her husband is a “reformed homosexual” who repented after finding religion, spoke of her Christian faith with fire and passion. “We the church, God’s people, should be governing our nation,” she said. And Perry’s supposed presidential aspirations weren’t lost on her. “I’d love to see someone like Governor Perry, who truly fears God, in the White House.”

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