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Texas Governor Rick Perry's Bizarre, Fringe Mass Prayer Rally -- What Happened to No Gov Meddling in Religion?

Gov. Rick Perry’s call for a day-long event of prayer and fasting Aug. 6 at a sports stadium in Houston is a dramatic escalation of government meddling in religion.

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Eric Bearse, a spokesman for the event who formerly worked as Perry’s communications director, told American Family Radio, which is run by the AFA, that the event would be evangelistic in tone.

“A lot of people want to criticize what we’re doing, as if we’re somehow being exclusive of other faiths,” Bearse said. “But anyone who comes to this solemn assembly, regardless of their faith tradition or background, will feel the love, grace, and warmth of Jesus Christ in that assembly hall, in that arena. And that’s what we want to convey, that there’s acceptance and that there’s love and that there’s hope if people will seek out the living Christ.”

Allan E. Parker Jr., one of the event’s organizers, writes on its website, “This is an explicitly Christian event because we are going to be praying to the one true God through His son, Jesus Christ.It would be idolatry of the worst sort for Christians to gather and invite false gods like Allah and Buddha and their false prophets to be with us at that time.Because we have religious liberty in this country, they are free to have events and pray to Buddha and Allah on their own.But this is time of prayer to the One True God through His son, Jesus Christ, who is The Way, The Truth, and The Life.”

So, if you’re Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist or even a liberal Christian you are welcome to attend this government-promoted Christian fundamentalist prayer rally – just be prepared to endure hardcore proselytizing designed to persuade you to change your views and leave your “false god” at home.

Perry and his backers ignore one thing: It is absolutely not the job of government to sponsor evangelistic rallies or encourage people to attend them. This type of proselytizing is only appropriate through private, not government-run, channels.

Perry’s partners in this gambit are also problematic. They are best known for angry and divisive rhetoric that often has more to do with politics than salvation. One of the organizers of the event is the International House of Prayer, a controversial congregation based in Grandview, Mo. The church’s founder, Mike Bickle, has been criticized for stressing the need to convert Jews to charismatic forms of Christianity and for a portrayal of Jesus that emphasizes militancy and violence.

Bickle also believes he has been to Heaven – twice. He and his followers are known for embracing a type of “theology of retribution.” They worship an angry deity who punishes his wayward subjects with extreme weather, economic downfalls and terrorism. They approach this god in a spirit of fear and trembling, not love and joy.

And in private venues this is their right. Plenty of churches preach this theology. People attend voluntarily, which is their business only. It’s only when the government elevates this narrow version of Christianity above all other forms of faith and non-faith that we have a church-state problem.

It would also be naïve to overlook the politics of this event. Its most prominent sponsor, the AFA, is well known for slinging extreme anti-gay and anti-Muslim rhetoric. The group, founded by the Rev. Donald Wilmon, got its start in the late 1970s as the National Federation for Decency, determined to clean up salacious TV. (How’s that working out for you, Don?)

Over the years, as cable grew and television became even more risqué, Wildmon branched out. These days, his son Tim oversees a sprawling Religious Right empire (annual budget: $21.4 million) in Tupelo, Miss., hitting on all of the theocrats’ favorite themes: gays are immoral, the public school system is damned, feminists want to destroy families, evolution is a lie, etc.

 
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