Prayer Rally Roundup: If You're Ever in Houston, You Better Do the Right

Paul Harvey

Civil religious prayers, fast days, proclamations of thanksgiving and/or humbling, and organized mass praying events have a long history in America from the Puritans to the present. So does the long history of politicians trying to capitalize on group piety -- sometimes much to their own detriment, as John Adams speculated about his own participation in one such effort. He might tell the participants:

If you're ever in Houston, well you better do the right,
You better not gamble, you better not fight

The latest -- and surely one of the most egregiously sectarian and transparently partisan -- is Rick Perry's Prayer Rally, called The Response, scheduled tomorrow for Houston. The Miami Herald gives some background on Perry and the rally here, and one of its main sponsors, a rapture-ready prayer warrior group called the "International House of Prayer," here. Our local friend James Dobson, an "honorary chairman" for the event, advertises it as follows: "We believe that America is in crisis -- not just politically, financially, or morally, but because our nation has not honored God in its sucesses or humbly called on Him in its struggles." Compared to the statements of many of the other sponsors, that is positively pluralistic, or at least stays within the usual vein of rhetoric surrounding historic fast days, jeremiad sermons, and the like.

Mark Silk examines the ways in which this particular event transgresses the usual norms of civil religious events. The Response's website announces: "As a nation we must come together and call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles, and thank Him for the blessings of freedom we so richly enjoy." So much for Protestant-Catholic-Jew!.

Beyond that, I say "egregious" above because of its sponsorship, in part, by the American Family Association, a Tupelo, Mississippi-based group with a long and disturbing history of connections with white supremacists, theocrats, and various other disreputable characters from the fringe far right, as well as a pattern of abusive relations directed towards some of its employees.

The New York Times briefly covers the history of the AFA here, but much more effective and searching is Sarah Posner's detailed expose here, a must read in understanding the deeper background of this event. My favorite: The AFA's radio host Bryan Fischer's analysis of the origins of the Nazi Party among a group of "homosexual thugs." Beyond that bit of historical amusement, however, comes some far more disturbing sentiments:

Fischer admits that he shares with Breivik that disdain for "multiculturalism" and "politically correct elites" who are ruining our culture -- for Breivik, it's a "pure" European or Nordic culture; for Fischer, it's "Judeo-Christian" American culture.

I'm assuming that the event will mostly consist of the usual mixture of patriotism and piety, and likely will be largely unremarkable in that regard. But the openly proselytizing nature of the proceedings, and the notably central presence of so many from the far-right fringe, makes it remarkable in its own way. Perhaps it's also why almost every national politician is keeping his/her distance from it. You know, those inconvenient scheduling conflicts, and all that. Me? I'm unable to attend because I need more time to spend with my family. Isn't that right, Omar? (He just meowed in response).


Luke Harlow said…
So are Becky Goetz and Phil Sinitiere live-blogging this thing, or what? ;)
Paul Harvey said…
Luke, Becky is at home watching the Weather Channel 24-7, searching for the slightest hint of hurricanes, or hell, even just a tropical storm to pass within 500 miles. But she has a colleague who will be live-tweeting it, and I'll be following that. Hard to see it after all the buildup that it will be more than the usual pious platitudes that always fill these things (I've been to many of them, trust me, albeit in high school auditoriums rather than at giant stadiums).

Phil, how about you?