From El Paso Times:
HOUSTON — Spotlights shined on a stage that seemed set for a massive rock concert.
Three 18-by-24-foot projection screens allowed an estimated 30,000 people to watch and pray, sometimes on their knees, as Texas Gov. Rick Perry and other speakers took the stage and called on God to lead “a nation in crisis.”
Attendees at The Response, a Christian prayer event and brainchild of Perry, at times appeared as if they were at a rock performance: raising their arms in the air, weeping and singing along to lyrics that included “God end abortion.”
And, like a rock star, Perry, 61, beamed as he twice walked on stage to adoring fans or, in this case, the conservative Christians he eagerly hopes to woo as he weighs his national political aspirations.
Original painting (Dinner at Emmaus by Caravaggio)
(Click on image for larger version)
Participants at the specifically Christian prayer event filled less than half of Houston’s 71,500-seat Reliant Stadium but gave Perry the platform he sought to talk about his love of country and God. He also spoke to about 1,300 religious groups that were streaming the event live in their communities, saying the only thing participants loved more than the United States was “the living Christ.”
Perry, now mulling a run for the Republican nomination for president, had said the event would not be political but he wasted little time in asking God to help guide political leaders, always speaking of “them” and not including himself in the plea for direction.
Perry, a constant critic of Democratic President Barack Obama and Washington politicians, could soon be trying to join their ranks. He is expected to announce as early as this week a campaign for the presidency.
It is unclear how Perry’s involvement in the prayer event will play with voters on a national stage. It sparked support from conservative Christians, while drawing strong opposition from civil rights groups, who said it ignores the separation of church and state, promotes one religion over another and violates the governor’s duty to treat all Texans equally.
By participating in the event, Perry gave an unspoken nod to conservative Christians that, should he run for president, he would be a candidate who shares in their opposition to issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. He talked about a heart that “breaks for America” and said that as God calls for repentance “this day is our response.”
The about $1 million price tag for the prayer day is being paid for through donations to the American Family Association, an event spokesman said. The “pro-family” organization has been criticized by civil rights groups for some of its out-of-mainstream positions and comments. One prominent member of the organization [Bryan Fischer] has suggested that Adolf Hitler was gay and “homosexual thugs” created the Nazi Party.
No expense seemed spared on the event, which called for prayer and fasting.
Perry himself was fasting during the event but had scheduled dinner plans with organizers afterward, spokesman Mark Miner said. Long lines also formed at concession stands that offered hot dogs, nachos and pretzels for participants who chose not to fast.
And, unlike at rock concerts, attendees generally did not leave drenched in sweat as air conditioning blasted through the 1.9-million-square-foot building the day after Perry asked Texans to conserve energy to help minimize power outages.
“Because of the extreme heat that has created an unprecedented demand on the state’s energy grid, and with no relief in sight, all Texas residents and businesses are being asked to conserve electricity,” Perry said in a statement issued Friday.
Perry urged people to conserve energy over the weekend and next week, “especially during the peak hours of 3 to 7 p.m.” His prayer event ran from 8 a.m. to about 4:30 p.m. Saturday.
Meanwhile, protesters stood on a sun-baked sidewalk outside the stadium waving signs that read: “Hate speech is not Godful,” “Your prayer can’t hide your hate,” “Didn’t a governor put Jesus to death” and “Pastor Perry must resign”
John Hagee, the pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, asked attendees to pray for Perry “who has had the courage, today, to call for this time of fasting and prayer just as Abraham Lincoln did in the darkest days of the Civil War.” [But I don’t recall Lincoln ever calling for secession. But maybe I’ve just forgotten.]
Perry’s invitation to President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, congressional and Senate leaders from Texas, and all of the country’s state governors generally fell flat.
The only other governor to attend and speak at the event was Sam Brownback, a Republican from Kansas. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, also a Republican, taped a message that was played at the event, but he was not present.
U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, said he did not plan to attend an event that was held simply for Perry’s “own self-serving interest to bolster his national image before running for president.”
“If he is sincere, I hope he prays for the Texas children who will have fewer educational opportunities, the elderly and the poor who will lose access to vital health-care services, and for the rest of us who will have to pay more in local taxes because of his desire to spare the wealthiest from new taxes at the state level,” Reyes said in an email to the El Paso Times.