Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Rick Perry’s Relationship With the Most Extreme Elements of Evangelical Christianity

So it appears that Texas Governor Rick Perry really does want to be President (of the United States, not an independent nation of Texas, suggestions of Texas secession notwithstanding). This past weekend, a prayer rally that he organized (though apparently turned over operational control of) was held in Houston to an audience of about 30,000 (dwarfed by the poor people that showed up across town to receive free school supplies). Gov. Perry has made his evangelical Christian beliefs a central part of his political persona as reflected in his decision to hold the prayer rally for Americans to pray for G-d to help us solve our problems (but query why he’d want to be President if we Americans can’t solve our problems on our own but, rather, require divine intervention in order to do so; wouldn’t that call for a Head Priest instead of a President?). Anyway, given that Gov. Perry is apparently going to announce his candidacy this weekend, it seems appropriate to look at the views of the evangelical organizations and individuals that he has associated with generally and for his rally in particular.

One brief side note: This is not a case of tarring someone via guilt by association. By giving these speakers a platform, Gov. Perry is at least implicitly (if not explicitly) endorsing those organizations and speakers. If he disagreed with their message, he could have (and should have) left them off the list of invited speakers. This is different than sitting in the pews and not objecting; this is calling these views to the forefront and giving them a platform and the air of respectability.

So, on to Gov. Perry’s evangelical friends. I hope that my non-evangelical Christian readers (not to mention my Jewish and Muslim and atheist readers) will be very wary of Gov. Perry and the views that he either espouses directly or which are held by those with whom he chooses to publicly associate.

First up is the American Family Association, the organization that apparently paid the bill for Gov. Perry’s prayer rally. The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies the American Family Association as an anti-gay hate group. The American Family Association’s “director of issue analysis for government and public policy” is Bryan Fischer who is also on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s hate radar. But let’s not just take the word of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Let’s listen to the words of the American Family Association’s director of issue analysis for government and public policy on the American Family Association’s  own radio network. Here’s a “best of” compilation from People for the American Way’s Right Wing Watch website (and even if gay rights isn’t a issue that matters much to you, keep listening; Fischer goes after others, too):

 

For a much more detailed examination of the views expressed by Fischer and the American Family Association, please read Right Wing Watch’s detailed article The GOP's Favorite Hate-Monger: How the Republican Party Came to Embrace Bryan Fischer (the entire article can be download in .pdf form). Oh, and one more Fischer quote that I just couldn’t resist mentioning: “Native Americans Morally Disqualified Themselves From the Land” (that’s the title of an article he penned in response to the Native American prayer that opened the memorial to the victims of the Tucson shooting in January). According to Fischer (and remember, he speaks on behalf of the American Family Association), by refusing to convert to Christianity and giving up their pagan ways, the Native Americans “morally disqualified themselves from the land.” Wow.

This is who Gov. Perry chose to coordinate his prayer rally. If Gov. Perry objects to the views espoused by Fischer and the American Family Association, I’m sure that he could have found another evangelical Christian organization to host his rally. So it is hard to understand how Gov. Perry could choose to be associated with a viewpoint like this, to give the organization with that viewpoint an important role in his prayer rally, but not also be associated with the views of that organization.

Let’s also take a quick look at the purpose of the prayer rally. After the rally was announced, in response to criticism of the involvement of Fischer and the American Family Association (Fischer criticized the critics by going on another rant about gays and Nazis), Gov. Perry’s spokesperson was interviewed:

When asked if Perry agrees with Fischer’s statements, spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger said, “Governor Perry is looking forward to the event. AFA is an organization that promotes safe and strong families. These controversies aren’t relevant to the event, Governor Perry is focused on what he is trying to accomplish, which is bringing America together in prayer for the nation.”

Asked again if Perry agrees with Fischer, she said, “This event is about prayer focused on bringing America together for challenges faced, these comments don’t have anything to do with this event.”

She added, “[Perry] is very clear with his faith. His priority with this event is bringing people together.”

She also said, “Those statements and other controversial statements made have nothing to do with what the Governor is trying to promote.”

But shortly thereafter, in an interview on the American Family Association’s radio network, Eric Bearse, the spokesman for the prayer rally and the former Director of Communications for Gov. Perry said:

A lot of people want to criticize what we’re doing, as if we’re somehow being exclusive of other faiths. 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. And that’s the message we want to spread on August 6th.

You see? The prayer rally for all Americans, as long as they wanted to hear about Jesus Christ. In other words, Gov. Perry wanted to bring people together in order to proselytize. Is that really the role for elected politicians?

But anyway, let’s go back to the other associates of Gov. Perry and speakers at the rally.

One of the featured speakers is Rev. John Hagee. People who were reading this blog during the 2008 election might recall my references to Rev. Hagee when Sen. McCain was forced to reject Rev. Hagee’s endorsement. Why did Sen. McCain reject an endorsement? He was forced to when it came to light that, among other things, Rev. Hagee asserted that the Catholic Church is a "great whore," that Nazis were acting as agents of God to drive Jews out of Europe to Palestine, and that Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans because of the amount of sin in that city. Subsequent to that post, I’ve also come across statements by Rev. Hagee claiming that wives must submit themselves to their husbands and that G-d won’t allow America to win wars anymore because we’ve allowed the worship of Satan in the military. For more, including links, please read People for the American Way’s Gov. Rick Perry’s Extremist Allies. Yep. Those are the views of another of Gov. Perry’s associates.

Or we could talk about Pastor Jim Garlow. Here’s a brief excerpt from Right Wing Watch’s review:

Garlow has a long record of extreme rhetoric. He:

We can’t forget Mike Bickle and the International House of Pancakes Prayer. Here’s my favorite Bickle quotation:

The Harlot Babylon is preparing the nations to receive the Antichrist. The Harlot Babylon will b a religion of affirmation, toleration, no absolutes, a counterfeit justice movement. They will feed the poor, have humanitarian projects, inspire acts of compassion for all the wrong reasons. They won’t know it, beloved they will be sincere, many of them, but their sincerity will not in any way lessen the impact of their deception. The fact that they are sincere does not make their deception less damaging. I believe that one of the main pastors, as a forerunner to the Harlot movement, it’s not the Harlot movement yet, is Oprah. She is winsome, she is kind, she is reasonable, she is utterly deceived, utterly deceived. A classy woman, a cool woman, a charming woman, but has a spirit of deception and she is one of the clear pastors, forerunners to the Harlot movement.

That’s right. Oprah Winfrey is an agent of the Antichrist. While he didn’t repeat this claim during the prayer rally, he was quite clear that all other religions in the world are wrong and that the only definition of morality and right and wrong is the word of Jesus (thus, if I’m not mistaken, since Jesus said nothing about homosexuality, then evangelical Christians shouldn’t be spending much time on that particular issue…). Oh, and Bickle’s group? They released a lovely little video encouraging their followers to try to convert Jews to Christianity because “He will return only when Israel is ready and willing to receive Him as their savior and king.” (I hope my Jewish friends who think the Christian Zionist movement is purely benevolent will watch this video and remember this prayer for Jewish conversion…)

For those who like their bigotry with a dose of crazy, we can look to Dr. Cindy Jacobs who suggests that G-d caused thousands of birds to die and fall out of the sky last year because of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Seriously.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention John Benefiel. You just have to listen to this one to believe it (transcript below provided by Right Wing Watch):

 

Benefiel: Libertas is also called the Freedom Goddess, Lady Freedom, the Goddess of Liberty. You know there’s a statue in New York harbor called the Statue of Liberty. You know where we got it from? French Free Masons. Listen folks that is an idol, a demonic idol, right there in New York harbor. People say, ‘well no it’s patriotic.’ What makes it patriotic? Why is it? It’s a statue of a false goddess, the Queen of Heaven. We don’t get liberty from a false goddess folks, we get our liberty from Jesus Christ and that Statue of Liberty in no way glorifies Jesus Christ. There is no connection whatsoever. So I’m just telling you we practice idolatry in America in ways that we don’t even recognize.

Really. The Statue of Liberty is a demonic idol. And yet people take this crap seriously. And they want our country to operate on the basis of their ideals and biblical teaching.

Finally, for my Jewish readers, the prayer rally even had a prayer for Jews to “come to their Messiah” with the claim that “Tens even hundreds of thousands of Jewish people in the last decades have come to their Messiah”. For my Gentile friends, this prayer is nothing less than a prayer for Jews to convert to Christianity. But reflect back to the statement from Gov. Perry’s spokesperson about the purpose of the prayer rally: “[B]ringing America together in prayer for the nation” (emphasis added). How exactly does a prayer for Jewish conversion fall into the category of prayer “for the nation” unless, in the worldview of those offering and supporting that prayer, the nation needs Jews to convert. I’d like to hear Gov. Perry’s thoughts on that issue…

Incidentally, one of the sponsors of Gov. Perry’s overtly Christian prayer rally was Rabbi Marty Waldman of Baruch HaShem Messianic Synagogue in Dallas. So what is a Rabbi doing in this crowd? Simple. A messianic Jew (as they call themselves) is not a Jew at all; rather, they are very evangelical Christians who have adopted the trappings of Judaism. They claim to be Jews who have adopted Jesus. I’ve had run-ins with groups of messianic Jews (they used to be known as Jews for Jesus) since I was in high school and I’ve watched them prey upon the elderly, kids, and recent immigrants with a limited grasp of English or their own religious beliefs, all while these so-called messianic Jews hold themselves out as “true Jews”. These people are frauds. And Gov. Perry is associating with them, too. I’d compare this relationship to a Catholic politician hanging out with Mel Gibson’s brand of Catholicism … but that’s not a close enough analogy. Perhaps it would be a bit more like Mitt Romney hanging out with Warren Jeffs and his child-molesting polygamist cult…

I could go on. And on. And on. These are the views of Gov. Perry’s allies and chosen associates. Please take a few minutes and read through People for the American Way’s article Gov. Rick Perry’s Extremist Allies. Or, if you’re interested, read Right Wing Watch’s recap of the prayer rally.

If you should have the chance to pose a question to Gov. Perry, ask him to directly repudiate some of these views and the people who hold them. And, when it comes time to go to a ballot box, remember these people and the opinions they espouse. Because should Perry move into the White House, you can bet that these people, and others with similar views, will be on the guest list and will help draft the policies that come from a Perry administration. And you can be certain that these are the views that would form the litmus test for Federal judicial appointments. Can you imagine a Supreme Court Justice that believed, as the American Family Association does, that the First Amendment guaranty of freedom of religion applies only to Christians? I guess that will be great for evangelical Christians, but it won’t be so good for the rest of us.

We cannot allow Rick Perry to get anywhere close to the White House. I’m going to go out on a limb here: Gov. Perry is nothing more (but perhaps far worse) than Sarah Palin without the lipstick.

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