Governor Rick Perry of Texas is concerned about the state of things in this country and he has an answer: a day of prayer, coincident with a big rally and prayer conference called The Response that he’s invited governors across the country to attend on August 6th. You might think it odd that the governor of one of the largest states in the Union, not to mention a potential 2012 presidential candidate, should embrace religion so openly. But, you need to remember that we’re living in the age of the Tea Party and Perry is governor of Texas, perhaps the most red of all the red states. This isn’t Perry’s first time mixing faith and politics. Back in April, he asked Texans to pray for rain to end a drought and combat more than 8000 wildfires. And, last year, he said the Gulf oil spill might have been an “act of God” that safety regulations couldn’t have prevented. To say that Perry and I are miles apart both theologically and politically is a gross understatement. But, even while giving props to groups like the Secular Coalition for America and their contention that the event is ”an insult to the millions of upstanding citizens who practice religions other than evangelical Christianity”, I’m not against his day of prayer idea. Nor with the fact that it involves government officials. I think if politicians, Perry included, examined their faith a little closer and spent some time in prayer, good things would happen. What I do have a problem with are the people Perry has partnered with to put on his shindig.
Perry’s prayer summit is co-hosted by the American Family Association, a rather innocuous name for what the Southern Poverty Law Center has named a hate group. I will admit that Morris Dees and his people can be a little over the top at times, but I think they got it right in this instance. Saying things like “[T]he homosexual lifestyle is characterized by anonymous sexual encounters and celebration of sexual obsession and perversion unparalleled in any other social group” (Richard Howe, “Homosexuality in America,” AFA publication, 1994) and “The homosexual movement is a progressive outgrowth of the sexual revolution of the past 40 years and will lead to the normalization of even more deviant behavior.” The second quote is from Donald Wildmon, President of the AFA and a Methodist minister, a fact that saddens me more than I can say. But, those comments are mild in comparison to the words of Bryan Fischer, the AFA’s Director of Issues Analysis. Fischer is a firebrand’s firebrand, equating gay people with Nazis and said that we “have feminized the Medal of Honor” by awarding it to a soldiers for saving their comrades rather than killing the enemy. Grace is one of the most vital commodities of the faith that I believe in. While people like Fischer, Wildmon and others at the AFA also claim to be adherents to that same faith, they definitely have a different way of approaching it; one that seems rather short on that vital commodity.
Regardless of how you view LGBT issues theologically, whether it’s a sin or the way God made you, at street level (where the rubber meets the road, as my friend and mentor Paul Wilson always says), as a follower of Christ, your only real choice is love them. Comments like those of the AFA, its members and leaders don’t match up with that choice. For an elected official to partner with such a group in any way, shape, form or fashion gives them a very troubling legitimacy. Two days ago, Reverend Ellen Cooper-Davis addressed this same subject and her words on the matter are far more eloquent than anything I could say:
“I am a person of faith. Like many people of many different faiths, I believe that prayer can be a powerful tool for generating visions of beloved community, combating despair, and reconnecting to our deepest purposes and truths. Prayer is a way of connecting to what is most sacred and holy, to wholeness. There is no place in a call to prayer for hate, or intolerance, or extremism or bigotry. At best, that is a gross misuse of human prayer. At worst, it is an affront to God.
So, Mr. Perry, you are calling this nation, whose “knees are buckling” to sink down onto those knees and pray. I will pray that day. I will pray that your heart is opened, that you learn humility, that you put aside hate and embrace compassion. I will pray that you reach your heaven. God reconciles, forgives and embraces all people. Even the Governor of Texas.”