The Relative Comment

soothing waves of relativity

Rick Perry, Go into your closet and pray, please.

with 3 comments

Rick Perry is the new Michele Bachmann, I guess. He’s getting all the news, while Bachmann is relegated to the cover of Newsweek. The big Perry News this week is on the Prayer Rally he held in Reliant Stadium in Houston, TX. Here’s how the Times described the event:

“The governor, as both a private citizen and an elected leader, delivering a message to the Lord at a Christian prayer rally he created, while using his office’s prestige, letterhead, Web site and other resources to promote it. Mr. Perry said he wanted people of all faiths to attend, but Christianity dominated the service and the religious affiliations of the crowd. The prayers were given in Jesus Christ’s name, and the many musical performers sang of Christian themes of repentance and salvation.”*

It is easy to be appalled by this. That is, if you are like me, and think (based on the History, and Facts, et al) that we have a nation that is built very clearly on the separation of Church and State. Thus seeing Rick Perry, the Governor of Texas and potentially the next big Republican Presidential Candidate, bring together a giant pray-for-the-US political event before announcing whether or not to run for President (either is a highly political choice) is difficult to stomach. Especially since Jesus had pretty clear instructions on how to pray: “When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” Seems difficult to get: ‘Rent a Football stadium for a political-prayer rally’ from such a direct statement. (Bible argument! Score!)

Readers of this blog know that TRC worries about the separation of Church and State, the mingling of religion and politics, and religion and science, and politics and science and religion, as well as the willingness of some on the Conservative side to simply ignore that the former-Englishmen who established this country were quite aware of what a Christian Nation looked like, and took great pains to avoid creating that kind of nation in the United States. In fact, pretty much right at the beginning of the Bill of Rights, this was made pretty clear.

But somehow, we are often told that the Founding Fathers were Christians, probably evangelical protestant fundamentalists at that, who wanted a Christian Nation and the separation of Church and State is nothing more than Liberal fanciness. In fact, you may remember, this all started because T. Jefferson was misquoted.

Anyway. Roger Ebert is a thoughtful writer and blogged on the Perry event.

A prayer “rally?” I can think of words like gathering and meeting that might more perfectly evoke the spirit. Prayer rallies make me think of pep rallies. Their purpose is to jack up the spirits of the home team and alarm the other side.
Of course the other side has its own pep rallies, presumably leaving it to God to choose sides. That is why team prayers before a game strike me as somewhere between silly and sacrilegious. No infinite being can possibly care if Illinois beats Michigan. … 

There are not two sides to the separation of Church and State. There is only this: They must be separated for the health of our democracy. Americans are of many faiths and none. Our laws must apply equally to all. If your God doesn’t agree, does that mean He accepts instructions from you? Are you content with such a God? 

*This reminds of a great Bo Burnham stand-up bit, where just before starting a prayer, he invites all religions to join in because it is a prayer designed to bring all faiths together, and begins “Dear Jesus of Nazareth…”

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Written by Christopher ZF

August 8, 2011 at 16:26

3 Responses

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  1. Believe me, I don’t like this any more than you do. As a Christian and a conservative (and never using both of those words literally back-to-back to describe myself, because that creates an entirely different animal in our social context), I’m as sensitve as any to inappropriate conflations concerning the two. But let me ask you a question. If this had not the imprimatur of the state (letterhead, governor’s website, etc.), would this still bother you or not? I agree with your appeal to Jesus regarding the nature of prayer, and sympathize with Ebert’s consternation over a rally, but these are theological comments and have nothing to do with the political issue of church and state. It seems to me that some people are just uncomfortable with overtly religious people holding political office and talking about religion publicly. And I can promise you that even though the founders were far from the Christian fundamentalists that my mother thinks they were, they did not intend to ban all religious elements from the public square. Not that you personally are saying all of that, but I sense that from commentators like Ebert and lots of others.
    What bothers me from a political standpoint is the fact that he used offical letterhead to promote the meeting– that is enough to find this impermissible under an appropriately-considered church and state regime. But I do find the theological appeals telling, especially because they should be unnecessary.

    Brandon

    August 8, 2011 at 17:57

    • It is indeed the combining of the two. Christian prayer events at stadiums are fine. I’ve attended them in my day. But he is without question making an inappropriate breach as gov. using his office to promote it, and tying it intimately to his presidential case…more to come.

      czfinke

      August 8, 2011 at 18:38

    • OK, I’m back.
      I really don’t mind having religious folks in government. I also do not mind those people holding to their values, and making decisions based on those values.
      And having politicians talk about their faith and religion openly, that is perfectly fine. One of the reasons that I think Obama won as many white-middle-class suburban family voters as he did in 2008 was that he was clearly more capable, and sincere, in his ability talk about the importance of Jesus Christ in his life than John McCain was.

      The real problem for me is having people try to remake government in to their vision of a Christian Society, as though the laws that are not suitable to their values should simply be overturned. It is totally appropriate to have religious conservatives representing US Gov’t. It is not acceptable for those officials to attempt to legislate Christianity into US law, or make laws based on their interpretation of Christianity, because US government strictly forbids the creation of a state of Religion.
      We all want to see the government change towards that which we believe–I want Gay Marriage to be legal everywhere in the US–but it’s not enough to make a religious argument for such as being the foundation of legal change. One must make a legal or policy argument, in the legislature or the courts, to overturn what is already the law. In a non-religious context, environmental protections are a good example. The Clean Air Act or the Endangered Species Act may be a strain on oil or manufacturing companies, and they may just want them thrown out, but they are the law, and they must observed.
      And I think most of the religious arguments for governmental change are not upheld by the government–teaching ID along with evolution, for example–but there does seem to be a much broader attempt to bring a “christian” worldview to bear on the US Gov’t than in recent past.
      Maybe that’s just me being paranoid. But I don’t think it is. And the language of conservative GOP elements is getting more and more religious in its attempt to move itself further towards (re)electability, and thus governance. And that worries me.

      czfinke

      August 8, 2011 at 21:25


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