For more than a week now, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been under fire for his plans to lead a prayer rally in Houston later this summer that is sponsored by the American Family Association (AFA), a particularly virulent gay-bashing group. A petition is circulating demanding that Perry abandon the event. But its organizers are moving defiantly forward with a new and expanded cast of some of the most charismatic figures in the anti-gay circuit endorsing the governor’s prayer rally.
The event, which has been billed as “The Response,” boasts endorsements from a veritable Who’s Who of the anti-gay movement. Among them is Cindy Jacobs, the Generals International pastor who claims that catastrophic natural events are the product of God’s anger over the acceptance of homosexuality, most famously when she attributed the mass death of blackbirds in Arkansas to divine wrath. “What happens when a nation makes a decision that is against God’s principles? … Nature itself will begin to talk to us,” Jacobs said.
Mike Bickle, Luis and Jill Cataldo, Randy and Kelsey Bohlender – all part of the International House of Prayer Missions (IHOP) based in Kansas City, Mo. – have signed on to the leadership committee, too. The church lists Lou Engle as a senior leader. Engle has predicted that “wrath will come upon the whole nation” if judges permit same-sex marriage and abortion. He also has said same-sex marriage is a blatant “legalizing of evil” and called marriage equality laws “anti-Christ legislation.”
Other figures endorsing the rally are Kelly Shackelford, a lawyer with the aggressively anti-gay Liberty Counsel, and David Barton, a self-taught historian who has used the platform provided by his WallBuilders group to expound on the moral dangers of allowing gay men and lesbians into the military. “The Founders instituted this ban with a clear understanding of the damaging effects of this behavior,” he wrote in a recent article.
Since announcing the event last week, Perry has come under continued scrutiny. Most of the criticism has centered on event sponsor AFA’s long history of anti-gay rhetoric, mostly through the writings and speeches of Bryan Fischer, the group’s director of issues analysis. Fischer has claimed, for instance, that “[h]omosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and six million dead Jews.” He has proposed criminalizing homosexual behavior and advocated forcing gay men and lesbians into “reparative therapy programs.
Event spokesman Eric Bearse did not immediately return several E-mail requests for comment. To other media, he has said the event is about bringing people together and finding common ground. “A lot of people want to criticize what we’re doing, as if we’re somehow being exclusive of other faiths,” Bearse said. “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.”
One person who isn’t feeling the love is Bryan Fischer. Pilloried in liberal venues repeatedly over the last week, the man who once suggested that the cure for promiscuity is to kill the promiscuous has uncharacteristically taken up the defense of a hate crime victim — himself. It is he, laments Fischer, not the gays and lesbians he equates with Nazi mass murders, who is the real victim.