After weeks of weathering criticism for associating with some of the most hateful anti-gay voices in America, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is postured for his national day of prayer and fasting tomorrow just as he was when he announced it – defiantly arm-in-arm with the vanguard of the anti-gay right.
Billed as “The Response: a call to prayer for a nation in crisis,” the Christian prayer rally has been attacked for its close association with the American Family Association (AFA), the Tupelo, Miss.-based group whose work involves “combating the homosexual agenda” through the promotion of “traditional moral values.” The AFA agreed to front the bill for the rally, which has since drawn widespread support from the anti-gay right.
The religious figures sponsoring the rally include:
• Mike Bickle, Luis and Jill Cataldo, Randy and Kelsey Bohlender, of the International House of Prayer Missions (IHOP) based in Kansas City, Mo. The church lists as a senior leader Lou Engle, who has compared same-sex marriage to the “legalizing of evil.”
• David Barton, who has railed against allowing gay men and lesbians into the military. He once wrote of the ban on gays in the military, “The Founders instituted this ban with a clear understanding of the damaging effects of this behavior.”
• And who can forget Cindy Jacobs, the Generals International pastor who claims that catastrophic natural phenomena are the product of God’s anger over the acceptance of homosexuality.
Perhaps the most notable figure linked to The Response is Bryan Fischer, the AFA’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 also has proposed criminalizing homosexual behavior and forcing gay men and lesbians into “reparative therapy” programs.
It’s anyone’s guess how large the rally will be, though recent reports have said only 6,000-8,000 people have registered for the event – a fraction of the tens of thousands once expected to fill the 72,000-seat Reliant Stadium in Houston. Last week, in fact, it looked as if Perry were trying to distance himself from what has become a lightning rod for criticism of the governor.
“Don’t get confused; this isn’t about me,” Perry said. “It’s not about the people on the stage, either. This is truly about coming together as a state and lifting up this nation in prayer and having a day of prayer and fasting.”
For many, however, it seems more about Perry and his political ambitions.