Tuesday, August 02, 2011
Prayerapalooza in Houston
Longtime readers of this blog will know that I took, and continue to take a rather dim view of the George W. Bush presidency. At best, I only ever considered him a lesser among evils, and in time I came to even revise my opinion on that. But say what you will about him, there was no pretense or duplicity about the man. You knew exactly what you were getting. In short, I would not classify George W. Bush as a demagogue. This casts him in sharp contrast to his successor in the Texas statehouse.
Our current and forever governor, Rick Perry, is in the news a lot these days. It seems he fancies a run for the White House himself. If nothing else, this illustrates the role delusion plays with those too long in power. Governor Rick is not popular here. Our vaunted economy does not look so good up close, and nobody here attributes it to anything Perry has or has not done. True, the state of Texas will vote Republican regardless of the nominee, and he will no doubt do well in the Iowa and South Carolina primaries. But in my wildest imagination, I cannot imagine another Texas governor winning the GOP nomination, much less the Presidency anytime soon. In fact, I would support a constitutional amendment prohibiting Texas or Minnesota politicians from becoming President.
From observing several Perry gubernatorial election cycles, it should come as no surprise that I have pegged him as a huckster of the highest order, willing to say/do/be anything to win an election. And after all this time in office, we now discover that he has a softer, more spiritual, downright prayerful side. This Saturday, Governor Rick is heading up a giant prayer rally in Houston, (more details, here.) The usual evangelical players are here: both Dobsons, Tony Evans, Richard Land and Tony Perkins are among the co-chairs, with the other sponsors including the ever-ready John Hagee and Max Lucado, but consisting mainly of evangelicals of the Pentecostal variety, with a smattering of Baptists.
To ridicule this event exposes one to the charge that they are opposed to prayer. I am not, but I believe I am on firmer theological ground here when I suggest that it is better done in a closet than in a coliseum. Frankly, I had intended to ignore the whole extravaganza, and was prepared to do that very thing. So, I was a bit perturbed when the new mayor of our little burg (population 2,340) proclaimed Saturday as a "Day of Prayer and Fasting" to coincide with the event. For those unable to make the drive down to Houston, a big-screen would be made available at the First Baptist Church where local residents could follow along. The "fasting" was proscribed as lasting from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM. I suppose a sun-up to sundown fast would have sounded too Ramadanish. Our normal routine on Saturdays calls for a late breakfast and early supper, with no meal in-between. I never knew that all these years we had been "fasting."
William McKenzie writes of the event in today's Dallas Morning News (accessible only to subscribers, unfortunately.) McKenzie is a good journalist and Presbyterian layman. He is what passes for a moderate in Texas. He writes:
Let's cut the governor some slack. If he wants to gather largely conservative evangelicals to hold a rally to pray for America--and has invited other governors to what is billed as a Christian event--let him. It's his prerogative. What's troubling is Perry's theology.
Start with the flag-and-cross concoction. Perry and other sponsors want attendees to pray to God to guide America and to learn about Jesus Christ.
Each is fine, but not together. When you bind prayer for a nation with learning about Jesus, you take off down the wrong road.
He concludes, as follows:
And here's another problem with the event's theology: Mixing Jesus and America and the assumption that Christ will bless America with greatness if we, the people, call on him. I don't doubt that God loves each American and that he wants our nation to act justly and righteously. But this view assumes that we--collectively, as a nation--are on his side and that he should be on ours. Where in Scripture can you remotely get to either point?
Some on the Christian Right long have woven America into their theology. And this goes way beyond politicians asking God to bless America at the end of speeches.
In a 1972 essay, author Thomas Howard explained how Americanism and Christianity became intertwined as far back as the 1800s:
"American was not just vaguely considered Christian: believers actually looked upon the American way of life as a basically Christian one, and hence regarded any threat to that way as a menace to Christianity itself."
One good thing about this Perry rally is that it shows again how conservative evangelicals have engaged the world. They once separated themselves from the larger culture.
But the theology at play is open for debate. Perry and his followers aren't going to change their minds come Saturday. They still are going to promote their creed. But the rest of us don't have to buy it.
I think McKenzie has it about right.