Rick Perry's prayerful politics

Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks at a national prayer rally in Houston on Saturday.

Associated Press

Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks at a national prayer rally in Houston on Saturday.

Prayer, it is said, is good for the soul. And presidential politics, too.

So it is hardly surprising that Rick Perry went on a prayer-a-thon over the weekend as it appears increasingly likely the Texas governor will soon join the ranks of Republican presidential contenders.

And why not? Especially since the current crop of GOP candidates have stirred up about as much enthusiasm as the Tampa Bay Rays offering a Cold Porridge Day fan gimmick at Tropicana Field.

You know the contenders are weaker than the Libyan air force when former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is even thinking about making a comeback.

Perry insisted the image of a sitting governor openly using his public, taxpayer-funded office to organize and promote The Response, a religious rally of evangelical Christians, was completely nondenominational and absolutely devoid of the merest political overtones — which of course means it was very denominational and most certainly political.

Blessed are the theological political prevaricators, for they shall inherit one heck of a mass mailing list of campaign contributors.

So it's hardly a revelation in the wake of the governor's marathon vespers-on-steroids event that Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann launched an all-out crusade to close the hosanna gap by rounding up as many religious conservatives in Iowa before Perry could convert them to his pew.

Whew, that was close. For a minute there one might have suspected politics and piety were getting comingled.

Faith and the hustings have been entwined for many years in American politics. A candidate's religious persuasion — John F. Kennedy's Catholicism, Mitt Romney's Mormonism, Barack Obama's Christianity, even Thomas Jefferson's suspected deism — all have been the subject of campaign fodder.

And to be sure, any candidate professing to be an atheist probably would have less chance getting elected to the White House than Whitey Bulger.

Still, it's always good to remember that simply because a politician claims to be all sackcloth and ashes and can cite the Good Book chapter and verse doesn't necessarily translate into having any clue when it comes to governing the world's foremost super power. Both Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush were about as devout as you can get and … well, they didn't seem to have a prayer when it came to knowing how to do the job as president.

So it's nothing new for a candidate to use God as a campaign consultant. Sheesh, back in 2008 former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee practically campaigned with a cross to shore up his heavenly credentials to hold office.

In a nation that treasures the freedom of religious expression, Perry is more than entitled to campaign in vestments if he thinks it will help him win votes. But the governor should be mindful about the clerical company he keeps.

If Barack Obama was held to account for all the looney-tunes comments made by his former minister, Jeremiah Wright, shouldn't Rick Perry be subject to the same standard of spiritual scrutiny?

Saturday's ministrations were hardly a group of faithful souls known for offering up their hopes for the betterment of the nation's spiritual health. The list of fundamentalist preachers lending their support to Perry's rally looked like something out of the Oliver Stone Theological Seminary.

The Rev. Mike Bickle has suggested Oprah Winfrey, citing her voluminous good works and acts of charity, to be a "forerunner of the harlot movement" and a sign of the coming Apocalypse. Sometimes you just can't please everybody.

Another Perry supporter, John Benefiel, has argued the Statue of Liberty is actually a symbol of a "demonic idol." Not really, although French artist Frederic Auguste Bartholdi did use his mistress as a model for the monument.

Before he was forced to back off, the Rev. John Hagee, who has all the sense of humor of an anvil, suggested that Nazis worked on God's behalf to encourage Jews to return to Palestine.

Meanwhile, the Rev. Cindy Jacobs once delivered a sermon in which she mused a spate of blackbirds dying in Arkansas had something to do with the repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding gay soldiers serving in uniform.

And another Perry ministerial supporter, David Barton, has advanced the notion Jesus opposed the minimum wage and the capital gains tax. Who would have ever guessed Jesus was really an Armani-wearing venture capitalist who ascended into Heaven in a BMW?

It's entirely possible Perry did himself a great deal of good in shoring up his evangelical base in advance of a presidential run. But he may not get the response he was hoping for if the rest of the body politic isn't as eager to genuflect to a candidate who pals around with apostles who make Torquemada seem like a pillar of fair-minded reason.

Rick Perry's prayerful politics 08/08/11 [Last modified: Monday, August 8, 2011 7:15pm]

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