Meet the Folks Behind Rick Perry's Prayer Festival

| Fri Aug. 5, 2011 5:00 AM EDT
Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas).

This post has been updated.

On Saturday morning, Texas Gov. Rick Perry joined Christian religious leaders at Reliant Stadium in Houston for a day of prayer and fasting for America. "With the economy in trouble, communities in crisis, and people adrift in a sea of moral relativism, we need God's help," Perry explained in a YouTube spot promoting the event. "That's why I'm calling on Americans to pray and fast, like Jesus did, and as God called the Israelites to do in the book of Joel."

Joel 2, the specific Old Testament chapter Perry is referring to, has a special meaning for many evangelical Christians—and more specifically among a small but growing movement called the New Apostolic Reformation. Its adherents believe the nation has become unmoored from its moral foundations, and that our present misfortunes are a direct consequence. They believe it will take a new push by modern-day apostles—messengers who've received their instructions directly from God—to put things back on course. And the apostles, as the Texas Observer's Forrest Wilder has detailed, believe Perry is one of them.

But things didn't go as planned. What was once seen as a dramatic coming-out party for a latter-day Moses, in which Perry would emerge as a bona fide leader of the Christian right against the big-government "Pharaoh" (to use Perry's Exodus metaphor), is looking more and more like a flop. Just 8,000 tickets were sold by Friday—not enough to fill a high school football stadium in Texas, let alone a 75,000-seat professional one. Of the 49 other governors Perry invited to attend, just one, Kansas Republican Sam Brownback, said he'd show up (a few others, like GOPers Paul LePage of Maine and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, issued proclamations). Texas Monthly's Paul Burka, the dean of Texas political analysts, is calling the event an "utter failure."

So where did it go wrong?

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Although stadium-packing rallies are nothing new for the religious right, the pushback to Perry's gathering—dubbed "The Response"—has been fierce. The problem isn't with separation of church and state; Perry's faith is no secret, and he's made it clear that he will be attending the event as a private citizen and not in his official capacity as governor. The controversy, magnified by the governor's escalating flirtation with a presidential bid, stems mostly from the company he's keeping. Perry left the organizing and the funding for the prayer rally up to a handful of key sponsors—groups like the American Family Association (which the Southern Poverty Law Center considers a "hate group") and the International House of Prayer (the other IHOP). Those organizations created a monster: In interviews, the event's planners have conceded that non-Christians will not be allowed on stage, and that the event—which Perry says is open to everyone—is intended in part to convert people to Christianity.

Although Perry and his defenders say he's the victim of guilt by association ("Just because you endorse me doesn't mean I endorse everything that you say or do," he told the Dallas Morning-News) they're missing a key point: By tasking these groups with running the event, Perry endorsed them.

So what exactly do Perry's allies believes? Here's a quick primer:

9/11: According to the Rev. Doug Stringer, one of the leaders of the Texas Apostolic Prayer Network, the September 11th attacks were God's punishment for immoral behavior like homosexuality:

IF YOU’RE SAYING GOD’S NOT PRESENT SO JUDGMENT COMES, THEN THE ANSWER IS YES. BUT THE BIBLE SAYS SIN PRODUCES DEATH. IT WAS OUR CHOICE TO ASK GOD NOT TO BE IN OUR EVERY DAY LIVES AND NOT TO BE PRESENT IN OUR LAND. THIS IS NOT AN ACT OF JUDGMENT, IT’S A WAKE-UP CALL. GOD IS LONGING TO BE IN THE MIDST OF HIS PEOPLE AGAIN.

(The ALL CAPS are Stringer's.) California pastor Jim Garlow, a member of The Response's leadership team, has suggested that legalizing gay marriage would be similar to 9/11—because it, too, would destroy families:

Our president gave a speech a few days ago in which he said, 'The tragedy of 9/11 was that it robbed so many children of having a mommy or a daddy.' Well, you know something Mr. President, your failure to defend marriage and to redefine marriage means that everybody who is under that redefined marriage will lack either a mommy or a daddy and that is morally wrong.

Birds: Remember earlier this year when all those birds started dying en masse and people freaked out? Government investigators concluded there was nothing particularly nefarious about the deaths, but Cindy Jacobs, a minister who's listed as an official endorser of The Response, knew better. As she explained it, the bird deaths were God's punishment for the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. "[T]he blackbirds fell to the ground in Beebe, Arkansas. Well, the Governor of Arkansas' name is Beebe. And also, there was something put out of Arkansas called 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' by a former Governor, this was proposed—Bill Clinton." 

Blouses: Feeling down? Can't sleep? Smell something strange in you shirt? Maybe your shirt is cursed. That's the idea floated by Alice Smith, a proponent of "spiritual housecleaning" and an official endorser for the event. As she explained, if you've been in an illicit relationship, "it could be that that spiritual umbilical cord has come down in your lap as a result of that unholy alliance."

Democrats: Alice Patterson is the Texas state coordinator for The Response. And while The Response is explicitly a nonpartisan event, that hasn't kept Patterson from arguing that the Democratic Party is "an invisible network of evil." Hey, that could mean anything! Via Right Wing Watch:

One strong fallen angel cannot wreak havoc on an entire nation by himself. He needs a network of wicked forces to restrain the Church and to deceive the masses. Unlike the Holy Spirit, who is everywhere at once and can speak to millions of people simultaneously, the devil can only be in one place at a time. By himself Satan would be totally ineffective, but in cooperation with other powers of darkness he erects structures to deceive and manipulate entire nations.

Gay people: "They're intolerant, they're hateful, they're vile, they're spiteful," Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said of gay rights activists in April. "They're not the enemy. The enemy is simply using them as pawns. They are held captive by the enemy." Perkins, whose FRC was recently labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its anti-gay rhetoric, has been named as a co-chair of The Response and will speak at the event. Bryan Fischer, the American Family Association's issues director, has taken things even further:

So Hitler himself was an active homosexual. And some people wonder, didn't the Germans, didn't the Nazis, persecute homosexuals? And it is true they did; they persecuted effeminate homosexuals. But Hitler recruited around him homosexuals to make up his Stormtroopers, they were his enforcers, they were his thugs. And Hitler discovered that he could not get straight soldiers to be savage and brutal and vicious enough to carry out his orders, but that homosexual soldiers basically had no limits and the savagery and brutality they were willing to inflict on whomever Hitler sent them after. So he surrounded himself, virtually all of the Stormtroopers, the Brownshirts, were male homosexuals.

All of which is false.

Glee: The AFA, which is co-sponsoring the event, recently launched a boycott of the popular Fox television program because it is "glamorizing homosexual behavior."

Grizzly bears and killer whales: Fischer, whose organization is footing the bill for the event, can't stand either species. When a whale at Sea World killed its trainer in 2010, Fischer called for the beast to be ritually stoned to death because (quoting Exodus) "[w]hen an ox gores a man or woman to death the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten." And after a string of maulings in the mountain west last summer, Fischer called the grizzly "a fierce, savage unstoppable killing machine" that should be shot on sight.

Hurricane Katrina: Among the attendees? None other than the Rev. John Hagee, the Christian Zionist megachurch pastor from San Antonio whom Sen. John McCain was forced to repudiate in 2008. Hagee is most known for his support for Israel, but he has also weighed in on domestic issues. In 2005, he stated that Hurricane Katrina was God's way of getting back at the city for embracing the gay community. The city, he noted, "had a level of sin that was offensive to God." He later clarified that he did not mean to so clearly imply a cause and effect.

The Illuminati: John Benefiel is an Oklahoma City-based pastor and the head of the Heartland Apostolic Prayer Network. His endorsement is touted by The Response. As Brian Tashman notes, Benefiel also believes that a secret cabal of global elites are planning to use homosexuality to reduce the global population to about 500 million people:

By the way, homosexuality is a great way to control the population. Do you understand? I'm serious about this and I've seen this in lots of places, that the entity that we call the Illuminati which is really over, above Free Masonry, has stated it as their goal…to limit the world population to no more than 500 million. Do you realize that means getting rid of all of us?

Microchips: Intercessors for America, an official endorser of The Response, believes that federal government is developing technology to implant microchips in all citizens as a form of mind control.

Muslims: According to the AFA's Fischer, adherents to the world's second-largest religion are not entitled to First Amendment protections. He also believes that centuries of inbreeding has generated "an enormous cost in intellectual capacity, intellectual quotient among the Islamic people," and he has called for Muslims to be banned from serving in the military.

Oprah: What's the deal with Oprah? She talks a good game, but is she secretly a forerunner to the Antichrist? Yes, yes she is, according to International House of Prayer founder Mike Bickle, an official endorser of Perry's event:

I believe that one of the main pastors, as a forerunner to the Harlot movement, it's not the Harlot movement yet, is Oprah. She is winsome, she is kind, she is reasonable, she is utterly deceived, utterly deceived. A classy woman, a cool woman, a charming woman, but has a spirit of deception and she is one of the clear pastors, forerunners to the Harlot movement.

Revolution: Former GOP congressional candidate Stephen Wooten, an official endorser of The Response, caused a minor kerfuffle last summer when he told supporters they might have to overthrow the government if the situation didn't improve. As he later explained, "The option is on the table. I don't think that we should remove anything from the table as it relates to our liberties and our freedoms." (Perry, for his part, has floated the idea that Texas could break away from the Union if it wanted to.)

Statue of Liberty: Benefiel also believes Lady Liberty is a demonic idol. As he told the International House of Prayer, "We don't get liberty from a false goddess, folks, we get our liberty from Jesus Christ." Amen.

Sun Goddess: C. Peter Wagner, a Colorado-based preacher whose endorsement is touted by the event's organizers, believes that the Japanese earthquake was a consequence of its godless religious customs. Via Right Wing Watch:

Japan, as a nation, is one of the nations of the world which has consciously, openly, invited national demonization. And they do this though what’s called the Daijosai ceremony…where when a new Emperor comes in to power…And as a part of this ceremony the Emperor goes to this specially chosen…place…He eats rice that has been planted and harvested and chosen through witchcraft. And at a certain time that night the Sun Goddess visits him in person, and has sexual intercourse with the Emperor.…So the emperor becomes one flesh with the sun goddess and that's an invitation for the Sun Goddess to continue to demonize the whole nation.

So there you have it. The folks over at Right Wing Watch, meanwhile, have much, much more.