Our Day at The Response

After months of anticipation, protests, failed litigation, a constant guessing game about who — and how many — would be on stage and in the stands, Gov. Rick Perry’s and the American Family Association’s purportedly nonpolitical prayer and fasting rally, The Response, at Houston’s Reliant Stadium came and went on Saturday.

TFN was there, not to protest or anything of the like. We were there to observe and spent the day inside and outside the stadium.

While politics were for the most part left off the stage, the event was not completely devoid of politicking. What follows is a brief recap of our day at The Response and what we took away from the day of prayer and some fasting (there were some very long lines at stadium concession stands throughout the day).

The Headliner
Gov. Perry made his first appearance about two and a half hours into what to that point had been a program of Christian rock and prayer. Gov. Perry took the stage without introduction, yet he was greeted by a standing ovation. Most remained standing as he delivered about 10 minutes of remarks. (Read Perry’s entire speech here.) He renewed his call for the nation to pray during difficult times and asserted that God does not have any connections to any particular party.

Gov. Perry made at least two other appearances. He was on stage to pray with a small group, and he returned at the end of the program to deliver brief closing remarks.

From the moment he left the stage, some have taken a told-you-so attitude about Gov. Perry’s speech, which was largely free of politics. And while that’s true — there was no overt request to “vote for me” and no stump speech on policy by Gov. Perry — others who took the stage later made political points for him on topics like abortion rights, and as one speaker put it, “the truth” about the sin of homosexuality.

And we’ll remind you that this was never going to look like a party convention full of fiery political speeches. This was first and foremost designed to make a show of Gov. Perry’s faith in cooperation with various right-wing groups, like AFA. Mission accomplished? Voters will decide.

We’ll also remind you of who Gov. Perry is. On the stage was the elected leader of a very large state taking a central role in a Christian’s-only event, the same person who is openly considering a run for president. The political calculation was obvious just by looking at the special interest groups and nakedly partisan operatives who organized and endorsed the event. Today, in fact, attention has already begun to focus on a probable Perry run for president, with most reports pointing to an announcement in the next 7-10 days.

The Others
Throughout the program the American Family Association was rarely seen. Much of the attention surrounding The Response had been focused on that hate group, known for inflammatory and vicious rhetoric. And while the Mississippi-based group put up more than $600,000 of its own money for The Response, it was almost nowhere to be seen. Save for a brief introduction of AFA founder Don Wildmon, there was little other mention of the AFA. Bryan Fischer, the AFA personality who is making a career out of hate speech, kept a low profile throughout.

Not missing from the stage, however, were individuals who have said some pretty remarkable things.

Mike Bickle of the International House of Prayer spent a considerable time on stage leading the crowd in prayer. Bickle, too, stayed clear of politics and even went as far as asking for prayer for President Obama. Bickle was joined in asking blessings for the president by San Antonio mega-church pastor John Hagee. It was difficult to take Bickle and Hagee seriously. Their rhetoric in the past — including Hagee’s anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic statements — has been vicious and divisive.

Hagee also had the most ironic comment of the day. During a prayer, he connected Gov. Perry to President Lincoln, saying both had the courage to call the nation to prayer. It’s hard not to chuckle at a comparison of the man who lead the country through the Civil War to Gov. Perry, who has flirted with secessionists who want Texas to leave the Union.

And then there was Vonette Bright. The widow of Campus Crusade for Christ founder Bill Bright called for prayer and posting the Ten Commandments in school classrooms. The Constitution and the Supreme Court would have a problem with that, Mrs. Bright.

One person who would likely agree with Bright was David Barton, the faux historian who has made a career of mixing faith and politics. He skipped the history lessons this time, appearing on stage only to offer a brief prayer.

Uniting vs. Dividing?
Gov. Perry and the AFA have long claimed that The Response was meant to bring the nation together. It might have missed the mark. A simple example is Hagee taking to the mic to declare:

We confess that we are still a Judeo-Christian nation.

Hagee’s comment is not unlike Barton’s continuing claims that the country was created by and for Christians, effectively leaving other faiths on the outside looking in.

Don Finto drew another divisive line by calling on Jews to convert to Christianity by praying for Jews to “come to their own Messiah.”

Attendance
As with any potentially divisive event, there’s a dispute about whether the attendance count means success or failure. Fair estimates have attendance at 20,000 on the low end and 30,000 on the other end. If you consider that only 8,000 had RSVP’d as of last week, that 20,000 to 30,000 seems like a success. If you instead consider that the cavernous Reliant Stadium holds 71,000+, the attendance even on the high end isn’t very impressive. Plus, there was also the steady exodus after noon. By the time it was over, at least half the crowd was gone.

Early in the day:

Later in the day:

We’ll say this about those who attended: the vast majority were there to express their faith. They did so peaceably and respectfully. But you have to wonder how many were aware they could potentially be used as a prop in a campaign ad. You also wonder how many of them knew what the AFA stands for, and if they knew, how many would really want to be in the same room with those who peddle hate every day.

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13 Comments

  1. Patricia Gonzalez
    Posted August 12, 2011 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    I am a 60 yrs old Texan who is a devoted Catholic and strongly believe in the seperation of Church and State. Shame on you Governor Rick Perry for making this event an opportunity for more exposure with the prospect of the presidency in the horizon. If you really wanted to pray, just do so without any speeches nor appearances. It disgusts me to see politicians “kiss up” to the public for return of a vote. Let us not kid ourselves as to Perry’s motives. All I have to say is he is waisting his time and money because he will not be our next president regardless of all the financial support he may receive.

  2. Posted August 10, 2011 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    I am a Texan 81 years old (born in Texas and lived almost all my life in Texas). I did serve one year as a Marine officer in Korea in 1952., and I am a liberal. I think Rick Perry is terrible for Texas and would be a worst President .

  3. Posted August 10, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    About putting the ten commandments in schools. Which one of the ten commandments, if we really kept it, would bankrupt the country? Keep the sabbath.

  4. Anonymous
    Posted August 9, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    Good one Coragyps. Personally I think the draught is God paying back Rick Perry for appointing David Barton as a consultant to the Texas board of education. You know that durn James Madison wasn’t even no Christian, him and Jefferson was both liburls. Teachin ’bout them in our schools is just invitin’ the devil in to our midst. And what with the way them American morals has gone down the tube these kids needs all the religun we can cram down there throats.

    A couple weeks ago a small Virginia burb approved zoning for a Christian-themed trailer park. That’s just strikes me as so….appropriate.

  5. Posted August 9, 2011 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    One thing to consider in the number game is that it was piped to about 1,000 churches, if I heard right. Perry may have hit more of his target audience than the numbers at the staduim reflect.

  6. Coragyps
    Posted August 9, 2011 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    James – prayer hasn’t worked yet on the stock market, no. But since Perry called for prayers for rain back at Eastertime, it’s been nearly a constant drizzle…….oh, wait. A drizzle of dust and mesquite ashes. That’s not the same thing as rain, is it??

  7. Posted August 9, 2011 at 1:39 am | Permalink

    TFN: Bravo for reporting in a fair/balanced (I feel like I’m stealing someone’s words there) manner while still standing your ground. It’ll be interesting to see how much, if any, importance this event has.

  8. Posted August 8, 2011 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    hey, dbtexas, mind if I quote you on that? http://bit.ly/qehh2A

  9. barf
    Posted August 8, 2011 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    but where are going to get those vapid blond trophy wives in dallas? you need to keep them stupid for them not to care that they need to look like blowup dolls….

  10. dbtexas
    Posted August 8, 2011 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    Interesting all of the hype about a crowd of thirty thousand in a county with over four million inhabitants. The Texans, a team yet to venture to the playoffs, fill the stadium for every game during football season. These folks have a complete right to their meetings and their beliefs – even the AFA. However, the media hysteria and hype are a bit much.

  11. fwmetro
    Posted August 8, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    Hey! Putting the Ten Suggestions in the classroom is a great idea. It is about time that children learned about Judaism. What makes Christians think that they own the Ten Commandment which were given to the nascent nation of Israel? Further, what makes them think that Jesus is the Jewish messiah? He was, from the Jewish point of view, NOT the messiah because he did not do what the Messiah will do when he finally gets here.

    I always ask people who try to convert me, a life-long Jew who will NEVER be anything else, where is universal peace and knowledge of the Jewish Gd? Where is the Third Temple? Where are any of the things the Messiah will do when he gets here. What do they say? Well…uh…that will be in the second coming.

    As a student of Tenach (Torah, Nevi’im, and Kethuvim — Torah, Prophets and Writings) since I was old enough to start Hebrew school, around ten. I am now 70, so that means I’ve been studying Tenach for 60 years and in those 60 years I have NEVER seen anything that predicted a second coming of the Messiah. Once Messiah came, he would be born naturally, be a regular human being, and would eventually grow old and die. The Messiah of the Christian was nothing unique; everything that was said of him was originally said of multiple pagan gods, starting with a virgin birth and ending with a painful death. THAT IS NOT THE JEWISH MESSIAH AND NEVER WILL BE.

    Until you have had funny-mentalists who are totally ignorant of the fact that Jews do not recognizing what Christians call the New Testament in clear violation of the command in Deuteronomy 4:2 to not add to or take away from Tenach, and in spite of the fact that our father Abraham was given an ETERNAL COVENANT (TESTAMENT) they still think they are the “new Jews.” Nothing could be further than the truth. There are fourteen million Jews in the world as compared to billions who belong to Islam or Christianity. Yet, Gd said that the world would be blessed because of the Jewish people. Gd said he would bless them that blessed us and curse them that cursed us. Messing around with Jewish people is a dangerous proposition.

    When I was a little girl, I was frightened of going swimming or even going to the beach because for some reason or another, POLIO struck people at those sites. Then came along Jonah Salk, a Jew, who discovered and developed the CURE for Polio and a prevention to prevent Polio. You know how “them Jeues love their money, how much did that there Salk fella get?” NOT A CENT. He could have become and overnight billionaire, which back then was equivalent to today’s trillionaires. He refused to patent the Polio vaccine because, as he said, “Would you patent the sun?”

    The State of Israel is being slandered all over the land by Arabs who have given the world NOTHING other than terrorism at every turn. The Arabs are the reasons that we have to take our shoes off at airports, go through embarrassing scanners that shows what is underneath our clothes or have TSA people feel us up or have 95 year-old women have to go through the humiliating strip search. WHAT IN THE HELL IS A NINETY-FIVE YEAR OLD WOMAN GOING TO DO? I have been told to put my 250 pound wheelchair through the x-ray scanner. When I pointed out that I was disabled (else why would I be in a $8,000 power chair?) and the chair would not fit through the x-ray and even if it would fit, how was I supposed to lift it and what was I supposed to do. She told me that “that’s YOUR problem.” By the time a supervisor got the mess straightened out, I missed my plane and had to DRIVE FROM DALLAS TO LAS VEGAS.

    ARABS would have you believe that the only Democratic state in the middle east and the only true friend our country has in that area, is apartheid. That is a silly thing to say when there is NO hint of apartheid action in Israel. However, EACH AND EVERY ARAB STATE IS APARTHEID AND JUDENFREI.

    The Arabs gave only one thing to the world, algebra…thanks a lot. The Jews have given the world, in no particular order, blue jeans, cell phones, the remote control, computer firewalls, instant chatting via computers, the Pentium computer chip, a non-radiation breast cancer scanner, a pill that can take pictures inside a person’s digestive system, I could go on and on and on, but I’ll stop with the fact that one out of every four Nobel prizes are won by Israelis or Jews in the Diaspora.

    Ricky Perry is about to have his Waterloo. If he runs for president, he will lose. His crimes and his lack of ethics will kill him in every area of the country except for the funny-mental FAR WRONG Christians. Just the fact that he executed an innocent man although he knew he was innocent. The more dirt that is dug up about him the less likely we’re going to see Obama win another four years. I have been a strong support of Obama until today when he ONCE AGAIN refused to grow a spine and wants a bipartisan committee to look into why the economy is in the mess it is in. BUSH is the reason, but Obama still doesn’t know it. Any independents out there have any common sense? The TeaPubliCANTS don’t and neither does the Demoncraps.

    Beverly Kurtin

  12. JamesBreck
    Posted August 8, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    Judging from the action in the stock market today the Perry plan to get the economy going – prayer – doesn’t seem to be working thus far. However it is early.

  13. Posted August 8, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    And oh how they fasted, with nachos, pretzels, popcorn, and soft drinks in souvenir cups!

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