As a Latin Mass fan and former Catholic schoolgirl (St. Jude’s, Rockville, MD), I was an unlikely attendee at “The Response,” Texas Governor Rick Perry’s Houston prayer event. But I’m glad I went; it gave me some insights into Rick Perry’s Texas.
There were several interesting incongruities, such as the “Budweiser Plaza” sign over the stadium entrance, the doors to the seating sections labeled “chutes” (a nod to rodeo culture, I guess) and the Christian biker dudes who were wearing bandannas, leather vests and shirts bedecked with Bible verses.
Overall, however, the tone was very low-key and welcoming, thanks to the foresight of the organizers, who banned the sale of event tchochkes and freelance evangelizing (if this was Perry’s doing, it was a brilliant touch). I did spot one elderly gentleman with a fanny pack stuffed with tracts; he asked me if I was praying for the peace of Jerusalem but switched off when I responded that I wanted peace everywhere.
On the way in, a younger woman smilingly toted a worn, folded-up sign with “Who would Jesus deport?” on one side and “Why is Rick Perry cutting health benefits for children?” on the other, but she was studiously ignored by the attendees.
Likewise, the dozen protestors who were huddled beneath shade trees at the parking lot entrance (an obvious John Lennon fan’s sign read “Imagine there’s no religion”) were ignored by the families in the incoming streams of SUVs and pickup trucks. Certainly nobody was honking in support.
I laughed out loud at the little airplane endlessly circling above the parking lot while towing this banner: “GOV — KEEP CHURCH-STATE SEPARATE FFR.ORG.” It would seem those atheists don’t care about their carbon footprints!
The crowd was well in excess of the 8,000 who had previously registered; the numbers may have reached 30,000. Although most attendees were white, the crowd included significant numbers of Hispanics and African-Americans. It was a younger crowd than I had expected — much younger. While there was a smattering of cowboy hats in evidence (hey, it’s Texas), I was pleasantly surprised to see nobody wearing backward baseball hats or baggy jeans. Another surprise was how few people were texting, checking their emails, etc. If this is Rick Perry’s base, it’s solidly middle class.
The overall theme was asking God’s forgiveness for America’s materialistic culture and requesting his mercy on the nation. Although abortion was mentioned as one of America’s failings, I didn’t hear anything about sexual lifestyles. If there was any finger-pointing going on, it was inwardly directed at pastors and congregations that had lost sight of the Almighty. As one preacher put it, “If our nation is degenerate, the pulpit is responsible.” Interestingly, another quoted the line from Psalm 146 “Put not your faith in princes” as a caution against looking to politicians to solve all problems.
With head bowed, Perry delivered a long prayer that asked in a humble way for divine help for America. Those who were expecting ranting and hate speech were sorely disappointed.
Afterwards, I had a fascinating conversation with the manager of a Houston diner. The Washington State native didn’t attend the event but thought it was “nice” that Perry was hosting it. He then talked enthusiastically about how Perry’s policies had kept the Texas economy strong in spite of the recession (one bit of evidence was the diner’s packed parking lot) and said the nation should give Perry a try — and that Perry was going to get his vote for sure.
If Perry does run for president, he will need to strike a fine balance between social and economic issues. If today’s event is any indication, he’s off to a good start.
Joanne Butler is a senior economics fellow at the Caesar Rodney Institute of Delaware. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.