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Sunday, August 7, 2011

Politicians and Prayer

Alex Roarty writes at National Journal:

Rick Perry is nearly certain to declare he's running for president, likely before the end of the month. But on Saturday, Perry sounded more like a reverend than a candidate—raising questions of what kind of campaign he will run.

Perry played pastor to an estimated crowd of more than 30,000 people at what was billed as an “apolitical Christian prayer meeting” that he helped convene here. The event, dubbed “The Response,” was billed as an appeal for divine invervention to help the nation address a host of problems.

The Response underscored Perry's appeal to religious conservatives, who remain an important voting bloc within the GOP, and he is far from the first presidential hopeful to aggressively court their vote.


But the danger of Perry aligning himself so closely with religious activists is twofold: First, it risks alienating many moderates, including those in a Republican Party uneasy at the overt inclusion of religion in politics. The prayer session drew hundreds of protestors who marched outside the stadium, holding signs that read "Keep your religion out of government" and "Keep church and state separate."

Perry is not the first political leader to discuss religion or pray in public. A few examples:

  • President Obama, 2011 Easter prayer breakfast at the White House: "I wanted to host this breakfast for a simple reason -– because as busy as we are, as many tasks as pile up, during this season, we are reminded that there’s something about the resurrection -- something about the resurrection of our savior, Jesus Christ, that puts everything else in perspective."
  • Senator John F. Kerry, remarks at New Northside Baptist Church, St. Louis, March 28, 2004: "So let us pray. Let us move our feet. Let us march together and let us lead America in a new direction—toward that mountain top which has always been our destination. We won't get there in one year or one election. But this year is our time to take another giant step toward the country we can and should become.
  • President Jimmy Carter, at the Olivet Institutional Baptist Church, Cleveland, May 29, 1980: James said `the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much,' right? And that's what we're going to need in the future: effective, fervent prayer. And we've got to make sure we're righteous and we're doing what's right in the eyes of God. And in this great land of opportunity we're going to make sure that we don't fail as we try to availeth much together."
  • President Lyndon Johnson, 1967 presidential prayer breakfast: "I shall close, this morning, with a prayer that I heard in northern Australia in the town of Townsville on a Sunday morning during my trip to Asia and the Pacific last fall. And because I was then going to a council of nations meeting in Manila, and on to visit our brave and selfless men in Vietnam, to deal with the gravest questions of war and peace, this prayer had a very special and a very profound significance to me. Since I have returned home, it has not lost its power to speak to me, and to speak for me. `O God, Who has bound us together in this bundle of life, give us grace to understand how our lives depend upon the courage, the industry, the honesty, and the integrity of our fellow men, that we may be mindful of their needs, grateful for theirfaithfulness, and faithful in our responsibilities to them, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.'"
  • President Harry S Truman, remarks at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, April 3, 1951: "Every one of us should measure the actions of his daily life against this moral code which our religion gives us. Every one of us, according to the strength and wisdom God gives to him, should try his best every day to live up to these religious teachings. More than this, religion should establish moral standards for the conduct of our whole Nation, at home and abroad. We should judge our achievements, as a nation, in the scales of right and wrong."