Thursday, August 04, 2011

The response to 'The Response': not what Perry was hoping for

Maybe God has overlooked telling the governor a few details about his big tent prayer meetin'.

And though it won't be nearly as crazy as next week's Jets-Texans preseason opener, there will be a good crowd inside and outside Reliant on Saturday.

Two days before several thousand Christians are scheduled to stream into Reliant Stadium for a day of prayer and fasting on behalf of the nation, organizers still are not releasing the full lineup of program participants and the man who initiated the event seems to be backing away from a prominent role.

When Gov. Rick Perry announced "The Response," in tandem with some of the nation's most conservative preachers and organizations, the accompanying spotlight seemed tailor-made for a presidential candidate-in-waiting, particularly a Republican candidate who must negotiate GOP primaries and caucuses dominated by Religious Right voters.

More recently, however, the spotlight has shifted to the extreme views of those affiliated with the event, including the American Family Association and a contingent of religious leaders with far-right political ties. The governor's role seems to have shifted.

Yeah, he'll be hiding somewhere in a luxury suite with the other bigoted bigwigs, maybe counting the collection plates, but this old-time revival is now less about Rick Perry and more about the mess he's made for himself.

"It is unusual to not announce a final lineup of speakers for an event," said Kent Shaffer, a marketing consultant with, in an e-mail. "It could be spiritually intentional to keep the focus on prayer. It could be politically intentional to avoid media controversy."

With only one other governor — Sam Brownback of Kansas - tentatively scheduled to attend and with approximately 8,000 RSVPs for a stadium that holds 71,000 people, the event is "much less than the Perry people intended it to be and much more than they intended it to be," said SMU political scientist Cal Jillson.

It is much more, he said, because the outsized attention the event has attracted raises the question of whether a politician "who's so pitch-perfect for Texas is ready for prime time on a national scale."

Perry sent an invitation to all the nation's governors, members of Congress, the Obama administration and the Texas Legislature, among others. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who is running for the U.S. Senate, and House Speaker Joe Straus, who is Jewish, have declined. Last week Perry himself said facetiously that maybe he will be ushering Saturday and perhaps will have no official role.

The Mississippi-based American Family Association is paying for the event. The group condemns homosexuality, opposes abortion rights and argues the First Amendment's guarantee of religious freedom applies only to Christians. The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled the organization a hate group for spreading misinformation about homosexuals.

The group's notoriety and Perry's association with it, along with his focus on social and religious issues, run the risk of marginalizing a presidential run, Jillson said.

"He can get through this comfortably enough, and sometime between the event and the Iowa straw poll announce for president, but there's a real chance for things to take a dive," Jillson said.

Besides the upwards-of-10,000 prayers and fasters, there will be several hundred, maybe a couple thousand real Americans lining Kirby demonstrating the First Amendment rights that the American Family Association believes belong only to them.

HPD and the county sheriff's department are mobilizing for potential confrontation and security purposes, which means a lot of those horse cops, the ones that like to "accidentally" trample people. I'm certain the governor's own security detail -- you know, the one we pay for but the state refuses to disclose the costs of -- has been increased. Media trucks from all over the nation will be creating their own traffic jam. And if any Christians want to sneak a snack before, or break their fast after, they'll encounter some of those evil "Anti-Christians" celebrating their day of Debauchery and Gluttony in the area's restaurants.

If you're out and about down there, count on seeing a lot of screaming back and forth and maybe some shoving. These New Age Bible-thumpers have more hate, fear, and loathing than even a lot of TeaBaggers. I wonder if any of the Christians will get so angry they pull their guns out.

And it would be interesting if any of the old-school hookers decide to work South Main on Saturday, too. Some people say that those Holy Rollers really like to get their freak on when God isn't looking.

Good times. Here's a list of other responses to The Response:

LGBT Texans Against Hate will hold a rally in downtown Houston's Tranquility Park (406 Rusk St) from 7:00-8:00 p.m. on Friday. The keynote speaker is Rep. Garnet Coleman. The rally will also include participation from Equality Texas, Healing Out Loud, Houston GLBT Community Center, Houston GLBT Political Caucus, Houston Stonewall Young Democrats, Out & Equal, and Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church.

The ACLU of Texas and Americans United for Separation of Church and State will host "Family, Faith and Freedom" at Mt. Ararat Baptist Church (5801 W Montgomery Rd) from 7:00-9:00 p.m. on Friday. Keynote speakers will include the Rev. William Lawson, founding pastor of the Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, and the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United. The event will also include participation from the Indo-American Political Action Committee for Greater Houston, Humanists of Houston, and Congregation Beth Yeshurun.

The Harris County Democratic Party is hosting a Trailblazers Brunch honoring GLBT elected officials and activists in Houston at the Hyatt Regency Hotel (1200 Louisiana St) on Saturday morning. The honorees include Mayor Annise Parker, Councilmember Sue Lovell, Judge Steven Kirkland, Judge Phyllis Frye, Judge Paul Barnich (posthumously), and activist Linda Morales. More information and tickets.

The Travis County Democratic Party is hosting a march and rally named "Rick Perry: Bad For Texas, Worse for Our Nation". The march begins at 10:30 a.m. at the historic Victory Grill (1101 E. 11th St, Austin) and the rally begins at noon in the Capitol rotunda. More information.

And here's just a snapshot of the coverage it's already generated. The Anti-Defamation League, joined by numerous Houston area clergy and community leaders, issued the following statement:

"One of Houston's greatest strengths is its religious diversity. As part of the Anti-Defamation League's Coalition for Mutual Respect, we are keenly sensitive to the fact that Houstonians may pray differently or not pray at all. We cherish the fact that we can pray freely in our own way, because our founding fathers wisely envisioned and provided for a nation grounded in the principle of separation of church and state. This freedom from government imposed religion allows all religions to flourish in our democratic society. It is with this thought in mind that we express our concern that Governor Rick Perry has called for a full day of exclusionary prayer on August 6, 2011. This religious event is not open to all faiths, as its statement of beliefs does not represent religious diversity."

The American Independent: "Amid outrage in his home state, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback appears to be skipping out on the upcoming controversial all-day prayer event hosted by Gov. Rick Perry and the American Family Association. While Perry invited all 49 other governors to attend the Houston rally, Brownback stood as the only state leader who accepted. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that since June Brownback’s office 'has been quiet on the subject,' and would not confirm his plans, saying only that the governor would be on vacation when the event takes place this weekend."

The New York Times reports on the negative affect 'The Response' is having on Perry's presidential aspirations: "Since he set up the event scheduled for Saturday, however, Perry has become the most talked-about almost-candidate in the 2012 Republican presidential field. But with only 8,000 RSVPs for a stadium that seats 71,500 people, virtually no politicians planning to attend, and a slate of organizers who hold out-of-mainstream views on religious freedom, gay rights and even Adolf Hitler, the event has become a potentially risky gamble if Perry is serious about running for the White House."

Right Wing Watch: "The event is being held at Reliant Stadium, home of the NFL's Houston Texans, which can seat 86,000 people, so obviously organizers had pretty grand plans for this event. A spokesperson for the stadium said they were expecting 30,000-35,0000 to attend ... but with only a few days to go, the number of confirmed attendees stands at about one-tenth of the stadium's capacity."

And CNN: "It's likely not the response Rick Perry was expecting."

Lastly, Texas Monthly's Paul Burka opines on the political consequences of 'The Response': "This could have had a much different ending. Perry could have made the event nondenominational. He could have invited people and clergy of all faiths. But he elected to make it exclusionary -– and not just exclusionary, but reflective of preachers who have expressed some of the most extreme religious views in Christiandom."

More to come.

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