There’s good news and there’s bad news for Texas Governor Rick Perry. First the good: Two recent polls have the undeclared presidential candidate just a few points behind frontrunner Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination.
Now, the bad: Perry, if he jumps into the race, comes to the table with a lot of baggage. Big, heavy suitcases like the kind your granddaddy kept in the attic. For example, Perry wanted Texas to secede from the Union, which makes one wonder why he would want to run for president of the United States rather than the Republic of Texas. He signed into law the Texas DREAM Act, which allows for in-state tuition for students at Texas colleges and universities regardless of their immigration status, and will likely draw the ire of anti-immigrant Republicans.
His board of education has wiped away the civil rights movement and the achievements of blacks and Latinos from the history books. In addition, Perry cut primary and secondary education by $4 billion for the 2012-13 budget, which will likely minimize the Lone Star State’s reputation as number one in job growth.
This, as some critics are calling his so-called Texas miracle, with small government and the 49th lowest tax burden in America, a mirage. Texas rates dead last in the percentage of people over 25 with high school diplomas and pregnant women who receive prenatal care, but the state ranks first in pollution, uninsured children and executions.
The governor even reportedly allowed the execution of an innocent man named Cameron Todd Willingham and tried to cover it up. Plus, Perry looks and sounds a lot like George W. Bush, and even served as then-Governor Bush’s lieutenant governor. And no one is trying to have another Bush — or facsimile thereof — in the White House anytime soon.
But perhaps Rick Perry’s most damaging baggage comes in the form of the extremist pastors with whom he has been breaking bread these days. On August 6, the governor is hosting “The Response,” a seven-hour, Christians-only prayer event at Houston’s Reliant Stadium. His office hyped the event as “a Day of Prayer and Fasting for our nation to seek God’s guidance and wisdom in addressing the challenges that face our communities, states and nation.”
And as Perry said on the event’s website, “As a nation, we must come together and call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles.” The list of endorsers and sponsors of the event reads like is a who’s who of hard-right Christian fundamentalism, including Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, and the American Family Association — the anti-gay group designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Rick Perry’s decision to pal around with these ultra-conservative religious groups and pastors will undoubtedly help him in the GOP primaries, though these affiliations could render him unelectable in a general election. This courtship began in 2009, when two Texas pastors from the New Apostolic Reformation movement — Tom Schlueter of Arlington and Bob Long of San Marcos — approached Perry.
These pastors, whose followers believe the End Times are near and they have a direct line to God, told Perry that God has a grand plan to anoint Texas as “The Prophet State” that would lead America to godly government. And they told Gov. Perry that he is God’s man to lead the nation.
These are the new voices of religious conservative movement. And they are as important to the values side of Republican politics as the anti-tax crusaders, Wall Street and the Chamber of Commerce are to the economic side. Most of all, they have Rick Perry’s ear, and they’ll be on hand at Perry’s prayer meeting in Houston:
“He can’t talk enough about how white he is and how white his heritage is,” Fischer said of Obama. “And you compare that to, say, Herman Cain — you know, Herman Cain was just joking around about being the real black man in the presidential race and President Obama kind of helping reinforce what Herman Cain has said in jest. President Obama is half-white, and half-black; Herman Cain is all black; he’s authentically black; he is the real black man in the race.”
Fischer’s statement is a blanket insult to African-Americans of multiracial heritage and their families. Fischer also once compared homosexuality to fascism and genocide, saying that ”[h]omosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and six million dead Jews.”
Mike Bickle of the International House of Prayer (IHOP, an odd acronym) argued that Oprah Winfrey will be one of the principal “pastors” of the “Harlot Babylon,” which will pave the way for the Antichrist. He also claimed that in the End Times, marriage will be outlawed due to same-sex marriage. “Marriage as an institution will be forbidden in parts of the earth, as one of the signs of the times, the gay marriage agenda, which is rooted in the depths of hell, this is not about love, this is deception,” said Bickle.
IHOP’s Lou Engle called same-sex marriage a blatant “legalizing of evil” and “anti-Christ legislation,” and concluded that “wrath will come upon the whole nation” if judges allow abortion and same-sex marriage.
Evangelical minister and self-taught sham historian David Barton of the WallBuilders helped redesign the Texas public school curriculum under Perry to reflect a rightwing view of the world. Barton believed Martin Luther King and 1960s Latino labor activist César Chávez should be removed from the textbooks because they didn’t help minority rights. “Only majorities can expand political rights in American’s constitutional society,” Barton said.
Known as Glenn Beck’s resident historian, he claimed that attacks on the Tea Party by the media and liberal groups are like attacks on Jesus. He also claimed Obama has “engaged in a pattern of ‘willfully, deliberately’ repudiating America’s Christian heritage.”
Barton’s group WallBuilders falsely claims that the Founders were Christians who wanted the country ruled according to biblical teachings. And of the military ban on gays and lesbians, he said “The Founders instituted this ban with a clear understanding of the damaging effects of this behavior.”
Cindy Jacobs, a pastor with the Generals International, claims that natural disasters, including bird deaths in Arkansas, are caused by God’s anger over public acceptance of homosexuality. “What happens when a nation makes a decision that is against God’s principles?…Nature itself will begin to talk to us,” Jacobs said.
Ohio faith healer Rod Parsley said “I will rail against the idea that the god of Islam and the god of Christianity are the same being.” Parsley once concluded, “I do not believe our country can truly fulfill its divine purpose until we understand our historical conﬂict with Islam.” According to Parsley, a system of “spiritual racism” and a “bankrupt educational system” tells black people that Christianity is “the white man’s religion” and that the “slave religion” of Islam is their traditional religion. He also believes that the concept of the separation of church and state is a lie.
An Oklahoma-based pastor, Dr. John Benefiel called the Statue of Liberty a “demonic idol.” “What makes it patriotic? Why is it? It’s a statue of a false goddess, the Queen of Heaven,” Benefiel said.
“We don’t get liberty from a false goddess folks, we get our liberty from Jesus Christ and that Statue of Liberty in no way glorifies Jesus Christ. There is no connection whatsoever. So I’m just telling you we practice idolatry in America in ways that we don’t even recognize.”
C. Peter Wagner, an endorser of The Response, is a chief advocate of Seven Mountains Dominionism, which believes that fundamentalist Christians should control all facets of society. Accordng to Wagner, the recent devastating earthquake in Japan was punishment from God because Japan “invited national demonization” and the pagan Sun Goddess had “sexual intercourse with the Emperor” of Japan. And Dave Welch of the U.S. Pastor Council apologized for failing to stop the “enemy” when Houston elected Annise Parker, an openly lesbian woman, as mayor. He declared Parker’s election a sign “of cancer of the soul among the people.”
What’s more, these men and women of the cloth who think Rick Perry is God’s man with the plan are apparently recruiting black leaders for their religious movement. In a bizarre statement, Bickle, Engle and others from IHOP said that “now is the time to call forth a new breed of leadership in the prayer movement that will come from the African-American and Hispanic communities.”
They added that “God is calling for an exodus out of the hip-hop culture (whose spiritual roots are found in black militant Islam and Rastafarianism) and into the true prayer movement. However, we do believe rap and lyrical prose, different from the culture of hip-hop, will be used by the Holy Spirit as a dynamic art form and tool of communication in the new sound being released from Heaven.”
This would suggest that Perry, not unlike Bush, will attempt to make inroads into the black community. After all, Perry has made overtures to conservative black pastor TD Jakes, whose Potter’s House church he addressed while on the campaign trail for reelection last year. Whether black clergy will take the bait — or whether they will learn the lessons from African-American pastors who supported a black-unfriendly Bush administration — remains to be seen.
The success of such a strategy is doubtful, given the high popularity that Obama enjoys among his base in the black community despite the high level of unemployment they experience. Further, given the open hostility that the Tea Party-dominated Republicans display towards people of color through their policies and public statements, Perry and his minions would have to work a true miracle.
Nevertheless, Bush has a number of black conservative Christians in his corner. For example, endorsing The Response is Willie Wooten of the New Orleans-based Gideon International Christian Fellowship. Wooten said that “homosexual marriage is not a civil rights issue; it’s a moral issue. It is a deviant type of behavior and lifestyle. How do they do it? It’s too nasty.”
He also claims that the black community is cursed because of its embrace of liberalism, the Democratic Party, and gay rights legislation. Pastor Stephen Broden said the violent overthrow of the government must always be on the table.
“We have a constitutional remedy,” Broden said. “And the Framers say if that don’t work, revolution,” adding that “If the government is not producing the results or has become destructive to the ends of our liberties, we have a right to get rid of that government and to get rid of it by any means necessary.” And Timothy Johnson of the Frederick Douglass Foundation became vice-chair of the North Carolina GOP, despite a domestic violence conviction for battering his wife, a fake endorsement from his wife, questions about his military service, and doubts about his academic credentials.
Governor Perry’s pastor problem begs a comparison with Obama’s troubles with Rev. Jeremiah Wright. During the 2008 campaign season, then-candidate Obama came under fire for his Chicago pastor’s fiery sermons, which went viral on YouTube. For many in the black community who were acquainted with the politically-charged words of leaders such as Dr. King and Malcolm X, and may have heard a similar sermon in their own black church just a few days earlier, this was a manufactured crisis. And the cultural cluelessness of some reporters who covered Obama-Wright affair, yet did not understand the black church, did not help the situation.
Further, Rev. Wright’s perceived showboating and eagerness to get in front of the camera during the election, potentially damaging to the presidential candidate, only made things worse.
Regardless of the merits, Obama felt he had to throw Rev. Wright under the bus. The questions that remain are whether Rick Perry will be held to the same standard as Obama, and whether Perry will have to throw his pastors under the bus as well. If Perry does not meet the level of criticism that Obama faced in 2008, one can only assume that race is the reason.
What is certain, however, is that the governor’s pastor problem is potentially many, many times greater. Perry has associated himself with a veritable army of extremist reverends — racist, homophobic, cultish and irrational as they are. And while he would depend on them for victory in the GOP primaries, it would take a fleet of buses to get rid of them in time for the general election.