You may have heard about this thing called “The Response,” which is being held in Houston in August. According to its web site, The Response is “a call to prayer for a nation in crisis.” Based on the call to a “solemn assembly of prayer and fasting” in Joel 2, it’s a one day event that is no more revolutionary than Thanksgiving Day. But to the Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, it is no less than a constitutional crisis. See, the “initiator” of The Response is the Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, and That Spells Trouble:

“Rick Perry is sounding more like a TV preacher than a governor,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “He needs to stop meddling in religion and focus on things like the budget and job creation. His reckless mixture of religion and government is as insensitive as it is reckless.”

In a letter faxed to Perry today, Lynn wrote, “To be blunt, you have overstepped your constitutional bounds. I am a Christian minister and would like to remind you that it is not the job of government officials to call people to pray, recommend that they fast or prod them to take part in other religious activities. That job belongs to me and my fellow clergy. We are capable of doing it without government ‘help’ or interference. We are offended when you attempt to usurp our role.”

Now, keep in mind that Perry has used no government offices or resources to do this. He has made no official proclamations, sent out nothing on state letterhead. While he does have his title on his name at the Response web site, all of the people involved with this are private citizens motivated by a desire to seek God’s help for a troubled nation. But the real problem is the brand that involved:

The Response’s website includes a statement of faith that reflects fundamentalism. It states several times that the event is designed to promote Christian principles.

Lynn noted that the event is being promoted by several extreme Religious Right leaders and organizations, among them the American Family Association, evangelist Lou Engle and Pastor Jim Garlow.

I’ve never been a great fan of the American Family Association, and I don’t know the other two guys. But I have read The Response statement of faith, and it’s about what you’d expect out of generic evangelicalism:

The Response is a non-denominal, apolitical Christian prayer meeting and has adopted the American Family Association statement of faith.

  1. We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.
  2. We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons:  Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  3. We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.
  4. We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.
  5. We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.
  6. We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost;  they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.
  7. We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.
The fact that Lynn characterizes this as “fundamentalist” really says more about how far out there he is than anything about the planned event.
Needless to say, this is hardly a constitutional matter. At the very least, it is no more a constitutional problem that the widely touted participation of 28 members of Congress in Jim Wallis’ “Hunger Fast” that was meant to petition the Almighty for His help in preventing federal budget cuts (in other words, it was explicitly political). You’ll recall what Rev. Lynn had to say about that, right?
For Rev. Lynn and AU, it’s always a matter of whose ox is being gored.
UPDATE: Turns out that Perry has made an official state proclamation:
I invite my fellow Texans to join me on August 6 at Reliant Stadium in Houston, as we pray for unity and righteousness – for this great state, this great nation and all mankind. I urge Americans of faith to pray on that day for the healing of our country, the rebuilding of our communities and the restoration of enduring values as our guiding force.
Given that the event at Reliant Stadium is explicitly and specifically Christian, this does raise some difficult questions. I still have no problem at all with Perry being involved in it, even as the “initiator.” But an official state proclamation calling Texans to a specifically Christian event? That’s a problem. As Charles Haynes, director of the Religious Freedom Education Project at the Newseum in Washington, writes in the Washington Post:
Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s call to prayer may not be unconstitutional, but it raises serious questions about the governor’s commitment to represent all Texans. Unlike most “prayer proclamations” by government officials – a staple of political pandering in many parts of the country – Perry’s prayer plan includes co-hosting a major Christian worship event to be held in a Houston stadium on August 6.

Described by organizers as a “non-denominational, apolitical, Christian prayer meeting,” the gathering is being organized and funded by the American Family Association(AFA), a controversial conservative Christian advocacy group.

For the most part, I stand by what I say about Barry Lynn’s overheated rhetoric, which is mostly based on his dislike of Christians who disagree with him theologically and politically. (Among other things, he wrote to Perry that “What you are proposing is not an inclusive event that welcomes all people. Rather, it is likely to be a divisive rally that merges the worst excesses of political fundamentalism with bigoted and hateful rhetoric.” Leaving aside the fact that he would object to the event even if it was “inclusive,” simply because Perry is a public official, he really ought to leave the crystal-ball gazing to Harold Camping.) But Perry should withdraw the proclamation, and make clear that The Response is in no way state-supported.