Photo: Rev. Samuel Rodriguez
Thousands of Christians will gather in Houston’s Reliant Stadium tomorrow for Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s “The Response,” a seven-hour prayer rally that will call on God to save America from the “sea of moral relativism.”As we have previously written, Perry is betting that The Response will cement his support among evangelical primary voters, thereby positioning him as a frontrunner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
Opponents of The Response have lambasted Perry for throwing in with a far-right fringe of evangelicals, noting the extreme views of some of the event’s organisers and endorsers. But this criticism overlooks the fact that The Response actually represents a relatively diverse cross-section of Fundamentalist Evangelicals and so-called “charismatic Christians” who make up the new face of the Christian Right.
The leadership of The Response is a who’s who of the key players in this new evangelical movement. The new alliance breaks down traditional racial and denominational divides in American Evangelicalism, unifying over shared support of social conservative positions, including opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, and their belief that the country is in a “state of crisis” that is a harbinger of End Times.
These conservative kingmakers are clearly not averse to politics — they exercised their campaign muscles in 2008 and 2010 to great success. Their involvement in the prayer rally is a tacit signal that, should Perry decide to run, this powerful coalition will be in his corner in 2012.
The American Family Association, a Missouri-based conservative Christian nonprofit, is picking up the $1 million+ tab for The Response*.
Originally focused on removing what it saw as indecent programming from television, the AFA is now perhaps best known for its opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage, and homosexuality. It has built its reputation among the Christian Right by organising boycotts against companies it claims promote a 'gay agenda' including Walmart, Ford Motor Co., and Home Depot (or 'Homosexual Depot,' as AFA calls it).
The AFA has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law centre for its anti-gay and anti-Muslim views. Public policy director Bryan Fischer, the most visible face of the AFA, has frequently asserted that Nazism was a homosexual movement; he recently claimed the 'Night of the Long Knives' was carried out to prevent the Stormtroopers from revealing that Hitler was gay. Fischer has also argued that Muslims should be denied First Amendment rights and inclusion into the U.S. military.
For more on the AFA's involvement in The Response, check out this NYT article.
To mobilize the faithful for The Response, organisers have tapped into the burgeoning grassroots prayer networks of the New Apostolic Reformation, a growing evangelical movement whose leaders consider themselves modern-day prophets and apostles.
Apostle Doug Stringer is in charge of coordinating church and ministry mobilization for The Response. Stringer, a former aerobics instructor, is the founder of Somebody Cares and Turning Point Ministries International, expansive faith-based charity and disaster relief networks based in Houston. He is also an advisor to the Texas Apostolic Prayer Network, which is part of a 50-state network of apostles and their followers.
But Stringer emphasises that The Response will be apolitical and nondenominational. In a letter posted on his website, he wrote:
'We are attempting to keep personal agendas, individual perspectives and denominational differences out of the equations. Yes, we are responding to the call of a governmental official; however, we are not working with a governmental official or a political agenda to decide how the church responds to God in this sacred moment. There will be worship, instruction for prayer directives and a repentive heart, led only by a coalition of diverse ministers who know how to touch the throne of God.'
The letter goes on to ask 'ministry leaders' to help mobilize followers for The Response 'through networking' with 'your circle of influence: region, denomination, ethnicity, or focus group.'
Under Stringer's leadership, California megachurch pastor Jim Garlow has been responsible for organising national church mobilization for The Response.
Garlow, a senior pastor at San Diego's Skyline Wesleyan Church, is a veteran evangelical political activist and one of the most prominent members of The Response's leadership team. He played a central role in organising a national coalition of pastors in the 2008 fight to ban gay marriage in California, and spearheaded a national 'Pray and Act' campaign to mobilize conservative Christian voters in the leadup to the 2010 election.
More importantly, Garlow is the chairman of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's Renewing American Leadership, a nonprofit that seeks to 'preserve America's Judeo-Christian heritage.' Garlow's role in The Response indicates that even Gingrich's closest spiritual advisors have abandoned his 2012 Republican presidential campaign to throw their support behind Perry.
Stringer's church mobilization team also includes Apostle Alice Patterson, an important figure in the New Apostolic Reformation who is in charge of organising churches in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma for The Response.
Patterson is the founder of Justice at the Gate, a San Antonio-based ministry that focuses on 'racial healing' -- repenting for racial sins and overcoming racial divides within the evangelical movement. Patterson's main religious objective is to mobilize minority evangelicals for conservative political causes, a goal she outlines in her book, Bridging the Racial and Political Divide: How Godly Politics Can Transform a Nation.
Patterson's involvement in The Response underscores the event's emphasis on bridging ethnic divides to form a new multicultural evangelical conservative vanguard.
The emergence of this multicultural fundamentalist coalition-- known as 'The Rainbow Right' --is evident by the significant number of African American, Latino, and Asian American evangelicals who have endorsed the event. Their involvement has clear political undertones -- wooing these traditionally Democratic voters to the Republican Party is an attractive possibility for conservatives looking to unseat the country's first black president.
One of the few confirmed speakers for The Response is Tony Evans, a well-known black megachurch pastor widely-syndicated Christian radio broadcaster who is listed as an 'honorary co-chair' of The Response.
Evans is the senior pastor for Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas and founder of The Urban Alternative, which aims to 'bring about spiritual renewal in urban America.' He is also a speaker for Promise Keepers, an all-male, conservative Christian organisation 'committed to reaching beyond any racial and denominational barriers.'
The Response organisers confirmed this week that Latino evangelical powerhouse Samuel Rodriguez will also be joining Gov. Perry at tomorrow's prayer rally.
Getting Rodriguez on board with The Response is a coup d'etat that should have Democrats shaking in their boots. As the president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, Rodriguez is the leading spokesman for the fastest growing subset of evangelicals. He is often described as the 'Karl Rove of the Hispanic-Anglo' evangelical strategy.
'White evangelicals by themselves cannot win elections,' Rodriguez told Charisma magazine in 2008. 'White evangelicals by themselves cannot preserve a biblical world view or a biblical agenda within American political and public policy arena. It is impossible.'
Rodriguez's support has so far been up for grabs, largely because Hispanic evangelicals split from their white counterparts on immigration issues. Both Barack and Hillary Clinton courted Rodriguez in 2008, and Congressional Democratic leaders have lobbied to get him in their corner.
But Rodriguez's involvement in The Response could be taken as a tacit endorsement of a Perry 2012 presidential campaign. The prospect of losing the roughly 15 million Hispanic votes Rodriguez represents is likely raising alarm bells in Washington and Chicago.
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