This Week in God

First up from the God Machine this week is a closer look at an upcoming event called The Response. If you haven’t heard of it, that’s likely to soon change.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) will host “a day of prayer and fasting on behalf of our troubled nation” on Aug. 6 in a Houston stadium, which would be interesting enough given Perry’s presidential ambitions, and the very idea of an elected official leading an evangelical Christian revival.

But that’s really just scratching the surface. The Response became even more controversial when Perry partnered with the radical American Family Association to help sponsor, organize, and run the event. The gathering’s website explains that The Response has adopted the American Family Association statement of faith,” including the infallibility of the Bible, the centrality of Jesus Christ, and the eternal damnation that awaits nonbelievers.

In other words, it certainly appears that Rick Perry will lead a Christians-only event.

Not so, say organizers. This week, officials behind The Response said non-Christians are welcome — and will hopefully be convinced to convert to Christianity.

On Monday, Eric Bearse, the event’s spokesman, who formerly worked as Mr. Perry’s communications director, gave a longer explanation in an interview on American Family Radio, a network run by the family association:

“A lot of people want to criticize what we’re doing, as if we’re somehow being exclusive of other faiths. But anyone who comes to this solemn assembly, regardless of their faith tradition or background, will feel the love, grace, and warmth of Jesus Christ in that assembly hall, in that arena. And that’s what we want to convey, that there’s acceptance and that there’s love and that there’s hope if people will seek out the living Christ.”

The liberal group People for the American Way first reported Mr. Bearse’s comments and added its objections to those already voiced by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Interfaith Alliance and others. In Texas and elsewhere, the event is perhaps drawing further scrutiny as Mr. Perry considers a run for the Republican presidential nomination.

“Gov. Perry has every right to practice his own faith, but he has no right to use his official position to try to convert others,” said Michael Keenan, president of People for the American Way, in a statement on Monday.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* The Southern Baptist Convention approved a resolution endorsing a path to legal citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Resolutions committee chairman Paul Jimenez said the measure was motivated in part by a desire to evangelize to immigrants.

* Vice President Joe Biden, the first Roman Catholic to hold the office, had a quiet and previously unreported meeting with Pope Benedict XVI during a recent trip to Italy. The Vatican did not issue a public statement about lecturing Biden for being pro-choice, an announcement it made in 2009 when the pope met with then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

* R. Albert Mohler, Jr., a preacher with the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, said this week that the only way for Anthony Weiner to “atone” for his misdeeds is to convert to Christianity.

* Sometimes, religious crimes come with a touch of irony: “A 780-year-old religious relic that is displayed annually as a tribute to St. Anthony was stolen from a Long Beach Catholic church, police and church officials said Monday…. In Catholicism, St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost or missing things. The relic was stolen on the anniversary of St. Anthony’s death 780 years ago.” (thanks to R.P. for the tip)