This Week in God

First up from the God Machine this week is a growing effort within the religious right to coalesce around a Republican presidential candidate. This week, it appears several of the movement’s leaders have rallied behind one hopeful in particular.

This is not an uncommon initiative. Since 1996, the religious right has taken at least some steps to speak with one voice when it comes to the Republican presidential nominating process. Sometimes it works and the movement quickly unites around a favorite (see 2000), but more often the groups/leaders have splintered and their efforts fell apart (1996, 2008).

Amy Sullivan reports this week on where the movement is headed in advance of 2012.

In early June, TIME has learned, a group of prominent figures on the Christian Right held a conference call to discuss their dissatisfaction with the current GOP presidential field, and agreed that Rick Perry would be their preferred candidate if he entered the race. Among those on the call were Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council; David Barton, the Texas activist and go-to historian for the Christian Right; and John Hagee, the controversial San Antonio pastor whose endorsement John McCain rejected in 2008.

Religious conservatives have often played a substantial role in choosing past Republican nominees, but leaders on the Christian Right have been conspicuously quiet so far in this campaign season. Privately, however, they are enthusiastic about Perry and are encouraging the Texas governor to throw his ten-gallon hat in the ring.

Some of this is the result of Perry’s religiosity and ideology, but process of elimination is also likely playing a role. Romney is a Mormon, Huntsman is a moderate Mormon, Bachmann is a non-Southern woman, Gingrich and Santorum are unelectable, Huckabee and Barbour aren’t running, and Pawlenty hasn’t done much to impress.

And that leaves the evangelical three-term Texas governor who just happens to be co-sponsoring a Christians-only prayer rally next month, partnering with the American Family Association.

The religious right may not have the sway in GOP nominating contests it once did, but assuming Perry runs, this kind of support is likely to give him a leg up.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* Michele Bachmann appears to be the only major-party presidential candidate in a long while who believes the world is in “the last days” and “the Harvest is at hand.”

* A movie called “The Ledge” opens in limited release this week, which is intended to not only tell a compelling story, but also to “advance the case that atheists are ethical, good, and even heroic people.”

* The Dalai Lama was in Washington, D.C., this week, and received a warm, bipartisan welcome on Capitol Hill. The spiritual leader’s visit is part of a 10-day Kalachkra initiation — a high-level Tibetan Buddhist teaching.

* And let’s certainly not overlook this odd story out of North Carolina, which gives new meaning to turn the other cheek: “A Bible-waving preacher protesting at a gay pride event was kissed on the cheek by a female gay rights supporter – a 74-year-old woman who was charged with simple assault, with the preacher’s blessing.” (thanks to reader R.P.)