This Week in God

First up from the God Machine this week is a look at one of the year’s biggest events for blurring the church-state line. I’m referring, of course, to Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s (R) prayer rally in Houston, called “The Response.”

Attendees from Texas and across the country will gather at a pro football stadium to ask for “God’s forgiveness, his wisdom and his provision for our state and nation,” according to Perry’s video invitation. […]

From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., attendees are expected to pray, abstain from eating and listen to a series of speakers at Reliant Stadium. Organizers said Friday that Perry will address the crowd, as will major Christian conservative figures such as Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and James Dobson of Focus on the Family.

Perry says the day is inspired by the words of the Old Testament book of Joel, in which the prophet calls on the Hebrew people to pray, fast and ask for God’s forgiveness. The Texas governor argues that America similarly needs to ask for God’s help today because it is a “nation in crisis.”

Putting aside the problems of having an elected officeholder lead a rival meeting while in office, there are a few noteworthy angles to keep an eye on. The first is who Perry chooses to associate himself with: Right Wing Watch has done yeoman’s work documenting the radicalism of the religious extremists who’ll play leading roles at The Response. Assuming Perry moves forward with his presidential plans, these associations will warrant additional scrutiny.

The second is whether anyone will show up for this thing. Perry invited the other 49 governors, for example, and only one (Kansas Republican Sam Brownback) agreed to participate. What’s more, Perry is holding the event at Reliant Stadium, home of the NFL’s Houston Texans, which holds 86,000 people. Organizers hoped to get 35,000. As of a few days ago, about 8,000 people have signed up to attend. There are high school football games in Texas that draw much larger crowds.

And third, for a major public event led by a public official, The Response is strikingly exclusionary. 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.” Organizers have said non-Christians are welcome — and will hopefully be convinced to convert to Christianity.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* President Obama issued a simple statement Ramadan proclamation, leading to a strange tantrum from the hosts of “Fox & Friends.”

* Alabama’s harsh new anti-immigrant law is drawing fire from many of the state’s Episcopal, Methodist, and Roman Catholic churches, who insisted this week the law “will make it a crime to follow God’s command.” The Christian leaders also denounce the statute as “the nation’s most merciless anti-immigration legislation.”

* And who’s behind the aggressive anti-Sharia campaign in conservative circles nationwide? A little-known lawyer, David Yerushalmi, a 56-year-old Hasidic Jew, apparently has a lot to do with it. (thanks to R.P. for the tip)