Five Scriptures You Won’t Hear at Rick Perry’s Prayer Event
by Jim Rigby

Posted first at CommonDreams.org. Common Dreams is a nonprofit, progressive, nonpartisan citizens’ organization founded in 1997.

As a native Texan, I’m used to crazy religion and crazy politics. So, the announcement of Gov. Rick Perry’s plans for “The Response,” a prayer event scheduled for Aug. 6 at Houston’s Reliant Stadium, was not a surprise.

But as a Presbyterian minister and community organizer, it’s part of my job to stand up for my neighbors. The use of the governor’s office to promote one religion in a country with such rich religious diversity is obviously unhealthy politics, but — if one takes the Christian and Jewish scriptures seriously — it is also unhealthy religion. Here are five rather important verses of scripture you aren’t likely to hear at “The Response”:

Don’t make a show of prayer
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray in public places to be seen by others… But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your heavenly parent, who is unseen.” (Matt. 6:5-6)
While Jesus never addressed the issues most important to some of this event’s co-sponsors, such as homosexuality and abortion, he did speak out against public displays of religion. Whatever Jesus meant by the word “prayer,” it seems to have been about the quiet and personal. The disciples had to ask Jesus how to pray, which is a pretty good indication that he wasn’t praying a lot publicly. What he did say about prayer carried a warning label: “Don’t rub it in other people’s faces.”Governor Rick Perry praying

God doesn’t withhold rain because we’ve done something wrong
“God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matt. 5:45)
Perry recently called Texans to pray for rain, which implies that God steers clouds toward the worthy. According to Right Wing Watch, one of the events co-sponsors has said the earthquake in Japan happened because the emperor had sex with the Sun Goddess. It may be a part of our lower nature to blame disasters on people we don’t like or understand, but Jesus taught that God sends rain on the just and unjust. Furthermore, he said our love should be equally nonselective.
I have chosen Christianity as my life’s religion, but when nonjudgmental love is taken out of its center, it becomes poisonous and predatory. The word “God” can be a helpful symbol for all the transcendentals of life, but the symbol becomes instantly pathological when used as a scientific explanation or political justification.

God doesn’t have favorites
Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism.” (Acts 10:34)
When the Bible says that God is not a “respecter of persons” it means that God doesn’t have a favorite country or religion. The idea that God wants Christians to be in charge of other people violates Jesus’ teaching that we are to take the lowest place. We are to change the world by humble persuasion and good example, not by messianic coercion. The assumption that Christianity and America are God’s two favorite things will be particularly ironic, as the prayer event falls on the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.

Worship by those who neglect the poor is offensive to God
“I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me… Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:21-24)
The prophet Amos chastised the religion of his day for praying to God while mistreating people. Texas leads the nation in citizens who are uninsured, who work for minimum wage, and who die from unsafe working conditions on construction sites. Our state has the widest gap between rich and poor of any in the union. If the governor wants to call us to repentance it should begin with our real sins against the poor not the imaginary sins dreamed up by his friends.

The heart of Christian ethics is being a good neighbor
When Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) it was to teach humility to a rich young zealot who thought he was approaching moral perfection. The Samaritans were the scapegoats of the day. The rich young ruler would consider Samarians heretics and immoral people. Jesus used a merciful Samaritan as the example of ethical perfection. It is a lesson many Christians have yet to learn.
One sponsor of the event, the American Family Association, is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. The group’s director of analysis for government and policy is quoted by the SPLC as saying that Hitler was “an active homosexual” who sought out gays “because he could not get straight soldiers to be savage and brutal and vicious enough.” He also said Muslims should not be allowed in the military or be allowed to build mosques in the United States.

None of this analysis springs from malice. In fact, I must confess that I have a soft spot for Rick Perry. When the James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in Texas was passed, I had the honor of pushing the wheelchair of Byrd’s mother into the governor’s office for the signing. I privately thanked Perry for his courage in standing up to all the groups who had fought against the bill; I knew he might pay a political price for signing the bill. Tears came to his eyes, and he said, “It’s the right thing to do.”

I can’t know what is in Perry’s heart, of course, but I do know the problem isn’t one politician but rather a nation that has embraced an unhealthy political arrogance undergirded by even unhealthier religious hubris. The “prayer” that is most needed at this time is for each of us, believer or not, to go into our own heart and find the humility and empathy that is at the core of righteousness, political and spiritual.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Miranda August 3, 2011 at 7:06 pm

Lovely. Though not a Christian, I really enjoyed this piece, and am reminded of the things that have always moved me about Christianity, the calls for humility and gentleness. It is very sad that these things have lost so much prominence in today’s discourse. Thanks for writing.

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Ray Sanders August 3, 2011 at 8:31 pm

As an ordained minister and founder of a ministry that has successfully helped thousands of people, I think you need to take a closer look at Rick Perry the Christian.

Did you ever consider the pure guts it took to dare call for a prayer meeting that would invite the kind of criticism you expound? Public prayer – what is wrong with calling Christians to come together to pray for our nation? I say thank God a man in a position like a govenor would be bold enough to speak out about his faith. Jesus said ” if anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father’s glory.” TOO MANY people today are afraid to tell anyone that they are a Christian. I am glad we have a govenor who will pray n public.

What’s wrong with praying for rain ??? If you lived on the gulf coast you’d pray evertime a hurricane enters the gulf. And you don’t think God can cause a hurricane to self emplode or go into an area that will cause minimal damage? THAT’S the God I pray to.
I saw Him cause a tornado coming at my house to jump over it then go back into the sky. That’s the God I serve.

YES, God is no respector of persons. He even said “that He desires that none should perish.” But people still go to hell, because that’s their choice. Jesus said “no man comes to the Father but by me.” YES, I think Christianity is God’s favorite- He crucified His son to prove that. I have only this to say about other religions – they are false religions and satan is their father (the father of lies). Every person born on earth has the choice to believe as they will. God sent His word and it is only belief in Jesus Christ that will save someone from eternal damnation.

Sins against the poor? Really- so Texas discriminates against the poor. If you really believe that move to another state. It is tme that the welfare mentality change in this country. We make cripples out of people by continuing to subsidize their lives. I am not speaking about people who are truly in need of help. But this is where the church should be stepping up to the plate – not the government.

Be a good neighbor? If you are really a good neighbor, you’ll witness the gospel of Jesus Christ to everybody you know and see. Because if you don’t tell them, WHO will?
Amerca was founded as a Christian nation by Christian men and women. Muslims can move here, but don’t try to bring their Sharai law here and expect us to tolerate it.

If I was in the military and had to rely on a Muslim to watch my back while I was shooting at other Muslims I might question why they are in the military? Wouldn’t you?
We all know what happened at Ft. Hood!

You asked for comments. Consider these.

From a man who loves Jesus

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Cynthia Beamer August 4, 2011 at 6:43 am

Finally a voice of reason! I have not found a church home in many years because of the misguided theology being promoted throughout our great state. I live in San Antonio, but I will be sure to make the drive to Austin to see what else is going on at St Andrews.

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Mark Miner August 4, 2011 at 2:36 pm

This minister wants to call out Perry on what he feels is a political stunt, yet still wants to put his own political spin on it? It might be a public display of religion, but is Perry saying look at me!, or is he trying to motivate a revival of Christian fundamentalism. I have to wonder, if Promise Keepers or some other non political org, Billy Graham for instance, did the same thing, would this pastor be motivated to speak? I don’t think there is an implication that God sends rain only to the worthy. Texas hasn’t gotten rain in how long? Prayer can’t hurt and might help. We come to the Lord in supplication when we pray, because we need Him to help us, not because we are more worthy than a non Christian. I don’t recall Perry or anyone else for that matter, saying America is God’s favorite country. If God has a favorite, it is probably Israel. Nevertheless, I am not really sure where this pastor has this idea that Christians are meant to be in charge. If you are in charge, it is because of your merits as an organizer, adminstrator, leader, etc, not because of your religious belief. Most leaders in America may be Christian because the USA is a nation where most people profess a belief in Christianity not because only Christians lead. If only Christians lead per the will of God, why are Iran, Saudi Arabia, Japan, China, etc. not run by Christian leaders? I agree somewhat with his point about those who neglect the poor, if you are an unrepentant sinner, why are you carrying on worship of the Lord. Is that not hypocrisy, itself one more sin? This pastor, however, sounds like he is once again trying to inject an agenda about working conditions and employment in Texas but maintaining plausible denial by cloaking it in a spiritual argument. That smacks of dishonesty–also a sin. If Texas neglected the poor, there would be no public assistance programs or unemployment benefits, etc. Texas believes more in a bootstrap lift approach and self opportunity, rather than a culture of dependency on the government. What would pastor Rigby think if some of his salary was distributed to others without his own consent? Would he be so quick to be judgmental? The heart of Christian ethics IS being a good neighbor, but more so an ambassador or representative of Jesus Christ. When the AFA makes comments about homosexuality–admittedly a Hitler comparison is out of line–is he condemning the sinner or the sin? Just because you have to tolerate a lifestyle does not mean you have to approve. The comments about Islam are pretty much part and parcel for attitudes toward Christianity in the middle east, yet there was not any reason to stoop to the level of mideast islamic notions toward Christianity, so the comments were still unwarranted. We can all be good neighbors through the lives we lead and the spiritual walks, but we should refrain–unlike this pastor–from issuing judgements based on misconceptions shaped by political bias.

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Pat August 4, 2011 at 9:48 pm

Amazing – someone who’s actually read the scriptures, and not discarded those that don’t say what he thinks they SHOULD say. How refreshing!

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Mike August 4, 2011 at 10:38 pm

Here we go with moral relativism again. LOL. My question is, if I come to your church, what would you teach me. There certainly isn’t a Presbyterian Church that teaches belief in anything but the Holy Trinity, is there? If there is…I missed that one. And, because we believe in the Trinity doesn’t mean WE condemn others. That is for them to decide. Just as they have the right to believe that worshipping a “rock” or “Mother Nature” or other beliefs that Christians don’t hold, they have no right to criticize us for what we do believe. There are so many scriptures in the Bible in support of an event such as Rick Perry is organizing, it would be futile to attempt to list them all.
Seriously, what is your “defining” line for being Presbyterian? Can you NOT believe in the Holy Trinity and be Presbyterian?

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David Marks August 4, 2011 at 11:57 pm

There is a wide spectrum of beliefs within Christianity and within the Presbyterian church. Sometimes those with differing beliefs are called non-Christian by others. There are those who say “You MUST believe this to be a Christian.” I like the verse “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John) Now there’s a standard. If anyone would like more info about St Andrew’s and our beliefs, please peruse our website: http://www.staopen.com

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Martha Rogers August 6, 2011 at 1:03 pm

Well said, Pastor Rigby. Your voice is the only one I hear saying that Perry’s prayer event is not only exclusive religion, as many critics say, but also bad religion. It ignores some Christian principles which are illustrated by the five scriptures you quote:
1) “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray in public places to be seen by others… But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your heavenly parent, who is unseen.” (Matt. 6:5-6)
DOESN’T THIS MAKE PERRY HYPOCRITICAL?
2) “God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matt. 5:45)
DOESN’T THIS MEAN THAT PRAYING FOR RAIN IS USELESS?
3) “Then Peter began to speak: ‘I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism.’ ” (Acts 10:34)
DOESN’T THIS MEAN THAT GOD DOES NOT FAVOR ONE COUNTRY OVER ANOTHER.
4) “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me… Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:21-24)
DOESN’T THIS MEAN THAT GOD PREFERS JUSTICE FOR EVERYONE, INCLUDING THE POOR AND MINORITIES, OVER ELABORATE PUBLIC SHOWS OF PRAYER?
5) The parable of the Good Samaritan says that love of neighbor is central to Christian living. (Luke 10:30-37)
HOW CAN PERRY CHOOSE A HATE GROUP TO SPONSOR THE EVENT? The American Family Association, one sponsor of the event, is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group.

I’m glad that you mentioned that you were present when Perry signed the James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, saying that it was the right thing to do.

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Clyde Echols August 6, 2011 at 4:18 pm

I am having an awakening to what is being called Christian in America. There is not more than one way to God the father.. Jesus said I am the way the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father except through me. How can a supposed Christian Church be open to accepting that everyone can have their own unique path to GOD.. God made it simple, he provided his son Jesus as our redeemer at the Cross. There is no other way to have a personal relationship to God. Preaching anything other than Jesus is just a lie of the greate deceiver. Satan. I applaud Perry for initiating a Christian rally.

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David Marks August 6, 2011 at 5:09 pm

It is my belief that the easiest error to make is NOT mistaking false for true, but mistaking a PART of truth for ALL of truth.

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Donna Neilson August 6, 2011 at 8:33 pm

I would think that there are as many different definitions of what it means to be a Christian as there are people, both those who do and those who don’t consider themselves to be from the Christian faith tradition. As for me, I cannot assume that my path to God is the only way to experience the Divine, but it is my path.

My spiritual growth has been enhanced and my perspective broadened the more that I open my mind and heart to experiencing other faith traditions. But, then I prefer a path that leads to questioning and growth and more questioning rather than one that tends to only seek answers.

For the record – yes, I am a member of a Presbyterian church. In San Antonio -Madison Square Presbyterian Church. My focus isn’t so much on doctrine as it is on social justice and fostering community among all God’s children.

This blog has sparked some interesting “conversation”!

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chaille fuquay August 7, 2011 at 1:41 pm

I’m compelled to put my two cents in.. I am proud of Jim for having the courage
to speak for a lot of people who are steam rolled into thinking that the only right way is to worship symbols instead of going deeper into their heart. I personally don’t take offense at public praying but I’m realistic to know that it is superficial and they would
be doing what is closer to Jesus’s message if they went to Houston and set up something to feed the suffering people who live all around Reliant stadium. I feel that would be closer to God.
Kudos to Jim Rigby.

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