Texas Gov. Rick Perry tells prayer rally: 'Our heart breaks for America'

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a potential Republican candidate for the White House, headlined 'The Response' Saturday – a revival-style prayer event in Houston that drew about 22,000 people.

By , Staff writer

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    A man raises his Bible as he prays at The Response, a call to prayer for a nation in crisis, Saturday, in Houston. Texas Gov. Rick Perry attended the daylong prayer rally despite criticism that the event inappropriately mixes religion and politics.
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Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) addressed a seven-hour prayer and fasting rally in Houston Saturday, which was called to address the nation’s “historic crisis.”

Speaking in the late morning, Governor Perry read three portions of scripture and asked for prayers for the nation, President Obama, the military, and military families. Frequently choking back tears, Perry addressed “discord at home,” saying “our heart breaks for America.… We see fear in the marketplace. We see anger in the halls of government and as a nation, we have forgotten who made us, who protects us, blesses us, and for that we cry out for your forgiveness.”

"The Response" is taking place at Reliant Stadium, a 71,000-seat facility in Houston that hosted the Super Bowl in 2004. Although the event is free, participants are required to sign up to attend. The Associated Press reports that 8,000 people were registered by Friday. Speaking from the stage late Saturday morning, James Dobson, founder of the evangelical Christian organization Focus on the Family, said 22,000 people were in attendance.

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The event resembled a revival, with numerous speakers taking to the stage and asking for mercy, forgiveness, and guidance for the nation.

The event is being seen as an opportunity for Perry to burnish his credentials as a religious conservative ahead of his likely bid for the Republican presidential nomination. Last month, Perry told the Des Moines Register he expects to announce a presidential run in mid-to-late August.

Even though he is not yet an official candidate, Perry is already the second choice of leading Republican contenders, according to a Gallup poll released in late June. The poll shows Perry getting 15 percent of the vote, trailing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by 2 percentage points.

Since he announced that he would attend the rally earlier this year, Perry has downplayed the political implications.

Last month, he told reporters in Texas that he appreciated the endorsement of anyone, “whether it's on The Response, or whether it's on a potential run for the presidency.”

“Just because you endorse me doesn't mean I endorse everything that you say or do,” he said.

In a video released to the rally website, where the entire event is being streamed live, Perry said he was “all too aware of government’s limitations when it comes to fixing things that are spiritual in nature.”

“That’s when prayer comes in. And we need it more than ever. With the economy in trouble and the community in crisis and people adrift in a sea of moral relativism, we need God’s help,” he said.

Perry reportedly invited his 49 fellow governors as well as select members of Congress and the Obama administration. The single governor who said he would be in attendance is Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R), although his office has said he will be attending at a private citizen, not as governor.

The American Family Association of Tupelo, Miss., an organization that considers homosexuality a moral threat to the nation, is producing The Response.

This is not the first time Perry, a Methodist, has been so public with his religious convictions as governor. In addition to promoting legislation that espouses social-conservative values, Perry has endorsed religious prayer in public schools. In April, he declared a three-day “Prayer for Rain in the State of Texas,” an official proclamation in response to the wildfires that were ravaging his state. In 2005, he signed a piece of abortion legislation at a ceremony at a Fort Worth school operated by an evangelical Christian church.

Some Christian leaders are speaking out and saying they are unhappy with Perry’s overtures at the rally, and that his motivations are political, not spiritual.

Marvin Vann, a deacon at Fort Worth First Congregational Church, plans to protest the rally Saturday. Mr. Vann told the Houston Chronicle Friday he is taking a van of Christian leaders from his area to the Reliant Stadium “to counteract the dominant thinking of Christianity as merely social conservatives.”

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