Sir, What do You Believe?, or The Joys of a Skeptic Religion Professor
A Love Affair, or How to Cry Yourself to Sleep

Jesus is King of Texas, but Rick Perry is the Prince (not the androgynous musician)

Who is the one true God? That's the question Governor Rick Perry's friends and allies are trying to answer in Texas as The Response, Perry's official day of prayer, draws closer. Scheduled for August 6, The Response invites people from all over America to gather at Reliant Stadium in Houston for a day of prayer, repentance, and fasting. Why? 

We believe that America is in a state of crisis. Not just politically, financially or morally, but because we are a nation that has not honored God in our successes or humbly called on Him in our struggles.

Nothing like an ambiguous crisis to rouse the faithful. So all Americans of faith can come together and pray, right? As reported in Mother Jones, that's not quite the case. Perry has teamed up with the utterly loathsome American Family Association, deemed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. (Quick aside: lately, the SPLC deems everyone with whom it disagrees a "hate group" so I wouldn't be too quick to add the AFA to your list of Cracker Nazis. However, adding them to the list of self-promoting, arrogant, knee-jerk, divisive, fundamentalist douchenozzles seems a reasonably appropriate step.) Less loathsome than the AFA and less well known is the Texas based Justice Foundation. Allan Parker (who?), their leader, is described on the organization's website thusly:

Allan Parker has served as the president of The Justice Foundation (formerly the Texas Justice Foundation) since 1993 when it was founded to protect the fundamental freedoms and rights essential to the preservation of American society. Under his leadership, the Foundation has represented clients free of charge in cases of limited government, private property, free markets, parental school choice, parental rights in education, and enforcing laws to protect women’s health.

Hopefully, dear reader, you've learned to parse bullshit. If not, let me paraphrase. "We are white Republican Christians from Texas who have formed a legal aid organization to further the cause of corporations, capitalism, and conservative Christians. We support government funded private schools, oversight-free homeschooling, creationism (ID) in the classroom, denying civil rights to the LGBT community, and the banning of all abortions." Why don't people just say what they mean?

Getting a clearer picture of Governor Perry's friends? If you have any doubts, this excerpt is from an email campaign that Parker used to explain the event and why it has nothing to do with Perry's political aspirations (ha!).

This is an explicitly Christian event because we are going to be praying to the one true God through His son, Jesus Christ. It would be idolatry of the worst sort for Christians to gather and invite false gods like Allah and Buddha and their false prophets to be with us at that time. Because we have religious liberty in this country, they are free to have events and pray to Buddha and Allah on their own. But this is time of prayer to the One True God through His son, Jesus Christ, who is The Way, The Truth, and The Life.

Here's the sticky part, folks. If Perry believes Jesus is the one true God and all other faiths are idolatrous, it doesn't change his political responsibility one fucking bit. He's the governor of all of Texas, not the Christian portions. To systematically exclude people of other faiths, or to invite them to be proselytized, which his spokesperson Eric Bearse has done, is an egregious example of promoting civil religion and most likely a violation of the First Amendment. Texas has always had issues with which Bill of Rights it ought to follow, and in this case, it's clear they don't like the federal version. If Perry wanted to attend such an event, that would clearly be within his rights as a private citizen, but to actively organize and promote such an event while the governor of Texas is outside the bounds of law and propriety.

One of the most difficult conversations I have with students and colleagues is the extent to which religion should play a part in politics. Fellow skeptic professors regularly call for people of faith to leave politics altogether. They believe religious convictions should be left outside the polls, as if our moral convictions should not inform our political decision making. They fail to understand that some Americans have their moral convictions grounded in a sacred text or a divine command, and for them, there is no secular set of rules that informs their lives. All of life is under the banner of sacred. Fine. It's equally wrong-headed to insist that my religious convictions should also be yours, so for students and professors who insist on some sort of theocracy lite, I like to ask which rules or gods shall we follow. Not surprisingly, the answer is nearly always their own particular god. See, he's the one true God, and all these other gods are idols. Really? How can I know that? What assurance can you give me? If that's the case, why are even Christians so confused as to what they're supposed to believe? How can any faith that ranges from Coptics in Ethiopia to Orthodoxy in Greece to storefront Pentecostals in Atlanta to Republican Baptists in Texas to migrant worker Catholics in Central America to Amish farmers to Anglican academics in England to homophobic evangelicals in Uganda to persecuted sects in Iraq to imprisoned house churchmen in China ever hope to pretend it speaks with one voice about what the one true god says? It's so absurd it would be a parody of religion if its proponents didn't take it so seriously. They avoid the clear light of day and speak about the day while living in willful darkness. The univocal character of Christian ethics is a chimera; the univocal interpretation of Scripture is even more nebulous.

Perry has committed the worst sort of hubris here inasmuch as he believes he's calling on people to come worship the one true god. Perhaps Perry doesn't realize what a universalist he actually is. I would personally enjoy a prayer meeting where Christians of every variety I described decided to show up. Imagine Perry's consternation as he discovered that the one true god is strangely polyphonic to the point of discordant.