The head of a group dedicated to the separation of Church and state has joined the long list of critics blasting Gov. Rick Perry for an evangelical prayer rally happening in Texas Saturday. But Perry and those participating in the event say it's open to all faiths and meant to unite, not divide, Americans.
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU), slammed Perry in a statement Friday for "meddling in religion and failing to recognize America’s wide spiritual diversity."
Perry will be in attendance at the "The Response: a Call to Prayer For a Nation in Crisis" at Reliant Stadium in Houston. In what capacity the Republican governor will be participating remains unclear.
The event, conceived from Perry's call for a day of fasting to seek God's help with various moral, social, and economic ills affecting his state and the nation, is expected to draw thousands of participants to Houston this weekend.
Lynn, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, is not very pleased with what he sees as the government sticking its nose into religion, even if Perry's prayer event manages to draw people to Christ.
“It’s actually government-supported evangelism. The aim of this event is to persuade people to adopt specific religious beliefs. That is never the government’s job. The sponsors will let non-Christians in precisely so they can learn about Jesus and be converted.”
Lynn, like other critics, have come down on Perry for seemingly aligning himself with controversial religious groups, which he charges will only serve to alienate Americans.
Some participants expected at the event include Mike Bickle, John Hagee, and a group known as the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR).
Bickle, pastor of a Kansas church known as the International House of Prayer (IHOP), was recently seen in an undated GodTV.com video calling Oprah Winfrey a forerunner to the "anti-Christ".
Bickle insists in the video sermon that Winfrey is a part of a Satanic end-time religion he calls "Harlot Babylon."
Hagee, pastor of Worldwide Ministry in Texas, has been criticized for insinuating that God used Adolph Hitler to stir up the Jews to rebuild Israel.
NAR members adhere to a theology portraying Christian's leaders of a divine army tasked with conquering society and civilian government.
It is standing alongside associates like these, critics say, that will send the wrong message.
“This rally also sends a message to everyone who does not accept this narrow form of Christianity," Lynn said. "It tells those people that they are wrong. It says that there is a ‘right’ religion and the state has determined what it is."
Supporters have countered that Perry's critics have been giving the wrong response to the prayer rally.
“Calling for prayer for our nation is one of our country’s most enduring traditions, starting with our Founders; and our country desperately needs God’s intervention," Kelly Shackelford, President of the Liberty Institute, wrote in a Christian Post opinion article. Shackelford is also on the list of participants for the prayer rally.
"The Response" is not meant to exclude anyone or any particular faith, according to Eric Bearse, spokesperson for the "The Response" rally.
Bearse told The Christian Post that "anyone is invited to attend with regard to faith tradition" and if they cannot attend they are free to "observe a day of fasting and prayer in the comfort of their own home, or in their own houses of worship... regardless of their faith tradition."
Perry has also insisted that "The Response" prayer rally is meant to bring people together, not divide Americans.
"This is truly about coming together as a state and lifting up this nation in prayer and having a day of prayer and fasting," he told reporters last week.
Bearse said organizers are expecting about 8,000 people to show up at Reliant, and that participants can expect a day full of praying, singing, and inspirational messages and Scripture readings. Participants will also be asked to refrain from eating for the duration of "The Response" event, which runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.