Reporting from Houston — Appearing before more than 15,000 people he summoned to a national prayer meeting, prospective Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry prayed for President Obama and asked God to keep the president’s family safe.
"Like all of you, I love this country deeply," said Perry, greeted by a roar of approval when he took the stage at Reliant Stadium in Houston shortly before noon. "Indeed the only thing you love more is the living Christ."
The Texas governor, expected to enter the Republican presidential race soon, said he organized the daylong prayer meeting to seek divine help in fixing problems that are beyond the ability of government to solve.
To applause, Perry gave his view of a "personal God" whose "agenda is not a political agenda. His agenda is a salvation agenda." The governor added, with a chuckle, "He is a wise, wise God, and he’s wise enough to not be affiliated with any political party."
Perry, who issued a proclamation earlier this year urging Texans to pray for an end to the state’s severe drought, initiated the privately financed rally. He has used the event to promote himself nationally among religious conservative voters, a powerful bloc in GOP presidential primaries.
Critics assailed the gathering as an improper mingling of church and state and attacked the prominent role given to a number of controversial evangelists. Perry and other speakers were careful to avoid overt partisan appeals and the governor’s office said taxpayer money wasn’t used to put on the event, which was financed by the American Family Assn. of Tupelo, Miss.
Perry’s public role at the event itself was a relatively modest one. He delivered a prayer after reading several Bible verses, including from the book of Joel, a minor prophet whom Perry cited as the inspiration for the meeting.
"Father, our heart breaks for America. We see discord at home. 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, who blesses us, and for that, we cry out for your forgiveness," said Perry, praying with hands clasped.
"Father, we pray for our president, that you would impart your wisdom upon him, that you would guard his family," the governor said. "You call us to repent, Lord, and this day is our response."