Sunday, August 7, 2011

Representing Americans United for Separation of Church and State in McAllen Texas

Thank you all for being here to represent the millions of Texans who have been excluded by Gov. Perry’s sectarian prayer event today.

Supporters of this un-American event often claim that it is atheists and Muslims who object to it but that’s really not so. There are many Christians here in this group today and one of the most vocal criticisms of Gov. Perry’s shindig is Rev. Barry Lynn, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and the Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. There are over two dozen members of the Houston Clergy Council who along with Rev. Dr. Stephen Sprinkle, Associate Professor of Practical Theology at Texas Christian University believe that Rick Perry is wrong too and no one would call any of them atheists.

Rev. Lynn sent a letter to Gov. Perry June 8th urging him to step back from his exclusionary event. Here’s a brief excerpt that I think summarizes it well:
"To be blunt, you have overstepped your constitutional bounds. I am a Christian minister and would like to remind you that it is not the job of government officials to call people to pray, recommend that they fast or prod them to take part in other religious activities. That job belongs to me and my fellow clergy. We are capable of doing it without government “help” or interference. We are offended when you attempt to usurp our role.

Furthermore, in a pluralistic nation where people hold many faiths (and none), it is certainly not the job of any government official to sponsor and promote a worship service that reflects a narrow segment of our religious community."

Not only is Gov. Perry violating the spirit if not the letter of the constitution in his sponsorship of this religiously exclusionary event he is coordinating with religious groups and figures with very controversial theological ideas. The rally isn’t just exclusively Christian in nature; it’s only for certain types of Christians.

The event’s most prominent sponsor, the American Family Association, is well known for slinging extreme anti-gay and anti-Muslim rhetoric. One of its bloggers, Bryan Fischer, says Adolf Hitler invented church-state separation and believes the United States should yield to biblical law. The AFA is also known for blaming gays and lesbians for the Holocaust and for Hurricane Katrina.

Then there is the International House of Prayer, a controversial congregation based in Grandview, Mo. The church’s founder, Mike Bickle, who claims that Oprah Winfrey is the "pastor of the Harlot Movement" a pre-cursor to the anti-christ.

And there’s Dr. John Benefiel of the Heartland Apostolic Prayer Network in Oklahoma City. Benefiel’s views are so outside the mainstream that he believes the Statue of Liberty is “a demonic idol”.

And let’s not forget Rev. John Hagee who claims the Catholic Church is "The Great Whore," an "apostate church," the "anti-Christ" and a "false cult system."

Most Americans do not accept these extreme views. It’s bad enough that Perry is using his government office to promote a prayer rally; it’s even worse that the one he is promoting excludes the majority of Americans.

As Kim Kamen, of the American Jewish Committee, told The Times, “There are many houses of worship here in Texas, not just Christian churches. As the leader of our state, we hope that he will bear that in mind.”

Americans United believes Perry’s sponsorship of a “Christians-only” event fails to honor our country’s religious diversity. Gov. Perry's actions are divisive, unwelcoming and constitutionally inappropriate.

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