HOUSTON—Every week tens of thousands of Houstonians answer the call to prayer at their local churches. But Texas Governor Rick Perry’s call to pray for the nation’s problems next month at Reliant Stadium has not received the blessing of two dozen local church leaders.
In a letter the Houston Clergy Council wrote last month that was signed by two dozen church leaders, it stated, "Keeping the church and state separate allows each to thrive and upholds our proud national tradition of empowering citizens to worship freely and vote conscientiously. We are concerned that our governor has crossed the line by organizing and leading a religious event rather than focusing on the people’s business in Austin."
Governor Perry made his appeal in a video that’s been posted on the website called theresponseusa.com.
"I’m all too aware of government’s limitations when it comes to fixing things that are spiritual in nature," Governor Perry said in the video. "That’s where prayer comes in. We need it more than ever with the economy in trouble, communities in crisis, people adrift in a sea of moral relativism. We need God’s help and that’s why I’m calling on Americans to pray and fast like Jesus did."
Pastors like Mark Edmiston-Lange of the Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church are upset at the Christian-based event, saying it’s not inclusive enough.
"We feel when you are the governor of the state and you hold an event you are supposed to invite everyone," said Edmiston-Lange.
The Houston Clergy Council takes issue with the Perry event being supported by the American Family Association.
"They have spoken out very vehemently against gays and lesbians but also they are not too fond of Muslims," said Edmiston-Lange.
The governor’s office quickly responded to the concerns.
"The American Family Association promotes faith and strong families," it told KHOU 11 News. "No one is being excluded."
"Any religion would be welcome to come," said Steve Riggle, Sr. Pastor at Grace Church. "The event will be overwhelmingly Christian. It just will be."
At a time when the nation’s politicians are having a hard time settling on a budget, supporters like Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church Pastor C.L. Jackson sees the event as an opportunity for clarity.
"It’s important because God gives us the answer to our situation, every political problem we have," said Jackson.
And the whole idea of whether Perry is crossing the line when it comes to the separation of church and state?
"Politics is often a messy kind of business, which is why religion is best to keep it at arms-length," said Edmiston-Lange.
"If the pundits are right, and prayer doesn’t work, and God is no big deal, then why are they so concerned that Governor Perry is calling a prayer meeting?" asked Riggle.
What is clear is that the event, called "The Response," is getting just that.