A Response to Rick Perry’s “Response”

Today, Texas governor Rick Perry (a potential presidential candidate) is holding a prayer rally.

According to the website, Perry believes that

"America is in the midst of a historic crisis. We have been besieged by financial debt, terrorism, and a multitude of natural disasters. The youth of America are in grave peril economically, socially, and, most of all, morally. There are threats emerging within our nation and beyond our borders beyond our power to solve.”

As the governor of his state, Perry organized this prayer rally, or what he is calling a “Solemn Assembly,” because

“As a nation, we must come together, call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles, and thank Him for the blessings of freedom we so richly enjoy according to His grace, mercy, and kindness towards us. A historic crisis facing our nation and threatening our future demands a historic response from the church. We must, as a people, return to the faith and hope of our fathers. The ancient paths of great men were blazed in prayer – the humility of the truly great men of history was revealed in their recognition of the power and might of Jesus to save all who call on His great name.”

Perry cites the Prophet Joel as the basis for our nation to come together for this Solemn Assembly:

In Joel chapter two, an ancient Hebrew prophet speaks to a nation in crisis and gives her God’s solution: gather together, repent of their sins, and pray to God to intervene on their behalf. In that day the command was for everyone to stop what they were doing and gather for a sacred assembly to turn to God with all their hearts, "with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning" (Joel 2:12).

Why did God desire fasting, weeping, and mourning – or, to put it differently, contrition and humility – from the people? A "sacred assembly" (Joel 2:15) was a gathering that served a few purposes: first, in gathering, the people were acknowledging that their nation had drifted away from its foundations in morality and faith. Because of this moral decline, the people were not prepared to face the external threats rising up against them: economic, political, and military in nature. God wanted His people to understand that their internal threats (moral decline) were far greater than their external threats (economic crisis and military invasion)…”

What do you think?

Here are some issues to discuss:

1. Is America a “Christian Nation” equivalent to the theocratic nation of ancient Israel?

Is it proper hermeneutics to equate God’s command to the nation of Israel to a present-day command to the nation of the United States of America? Perry’s Rally website says, “We must, as a people, return to the faith and hope of our fathers,” and then cites dates in the 1700s and 1800s when the nation’s leaders would call days for national prayer. Is America the historical equivalent to the theocratic nation of Israel? Or is the current “holy nation” actually Christians who are not confined to any national border (1 Peter 2:9-10)?

2. If the Old Testament prophets are cited as legitimate proclamation of how we are to act as the United States, then should we not be consistent?

If Perry cites Joel as biblical reason for the nation to come together to repent of their sins and pray to God to intervene on our behalf, then what sins does Perry have in mind? If it is appropriate to cite the Prophet Joel as a guide for the United States as a nation, then is it not also appropriate to cite Amos?

6 This is what the LORD says:

   “For three sins of Israel,
   even for four, I will not relent.
They sell the innocent for silver,
   and the needy for a pair of sandals.
7 They trample on the heads of the poor
   as on the dust of the ground
   and deny justice to the oppressed.
Father and son use the same girl
   and so profane my holy name.  (Amos 2:6-7)

As Ron Sider writes in his book Good News and Good Works: A Theology for the Whole Gospel,

“Most of this text denounces economic oppression. Scholars point out that the ‘righteous’ person who is sold for silver or sandals is a poor person with a good legal case, but the rich and powerful bribe the judges and win. Corrupt legal systems result in gross economic injustice. But then the last two lines condemn sexual misconduct (perhaps cult prostitution). God abhors both sexual sin and economic oppression.” (p. 149)

If America is supposed to be a Christian Nation, then what national laws and programs should our government put into place to help the crisis of the poor in our nation? Is Perry defining the “crisis” in America in the terms of the Old Testament Prophets? Is his definition of the crisis consistent with what the Prophets speak of in passages like the one cited above, or in Amos 5:10-12 (“There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes, and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.”), or Isaiah 10:1-4 (“Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.”)? Does Rick Perry see the sin of our nation as the sin of corporate lobbyists using their wealth and power in order to “frame injustice by statute” (Psalm 94:20)?

3. Is this rally a good thing or a bad thing for our Christian witness?

When a post-Christian nation like the United States see an event like this, does it help or hurt our attempts to proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom of God (Luke 4:43)? People are already very suspicious of this notion of Christians taking over their lives by force, so how can we proclaim to people the way of Christ that is attractive and transformative (not only individually but also societally) without coming across as seeking to coerce people to a Christian theocracy in America?

1 comment:

Ted M. Gossard said...

Good post, Bob. My answer would be, "No," this is not good for our witness, or for the country, for that matter. Prayer in itself is always good, of course. It's the agenda that goes with it, which you point out here, that is indeed troubling. We in Jesus are the one holy nation on earth. Hopefully we can bring good influence in the democratic process, and especially in simply being true to our calling. As you say, in terms of compassion for the needy, and sincerity in the truth in our own lives. Thanks.