On August 6, Texas Gov. Rick Perry will host The Response, a “prayer rally” in Houston, along with the extremist American Family Association and a cohort of Religious Right leaders with far-right political ties. While the rally’s leaders label it a “a non-denominational, apolitical Christian prayer meeting,” the history of the groups behind it suggests otherwise. The Response is powered by politically active Religious Right individuals and groups who are dedicated to bringing far-right religious view, including degrading views of gays and lesbians and non-Christians, into American politics.
In fact, a spokesman for The Response has said that while non-Christians will be welcomed at the rally, they will be urged to “seek out the living Christ.” Allan Parker, a right-wing activist who participated in an organizing conference call for the event, declared in an email bearing the official Response logo that including non-Christians in the event “would be idolatry of the worst sort.”
Perry told James Dobson that the rally was necessary because Americans have “turned away from God.”
The following is an introduction to the groups and individuals who Gov. Perry has allied himself with in planning this event.
The American Family Association
The American Family Association is the driving force behind The Response. Founded by the Rev. Don Wildmon in 1977, the organization is based is best known for its various boycott campaigns, promotion of art censorship, and political advocacy against women’s rights and LGBT equality. The organization also controls the vast American Family Radio and an online news service, in addition to sponsoring various conferences frequented by Republican leaders, including the Values Voter Summit and Rediscovering God in America. The AFA today is led by Tim Wildmon, Don’s son, and its chief spokesperson is Bryan Fischer, the Director of Issues Analysis for Government and Public Policy and host of its flagship radio show Focal Point.
Fischer routinely expresses support for some of the most bigoted and shocking ideas found in the Religious Right today. He has:
- held gays responsible for the Holocaust and likened them to domestic terrorists and Nazis who are intent on committing “virtual genocide” against the military, and asserts that “homosexuals should be disqualified from public office”;
- said “we have feminized the Medal of Honor” by awarding it to a soldier who saved his fellow combatants rather than killing enemies;
- demanded all immigrants “convert to Christianity” and renounce their religions;
- asserted that Muslims have “no fundamental First Amendment claims” and should be banned from building mosques and deported from the US, adding that Muslims are inherently stupid as a result of inbreeding;
- claimed African American women “rut like rabbits” due to welfare and that Native Americans are “morally disqualified” from living in America because they didn’t convert to Christianity and were consequently cursed by God with alcoholism and poverty;
- said that the anti-Muslim manifesto of the right-wing Christian terrorist who killed dozens in Norway was “accurate.”
Other AFA leaders and activists are just as radical:
- AFA President Tim Wildmon claims that by repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell President Obama shows he “doesn’t give a rip about the Marines or the Army” and “just wants to force homosexuality into every place that he can.”
- AFA Vice President Buddy Smith, who is on the leadership council of The Response, said that gays and lesbians are “in the clasp of Satan.”
- The head of the AFA’s women’s group led a boycott against Glee because she accused it of indoctrinating children in homosexuality and idolatry.The editor of AFA Journal Ed Vitagliano said that gay pride months are an affront to the Founding Fathers and will usher in “a return to pagan sexuality.”
- A columnist for the AFA demanded Christians stop practicing yoga because it was inspired by the “evil” religions of Buddhism and Hinduism.
International House of Prayer
The Response’s leadership team includes five senior staff members of the International House of Prayer (IHOP), a large, highly political Pentecostal organization built on preparing participants for the return of Jesus Christ. In a recent video, IHOP encouraged supporters to pray for Jews to convert to Christianity in order to bring about the Second Coming. IHOP is closely associated with Lou Engle, a Religious Right leader whose anti-gay, anti-choice extremism hasn’t stopped him from hobnobbing with Republican leaders including Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann and Mike Huckabee. Engle is the founder of The Call, day-long rallies against abortion rights and gay marriage, which Engle says are meant to break Satan’s control over the U.S. government. One recent Call event featured “prophet” Cindy Jacobs calling for repentance for the “girl-on-girl kissing” of Britney Spears and Madonna. Perry’s The Response event is clearly built upon Engle’s The Call model.
Engle has a long history of pushing extreme right-wing views and advocating for a conservative theocracy in America. Engle:
- is a proponent of “Seven Mountains” dominionism, a movement that seeks to have Christians take control of all aspects of American life, including government, business, entertainment and the media;supports the criminalization of homosexuality;
- claimed that universities with LGBT anti-discrimination measures are teaching students to “accept the mark of the beast”;
- is waging a “spiritual war” on the Supreme Court to get abortion outlawed in America;
- prayed that Ellen Degeneres will be “converted” from homosexuality.
- led a prayer rally in Jerusalem to lead one of the “greatest awakenings in the earth” to bring the Jews of Israel to Christianity.
- claimed that the devastating tornado in Joplin, Missouri was God’s judgment for abortion.
IHOP’s founder and executive director, Mike Bickle, who is an official endorser of The Response, like Engle pushes radical End Times prophesies. In one sermon, he declared that Oprah Winfrey is a precursor to the Antichrist.
The International House of Prayer, incidentally, remains locked in a copyright infringement lawsuit with the International House of Pancakes.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, is a co-chairman of The Response. At the FRC, Perkins has been a vocal opponent of LGBT equality, often relying on false claims about gay people to push his agenda. He:
- called gay rights activists “intolerant,” “hateful,” “vile,” “spiteful” and “pawns” of Satan;
- denied that there was a correlation between anti-gay bullying and depression and suicide, saying instead that gay and lesbian teens know they are “abnormal” and “have a higher propensity to depression or suicide because of that internal conflict”;
- wrote that Senators would have “the blood of innocent soldiers on their hands” if they vote to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and allow gays to serve openly in the military;
- likened President Obama to a Middle East dictator when the president refused to defend the unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act in court;
- said “I don’t know if the country can survive” another Obama term;
- said that armies that allow gays and lesbians to serve openly – including several U.S. allies in Iraq and Afghanistan –“participate in parades, they don’t fight wars to keep the world free.”
One of the most prominent members of The Response’s leadership team is pastor Jim Garlow. The pastor for a San Diego megachurch, Garlow has been intimately involved in political battles, especially the campaign to pass Proposition 8. Garlow invited and housed Lou Engle to lead The Call rallies around California for six months to sway voters to support Proposition 8, which would repeal the right of gay and lesbian couples to get married. He claims Satan is behind the “attack on marriage” and credits the prayer rallies for the passage of Prop 8. He said that during a massive The Call rally in San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium “something had snapped in the Heavenlies” and “God had moved” to deliver Prop 8 to victory.
Most importantly, Garlow is a close spiritual adviser to presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and leads Gingrich’s Renewing American Leadership (ReAL). Garlow is a principal advocate of Seven Mountains Dominionism, and wants to “bring armies of people” to bring Religious Right leaders into public office and defeat their political opponents.
Garlow has a long record of extreme rhetoric. He:
- when Prop 8 passed in California, claimed that African Americans “saved us from the bondage and enslavement that would come upon us if gay marriage actually passed in a state” and alleged marriage equality supporters are going to “totally destroy the definition of the family”;
- likened homosexuality to bestiality, saying that if marriage equality is upheld “the next court case could conceivably say that if three people wanted to marry or four people or five people or if someone wanted to marry their dog or their horse”;
- compared gay adoption to children losing their parents in the September 11th attacks and said that supporters of gay rights are “almost like an Antichrist spirit”;
- told conservative activists that “your land has cancer” and believes that the “lethal ideological ‘radiation’” of progressives “is killing our nation” and “poisoning us and our children”;
- argued that legal abortion is responsible for unemployment.
James Dobson, an official endorser of The Response, is one of the most prominent figures in the Religious Right. Founder of both Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council , Dobson has been instrumental in bringing the priorities of the Religious Right to Republican politics, including campaigning hard for President George W. Bush. But many of the views that Dobson pushes are hardly mainstream. Dobson:
- is no fan of the women’s movement, writing that women are just “waiting for their husbands to assume leadership” ;
- claims that marriage equality will “destroy the Earth”;
- insists that the Religious Right’s fight against Planned Parenthood is “very similar” to that of abolitionists who fought against the slave trade.
- Asked if God had withdrawn his hand from America after 9/11, Dobson responded: “Christians have made arguments on both sides of this question. I certainly believe that God is displeased with America for its pride and arrogance, for killing 40 million unborn babies, for the universality of profanity and for other forms of immorality. However, rather than trying to forge a direct cause-and-effect relationship between the terrorist attacks and America’s abandonment of biblical principles, which I think is wrong, we need to accept the truth that this nation will suffer in many ways for departing from the principles of righteousness. “The wages of sin is death,” as it says in Romans 6, both for individuals and for entire cultures.”
David Barton, an official endorser of The Response, is a self-proclaimed historian known for his twisting of American History and the Bible to justify right-wing political positions. Barton’s strategy is twofold: he first works to find Biblical bases for right-wing policy initiatives, and then argues that the Founding Fathers wanted the United States to be a Christian nation, so obviously wanted whatever policy he has just found a flimsy Biblical basis for. Barton, “documenting” the divine origins of his interpretations of the Constitution gives him and his political allies a potent weapon. Opponents who disagree about tax policy or the powers of Congress are not only wrong, they are un-American and anti-religious, enemies of America and of God.
Barton uses his shoddy historical and biblical scholarship to push a right-wing political agenda, including:
- Biblical Capitalism: Barton’s “scholarship” helps to form the basis for far-right economic policies. He claims that “Jesus was against the minimum wage,” that the Bible “absolutely condemned” the estate tax,” and opposed the progressive income tax.
- Revising Racial History: Barton has traveled the country peddling a documentary he made blaming the Democratic Party for slavery, lynching and Jim Crow…while ignoring more recent history.
- Opposing Gay Rights: Barton believes the government should regulate gay sex and maintains that countries which “rejected sexual regulation” inevitably collapse.
Among the other far-right figures who have signed on to work with Gov. Perry on The Response are:
- Rob Schenk, an anti-choice extremist who was once arrested for throwing a fetus in the face of President Clinton, and who allegedly had ties with the murderer of abortion provider Dr. Barnett Slepian.
- Loren Cunningham, who is working to mobilize support for the rally is a co-founder of the radical “Seven Mountains Dominionist” ideology. Cunningham says that he received the “seven mountains” idea, which holds that evangelical Christians must take hold of all aspects of society in order to pave the way for the Second Coming, in a message directly from God.
- Doug Stringer, The Response‘s National Church and Ministry Mobilization Coordinator, who blamed American secularism and the increased acceptance of homosexuality for the 9/11 attacks, saying “It was our choice to ask God not to be in our every day lives and not to be present in our land.”
- Cindy Jacobs, self-proclaimed “prophet” and endorser of The Response, who famously insisted that birds were dying in Arkansas earlier this year because of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
- C. Peter Wagner, an official endorser of The Response, is one of the most prominent leaders of the New Apostolic Reformation, a controversial movement whose followers believe they are prophets and apostles on par with Christ himself (other adherents include Engle, Jacobs and Anh). Wagner has advocated burning Catholic, Mormon and non-Christian religious objects. He blamed the Japanese stock market crash and later the devastating earthquake and tsunami in the country on a traditional ritual in which the emperor supposedly has “sexual intercourse” with the pagan Sun Goddess.
- Che Ahn, a mentor of John Hagee and official endorser of The Response, who endorses “Seven Mountains” dominionism and compares the fight against gay rights to the fight against slavery.
- John Benefiel, a self-proclaimed “apostle” and official endorser of The Response, who claims the Statue of Liberty is a “demonic idol” and that homosexuality is a plot cooked up by the Illuminati to control the world’s population, and that he renamed the District of Columbia the “District of Christ” because he has “more authority than the U.S. Congress does.”
- James “Jay” Swallow, official endorser of the rally, who calls himself a “spiritual warrior” and hosts “Strategic Warriors At Training (SWAT): A Christian Military Training Camp for the purpose of dealing with the occult and territorial enemy strong holds in America.”
- Alice Smith, who advocates “spiritual housecleaning” because demons “sneak into” homes through everyday objects.
- Willie Wooten, a self-proclaimed “apostle” who claims that God is punishing the African American community for supporting gay rights, reproductive freedom and the Democratic Party.
- Pastor Stephen Broden – Broden, an endorser of The Response, has repeatedly insisted that a violent overthrow of the U.S. government must remain “on the table.”
- Timothy F. Johnson – Johnson, a former vice-chairman of the North Carolina GOP, was elected to that post despite two domestic violence convictions and still unresolved questions about his military service and educational record.