Is Rick Perry as Christian as He Thinks He Is?

The Texas governor is running an openly religious campaign, but does he overlook the parts of the Bible that do not support his political beliefs? 

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America is a religious nation. Polls may differ, but most find that over 80 percent of Americans say they believe in God. Fifty percent also say they go to church on Sunday, while only half of those actually do. I guess this shows that we want to look better than we actually are, at least to the public -- if not to God, who presumably knows what we're really up to.

Most political candidates also profess their belief in God. At the same time, they rarely make a big deal of their devotion. They've probably read Matthew 6:1, which warns, "Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them."

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who just announced he's running for president, has taken a different tack. A week before announcing his candidacy, he led a prayer meeting for evangelical Christians in Houston. The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit trying to stop him from participating in this rally, arguing that he was violating the First Amendment by using his position, stationery, and website to promote the event. The court dismissed the complaint, saying that the plaintiff didn't show sufficient harm to merit the injunction.

I disagree with the court's ruling. I think the governor misused his office to promote a particular religion. That might have been clearer to the judge if Perry had organized a rally in support of Islam rather than Christianity. There's no difference as far as the First Amendment is concerned.

In any case, Gov. Perry's decision to make his Christian faith a central part of his political identity opens him up to questions not usually asked of presidential candidates.

The press has traditionally been unwilling to question politicians about their religion. But in Perry's case, Christianity is front and center on his platform. I hope David Gregory will ask him some of the following questions when he next appears on Meet the Press, and that other members of the media won't shy away from them either.

First, are Rick Perry's political positions in line with Christ's teachings?

I see a fundamental inconsistency between Perry's concerted opposition to government social programs and his promotion of himself as a Christian politician. When asked about the impact of Texas's low-tax, low-service policies on the poor, he suggested that people who wanted more government services could find them in New York or California.

Christ teaches us to feed the hungry and care for the sick, not to abandon them. Perhaps Gov. Perry hasn't read that part of the Bible where Christ admonishes us to care for "the least among us." 

It's more likely that he knows that passage but reads it in a particular light. When I wrote Failing America's Faithful, I interviewed Rick Warren, the evangelical Christian minister and author, about his bestselling book, The Purpose Driven Life. Rick very kindly welcomed me to Saddleback, the church he had founded more than 30 years before. He and his wife were gracious to me. I was impressed by the thoughtfulness with which he reached out to his congregation, and his sensitivity to their needs and wants. 

Presented by

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is the author of Failing America's Faithful: How Today's Churches Mixed God With Politics and Lost Their Way. From 1995 to 2003, she was Maryland's first woman lieutenant governor.

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