HOUSTON—Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Saturday asked a stadium full of religious activists to pray for the man Perry appears poised to challenge: President Obama.
Addressing a larger-than-expected prayer rally that spilled into the upper sections of Reliant Stadium, home of the Houston Texans football team, the potential Republican presidential hopeful called on the audience to ask God to provide guidance to Obama, to “impart your wisdom upon him, and guard his family.”
But the governor also offered a tacit critique of the president’s stewardship, in the form of a prayer.
“Father, our heart breaks for America,” said Perry, leading the audience in a prayer. “We see discord at home, we see fear in marketplace, we see anger in halls of government. As a nation, we have forgotten who made us, who protects us, who blesses us, and for that we cry out for your forgiveness. We pray for our nation’s leaders, for parents, for pastors, for generals for governors, that you would inspire them.”
The governor’s remarks at The Response, an daylong session of prayer and fasting that he helped organize, came in the midst of his own preparations for a possible presidential run—a development that could dramatically shake up the GOP field.
Perry has spent the summer exploring whether to enter the race, meeting with possible donors, granting interviews to select national media outlets, and as he did Saturday, making the high-profile appearances. People close to Perry have signaled with increasing frequency in recent weeks that he is all but certain to run, likely announcing a decision sometime before the end of the month.
The Houston event, called The Response dramatically exceeded attendance expectations. Organizers had predicted a crowd of 10,000 people earlier in the week, but a spokesman estimated the crowd at 30,000 people. The lower bowl and floor of Reliant Stadium, which hosts NFL games, filled by 10:30 a.m. central time, forcing officials to open the previously closed upper deck. They cheered loudly when Perry walked on stage, and applauded uproariously during much of his speech.
Just one of a long line of speakers to lead the audience in a prayer or song at the daylong event, Perry read three sections of the Bible before leading the audience in a prayer, emphasized that God didn’t play political favorites and called on the nation to turn to a higher power for help solving problems.
“He is a wise, wise God, and he’s wise not to be affiliated with any political party; or, for that matter, he’s wise enough to be affiliated with any man-made institutions,” the governor said. “He’s calling all Americans of all walks of life to seek him to return to him, to experience his love and grace and acceptance, experience a full-filled life regardless of circumstances.”
Despite his role in organizing The Response, whether Perry would speak at prayer session remained a mystery until Saturday morning. The event drew widespread criticism for overlapping religion with politics, which critics called an inappropriate mixing of church and state. Adding to the controversy: The cosponsorship of the event by the American Family Council, an evangelical group that has vocally opposed gay rights. Throngs of protestors marched outside Reliant Stadium, some blaring music from the artist and gay rights activist Lady Gaga.
The only other elected official set to speak Saturday was Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who didn’t attend in his official capacity as governor. Gov. Rick Scott of Florida was scheduled to speak by satellite. Organizers said Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, also attended.