I have to admit, Rick Perry's rise to prominence among Republican presidential candidates, shortly after he convened a prayer meeting (The Response patterned after The Call), makes me nervous. Why? It has to do with his close alliance with the theology, ministries, and at least one former pastor of mine on the evangelical Christian Right.
On the surface, Perry has remarkably diverse political positions. While maintaining conservative credentials, he has called for a quick exit out of Afghanistan and Iraq, college financial assistance for children of illegal immigrants in Texas, and once used an executive order to create a mandatory HPV vaccine program for schoolgirls to fight cervical cancer. These are some of the reasons he has been attacked by other Republicans at the debates. He's doesn't fit neatly into their box. That part is good.
On the other hand, in other ways, he does fit the conservative bill. He scoffs at global warming, claims there are holes in the theory of evolution, and has a disdain and distrust of big government. Yet, these aren't the reasons I'm nervous. You see, I'd agree there are problems with orthodox Darwinian evolution (but support other unorthodox evolutionary theories) and have no problem with the "concept" of limited government, albeit I disagree with most conservatives on where to draw the line.
No, the reason I'm nervous is Perry (and Michelle Bachman for that matter) still buys into the popular evangelical fairy-tale notion that America is a Christian nation the roots of which we must return, or else. His kick-off prayer meeting was part political ploy and part rallying cry for true believers. By quoting strategically selected scripture (Joel 2), he told the audience, and the whole conservative evangelical movement, that he's one of them--one who, in the context of the OT prophet Joel, is calling our nation to repent of our sins (think gay and abortion rights) and return to the Lord. At Falwell's Liberty University, Perry said "America is going to be guided by some set of values. The question is gonna be, whose values? It's those Christian values that this country was based upon." Never mind that's not exactly true. We're equally based on Enlightenment values and some of the "Christian" values of our early history were detestable.
But what makes me really nervous is how Perry and the religious right and my old pastor Lou Engle (of The Call) define "Christian values." It's an extremely narrow, black-and-white view of Christ that I am all too familiar with, having spent almost 25 years in this movement. It's a view that ignores huge swaths of Christ's teachings. One that promotes OT law over NT grace (think Perry's pride at the 200+ executions in his state), militaristic solutions over non-violent alternatives, criminalization of homosexuality, protection of the rich from equitable tax increases, literalistic biblicism, and control (influence at the very least and dominion at worst) of government and major sectors of society. Some very devoted Christians would say these aren't Jesus' values at all.
These evangelical pseudo "Christian" values consider anyone outside the conservative fold as part and parcel of the enemy in a world of "spiritual warfare." It can't recognize that God works outside the institutional evangelical church/parachurch, reveals himself to people of other religions, and our current President, although obviously not perfect, is a devoted follower of Christ and might actually have some Christian values of his own!
What makes me nervous is not the Christian values, but the inconsistency in claiming them--the narrow mindset--and how it negatively affects public policy.