In August, Texas Governor Rick Perry held his prayer rally, "The Response," which led over 30,000 people in prayer and fasting. While Perry’s Christian beliefs and values are well-known, they shouldn’t form the foundation of his policies and platforms.
As GOP presidential hopefuls contend for the 2012 Republican nominee, Perry is shaping a platform that outlines policies rooted in Christian values. America’s Evangelical and conservative Christian base has proved powerful in the primaries of 2004 and 2008 and even more influential in establishing core Christian beliefs for the Republican base. Although it's not surprising that Perry is infusing his stance with beliefs and values that many Americans adhere to, it is a move that blurs the separation of church and state.
On September 14, Perry addressed the student body of Liberty University, the largest Evangelical university in the U.S., opting for a spiritual message that resonated more with students than political promises. He described the significance of Americans sticking to Christian values, explaining, “America is going to be guided by some set of values. The question is going to be: Whose values?”
One step further, Perry’s Christian beliefs extended to his foreign policy approach as well. On September 20, he met with leaders of the Jewish community from the U.S. and abroad to stand in solidarity in opposing the Palestinian bid for statehood. Perry stated, “I also as a Christian have a clear directive to support Israel, so from my perspective it’s pretty easy. Both as an American and as a Christian, I am going to stand with Israel.”
Some Christians believe that the predictions and prophecies outlined in the Old Testament demand Christian support for the state of Israel to ensure the fulfillment of Scripture. In this sense, political support for Israel contains religious roots. Framing the issue theologically is a dangerous precedent, especially if it extends to policy.
While the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains sensitive and complex, defending U.S. support through a religious lens opens the gates for other countries and leaders to offer support or maintain opposition based on a theological understanding as well. The difficulties the Israelis and Palestinians face trying to broker a peace deal, with the U.S. serving as moderator, is complex enough without obvious U.S. allegiance to Israel viewed as religiously motivated.
While Perry’s Christian beliefs and values are refreshing to some, their place in policy is frightening. Although the Evangelical community is a necessary support base for securing the Republican nomination, garnering support by embracing popular religious sentiments can prove disastrous later on in the election season, alienating other potential endorsers.
Republican approval of Christian beliefs in the public arena has always been a sticky issue, forcing many Republicans to delicately balance their religious views and sentiments with public perceptions. It seems as if Perry has ignored this precedent, and although he enjoyed solid approval ratings early on, the race is just beginning.