Rick Perry and His De-politicized God
Former Texas Governor Rick Perry apparently is President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to head the Department of Energy–or at least that’s what the New York Times and others are reporting.
The media are making much to do of an on-air gaffe by Perry in 2011 when he was running for the Republican nomination for president (a race he ended up losing to Mitt Romney). At that time, in a televised debate, Perry attempted to name three federal departments he intended to close should he be elected president. The three departments were the departments of Education, Commerce, and Energy (although, ironically, he drew a blank when trying to think of the name of the latter–the very department he apparently will oversee in the Trump administration).
Below is an article I wrote on Perry back during that 2011-2012 campaign season. The article does not deal with his on-air gaffe but rather with a prayer rally he held at Reliant Stadium in Houston in August of 2011. Perry professes himself a Christian, but as I noted in the article, during the prayer rally Jesus was scarcely mentioned at all while God was presented as a deity who overall has no great qualms with America’s wars.
You’ll keep in mind, of course, that at the time I wrote the article, the war in Syria was just getting under way. ISIS had yet to emerge, and widespread killings of Christians had not as yet begun to happen. You might also keep in mind that the policies of Israel and the US have helped to fuel ISIS.
The Hypocrite’s Masquerade
By Richard Edmondson
Rick Perry, the exhibitionistic governor of Texas, claims he’s a Christian. On August 6, 2011, in a sports stadium in Houston, Perry held a “prayer and fast rally” which drew some 30,000 people, a day-long affair that had been organized with the aim of praying for a “nation in crisis.” Certainly the U.S. is in a crisis, and as a person of religious faith I obviously think prayer can be a spiritually awakening experience when undertaken from an attitude of genuine and steadfast sincerity and with humility and love for God foremost in one’s mind. But here’s the thing: like all of America’s politicians, Perry is little more than a painted caricature of a human being to whom sincerity seems to be a hazardous chemical compound best discarded and left alone.
In a recent article by Philip Giraldi, we learn that Perry in late June appealed to Attorney General Eric Holder for the prosecution of American citizens who participated in this year’s Gaza Freedom Flotilla. Giraldi observes that the governor, as a potential frontrunner in next year’s presidential campaign, appeared to be “sharpening his foreign policy credentials” and seemed to be doing so “in the traditional way by cozying up to the Israel lobby.” And of course, had Holder undertaken such a prosecution, those who joined this year’s ultimately-thwarted flotilla, as Giraldi correctly notes, could have faced the prospect of “spending the rest of their lives in a federal prison for doing absolutely nothing wrong.”
The governor’s prayer rally was dubbed “The Response,” and in his talk at the event, Perry professed his love for America, quoted scripture, touted his belief in a “loving God,” his high regard for a “living Christ,” and expressed pointed concern for Americans who have lost jobs and homes:
Our hearts do break for those who suffer, those afflicted by the loss of loved ones, the pain of addiction, the strife that they may find at home, those who have lost jobs, who have lost their homes, people who have lost hope.
It is nice that Perry musters such empathy for out of work Americans, a sad number of whom find themselves coping for the first time in their lives with the experience of living in vehicles or, in worst-case scenarios, directly on the streets. Unmentioned by Perry, quite naturally, is any acknowledgement that this state of affairs came about as a result of decades of public policies favoring the rich over the poor, but of course, such an acknowledgement cannot in any way be made. Why? Because Perry, like many conservative, evangelical Christians, worships a depoliticized god, a god wholly unconcerned with the corrupt practices of those who wield power, even if their decisions result in death, wars, poverty, and widespread misery. As Perry puts it, “His (God’s) agenda is not a political agenda; his agenda is a salvation agenda.” The Texas governor even jokes, somewhat flatly, that God is “wise enough to not be affiliated with any political party.”
In other words, God and politics don’t mix. But such a claim is by its very nature political. If you stand before a crowd and proclaim God’s political neutrality on the multiple wars America is waging in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, you have made an inherently political statement. You are saying that God only cares about the individual’s salvation, not mass killings. This in essence is a validation of the status quo, an affirmation of war—the same wars that have bankrupted the country to the point of causing suffering and job loss to the very Americans Perry claims to be praying for. The governor, despite assertions to the contrary, is injecting politics into the religious debate and religion into the political debate.
And what of Jesus? If God is to be depoliticized, what becomes of Christ and of such overtly political statements as “It is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven”? There doesn’t seem to be much room for them, does there? Is it not odd, that while the Texas governor inserted biblical quotations into his speech—three in all, two from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament book of Ephesians—at no point in his twelve and a half minute oration did he supply a single direct quote from Jesus? Fancy that if you will! No quote from Christ—and at a Christian rally no less! Were Perry a true follower of Jesus, he might well have quoted Christ’s beatitude, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” and issued a call for the wars to end; or perhaps he might have recited the parable of the Good Samaritan as an illustration of why programs to help the needy—programs almost totally gutted in recent years—now, more than ever, need urgently to be restored; or he could have reminded his listeners of Jesus’ uncompromising denunciation of the political leaders of his day—“Woe to you teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!”—and called upon all Christians to follow that preeminent example of standing up and speaking truth to power.
The fact that Perry did none of these things should not surprise us, however. Ten days ago I argued that in the Christian Zionist religion, Jews quite literally replace Jesus as an object of veneration and adoration, and that in reality Christian Zionists worship not Jesus—but Jews. Here in part is what I wrote:
In Christian Zionism, Christ is reduced to a minor, almost inconsequential figure. CZs [Christian Zionists] are quick to point out that Jesus was Jewish, and that’s certainly a point in his favor where they are concerned, but the vast majority of his teachings are discarded. For CZs, the real object of worship is the Jewish people in a collective sense. Let me repeat that: CZs do not worship Christ; they worship Jews.
Extremely steeped in the Old Testament, the theology of Christian Zionism is driven by the belief that Jews are God’s “chosen people”, that they are therefore superior, and that it is the obligation of Gentiles to “bless” them (read: “serve” them) as is commanded in Genesis 12:3. Any concerns about Jesus come secondary to this. CZs view the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 as nothing short of a miracle of God, and this is a belief they are likely to retain no matter how many mass murders, genocides, war crimes, and crimes against humanity Israel commits. In fact, the more Israel does these things, the more CZs are likely to approve of it, for the Jews of the Old Testament carried out very similar acts.
A depoliticized god who favors Jews and has no qualms about war—it sounds pretty much like the sort of religion Jews would prescribe for Gentiles. And indeed, as I went on to note, this is what Noahidism is all about. Heavily promoted by the Chabad Lubavitch movement, Noahidism in a nutshell is Christian Zionism with Jesus formally, finally, and irrevocably stripped away. Is this what Christian Zionism is gradually evolving into? Will the two religions merge at some point? It’s hard to say, and I don’t have a crystal ball, but certainly no mention of Jesus can be found in Perry’s closing prayer on August 6. The text of the prayer reads as follows:
Father our heart breaks for America. We see discord at home; we see fear in the market place. We see anger in the halls of govt. 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, Lord, for parents, for pastors, for the generals, for governors, that you would inspire them. In these difficult times, Father we pray for our president, that you would impart your wisdom upon him, that you would guard his family. We pray for our military and the families who love them, O Father especially for those special operators who lost their lives yesterday [chokes back a sob] in defending our freedoms. You call us to repent Lord, and this day is our response. We give it all to you, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen and amen and amen.
Not surprisingly, the Houston event was attended by busloads of worshippers who had journeyed up from the San Antonio mega-church pastored by Christian Zionist leader John Hagee. One of them, in a curious comment made to David Weigel of Slate, expressed his concern that “Christianity is under attack,” this while at the same time lavishly praising Perry:
“If this is successful here,” he says, “I think other governors, or other politicians, will come out of the closet. Christianity is under attack, and we don’t speak out about it.”
Probably nowhere on earth is Christianity more despised and under attack than in Israel, a fact seemingly lost on Christian Zionists, and we can probably safely assume the irony of the above statement was wholly unrecognized by its speaker. How many Christian Zionists, for instance, are aware that in Israel priests are spat upon or that New Testaments have been burned by mobs of protesters? How many know the extent to which Christ is vilified in the Talmud, or that the Talmud even vilifies him at all? Talmudic treatment of Christ, by the way, is a topic extensively covered in Jesus in the Talmud, by Peter Shäfer, a professor of Jewish studies at Princeton; it is a book few Christian Zionists most likely have bothered picking up. If they did, however, they could read of a loathsome portrayal of Jesus spending eternity in hell boiling in excrement—as well as (rather surprisingly) proud proclamations of Jews being responsible for his death:
On the other hand, we should not forget that it was also the gist of the Baraita’s [non-Mishnaic oral laws’] narrative that the Jews took upon themselves the responsibility for Jesus’ execution. So the later Babylonian discourse may not want to accept the Gospel’s blame for Jesus’ death; rather, like the Baraita but with different reasoning, it may want to convey the message: yes, the Roman governor wanted to set him free, but we did not give in. He was a blasphemer and an idolater, and although the Romans could probably not care less, we insisted that he got what he deserved. We even convinced the Roman governor (or more precisely: forced him to accept) that this heretic and imposter needed to be executed—and we are proud of it.
What we then have here in the Bavli [Babylonian Talmud] is a powerful confirmation of the New Testament passion narrative, a creative reading, however, that not only knows some of its distinct details but proudly proclaims Jewish responsibility for Jesus’ execution. Ultimately and more precisely, therefore, it turns out to be a complete reversal of the New Testament’s message of shame and guilt: we do accept, it argues, responsibility for this heretic’s death, but there is no reason to be ashamed of it and feel guilty for it. We are not the murderers of the Messiah and Son of God, nor of the king of the Jews as Pilate wanted to have it. Rather, we are the rightful executioners of a blasphemer and idolater, who was sentenced according to the full weight, but also the fair procedure, of our law. If this interpretation is correct, we are confronted here with a message that boldly and even aggressively challenges the Christian charges against the Jews as the killers of Christ. For the first time in history we encounter Jews who, instead of reacting defensively, raise their voice and speak out against what would become the perennial story of the triumphant Church. (Jesus in the Talmud, p. 73-740
He needed to be executed—and we are proud of it. Talmudic rabbis are such a pleasant, jocular lot, are they not? And of course these are the “chosen people” to whom the Christian Zionists have pledged their prayerful and unqualified support, Christian Zionists who no doubt, as the one quoted in Slate, voice the occasional fret over Christianity being “under attack.”
At this point we have to ask ourselves is Governor Rick Perry aware of the manner in which Christians are treated on the streets of Jerusalem? Is he aware of how Jesus is depicted in the Talmud? Has he heard? Does he know of these things? Or does he speak in ignorance? Perhaps, most crucially of all, if he did know of these things would it even matter to him? Or would he continue to support Israel? The practice of going about proclaiming themselves followers of Jesus by politicians like Perry is as common as the common flu, yet it is an abomination nonetheless, and Christians need to start recognizing it as such. Followers of Christ would do well to recognize something else as well: that last week’s prayer rally in Houston was a masquerade ball of hypocrites and false prophets preying upon the easily deceived. As Jesus warned, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”