HOUSTON — Standing on a stage surrounded by thousands of fellow Christians on Saturday morning, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas called on Jesus to bless and guide the nation’s military and political leaders and “those who cannot see the light in the midst of all the darkness.”
“Lord, you are the source of every good thing,” Mr. Perry said, as he bowed his head, closed his eyes and leaned into a microphone at Reliant Stadium here. “You are our only hope, and we stand before you today in awe of your power and in gratitude for your blessings, and humility for our sins. Father, our heart breaks for America. We see discord at home. We see fear in the marketplace. We see anger in the halls of government, and as a nation we have forgotten who made us, who protects us, who blesses us, and for that we cry out for your forgiveness.”
In a 13-minute address, Mr. Perry read several passages from the Bible during a prayer rally he sponsored. Thousands of people stood or kneeled in the aisles or on the concrete floor in front of the stage, some wiping away tears and some shouting, “Amen!”
The rally was seen as one of the biggest tests of Mr. Perry’s political career, coming as he nears a decision on whether to seek the Republican nomination for president. While the event will be sure to help Mr. Perry if he tries to establish himself as the religious right’s favored candidate, it also opens him up to criticism for mixing religion and politics in such a grand and overtly Christian fashion.
In many ways, the rally was unprecedented, even in Texas, where faith and politics have long intersected without much controversy — the governor, as both a private citizen and an elected leader, delivering a message to the Lord at a Christian prayer rally he created, while using his office’s prestige, letterhead, Web site and other resources to promote it. Mr. Perry said he wanted people of all faiths to attend, but Christianity dominated the service and the religious affiliations of the crowd. The prayers were given in Jesus Christ’s name, and the many musical performers sang of Christian themes of repentance and salvation.
Mr. Perry, a lifelong Methodist who regularly attends an evangelical megachurch near his home in West Austin, has been speaking and preaching in sanctuaries throughout Texas since he was state agricultural commissioner in the 1990s. Organizers for the event, called The Response: A Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis, estimated that more than 30,000 people were at Reliant Stadium when Mr. Perry spoke. The seating capacity is 71,500, and tens of thousands of seats in the upper decks were empty.
“I wish you could see what I see here,” announced Luis Cataldo, a leader of the International House of Prayer, a Christian ministry in Kansas City, Mo., as the event began at 10 a.m. “This is the body of Christ.”
While those on the stage avoided making overt political statements or expressions of political support for Mr. Perry, many in the audience made it clear in interviews that they would vote for the governor should he enter the presidential race.
Liz Lara, 62, who lives in La Vernia, Tex., drove about 200 miles to Houston with her daughter and two grandchildren to attend the rally. She said the family came to support Mr. Perry and pray for God’s help in solving the nation’s problems. “I believe that God has prepared Rick Perry for such a time as this,” she said. “I believe he will be our next president.”
At one point, Mr. Perry asked those in the audience to pray for President Obama. “Father, we pray for our president, that you impart your wisdom upon him, that you would guard his family,” he said.
Mr. Perry addressed the crowd nine days after a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed against him by a national group of atheists arguing that his participation in the rally in his official capacity as governor violated the First Amendment’s requirement of separation of church and state.
Members and supporters of that group, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, were among dozens of people protesting outside the stadium. Others included gay activists who criticized Mr. Perry for supporting the American Family Association, which organized and financed the rally. The association is a conservative evangelical group based in Mississippi that is listed as an antigay hate group by the nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center.
Mr. Perry had invited his fellow governors to join him, but only Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas, a Republican, attended. Gov. Rick Scott of Florida made a video statement that was played in the stadium.
Daniel Cadis contributed reporting.