Perry talks about his faith, forsaking talk of jobs for
By Philip Rucker,
Wednesday, September 14, 9:34 AM
LYNCHBURG, Va. — Texas Gov. Rick Perry is a man of faith, and one of the big
questions about him has been whether he will seek the presidency more as an
evangelist or as a job creator.
On the debate stage, Perry has done the latter. But he demonstrated Wednesday
that he will not shy away from cloaking his candidacy in his Christianity,
delivering an address here at the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University that
presented his life in deeply spiritual terms and cast his political aspirations
In perhaps his most reflective and personal remarks as a Republican
presidential candidate, Perry never once said the word he utters just about
everywhere else: “jobs.” His 20-minute speech was shorn of policy prescriptions
and denouncements of President Obama.
Instead, the evangelical Christian governor spoke the language of the
movement with ease. He talked about the many nights in his 20s he spent
pondering his purpose, “wondering what to do with this one life among the
billions that were on the planet,” but knowing that God’s answers would be
revealed to him in due time.
Perry mused about his personal failings: not realizing his dream of becoming
a veterinarian because he flunked organic chemistry, being ordered to do
push-ups as a college cadet when his superiors in morning inspections discovered
insufficiently shined shoes, straying from his faith and being “lost” as a young
Air Force pilot overseas.
“He who knows the number of drops in the ocean, he counts the sands in the
desert, he knows you by name. . . . He doesn’t require perfect
people to execute his perfect plan,” Perry said before an estimated 13,000
students and faculty members who filled the basketball arena here for their
Then, invoking Moses and David of Scripture, he added: “God uses broken
people to reach a broken world. The mistakes of yesterday say nothing about the
possibilities of tomorrow.”
Recent past presidents spoke comfortably about their faith, including George
W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. Bush shared a narrative
of his religious conversion — that he went on a walk with the Rev. Billy Graham,
joined a Bible study group and overcame his alcoholism.
“Rick Perry’s a more overt, less subtle guy than George W. Bush, and he is
going to be more overt in his policy statements and his statements about his
faith,” said Richard Land, a longtime leader of the Southern Baptist Convention
who has spoken with Perry about his faith. “He talks about his faith in terms
that evangelicals will find completely identifiable.”
Before he began his campaign in August, Perry drew 30,000 people to a revival
prayer session at a Houston stadium. Behind the scenes, he has been courting
evangelical leaders, including at a recent retreat on a remote Texas ranch.
But it remained unclear how directly he would discuss his evangelism in
He answered that question on Wednesday.
“This is one of his early attempts to say: ‘This is who I am,’ ” said Michael
Cromartie, director of the Evangelicals in Civic Life program at the Ethics and
Public Policy Center.
“It’s like he had somebody like Rick Warren helping him write,” he added.
Warren’s book “The Purpose Driven Life,” Cromartie said, “is
about how there’s a plan for everybody. That’s what Perry’s trying to say, that
God has a plan for him, and it’s a really big one — to be the next president of
the United States.”
A lifelong Methodist, Perry regularly attends Lake Hills Church, a relatively
new and modern evangelical megachurch in Austin, where the Rev. Mac Richard
incorporates live music, movies and drama in his services.
Perry’s advisers say he neither wears his faith on his sleeve nor covers it
up. He usually prays before meals and, as governor, has spoken at prayer
services and has issued executive orders to pray for rain.
“You wouldn’t necessarily notice it on a daily basis, but he is not at all
self-conscious or shy about talking about faith or displaying it when he feels
like it’s called for,” said Ray Sullivan, Perry’s communications director. “It
is just who he is.”
William Martin, a professor at Rice University who studies religious
conservatives, has questioned the compassion of Perry’s health-care and
“I looked at his policies, and they didn’t seem to be something that would
flow from a heart full of Christian love, so I was thinking he had found
religion conveniently,” Martin said. “But as best I can tell, it seems to be a
long-standing conviction of his.”
Several other Republican presidential candidates also speak openly about how
their faith guides their public service, including Rep. Michele Bachmann
(Minn.), who is scheduled to speak at Liberty University later this month. Jerry
Falwell Jr., the college’s chancellor, said she would be the fifth of the eight
top GOP hopefuls to visit the campus.
Falwell said he would not endorse a candidate in the race, but he gave Perry
a particularly enthusiastic introduction, calling him “one of the most pro-life
governors in American history” and likening him to Reagan.
Absent from the list of those who’ve made a pilgrimage here is Perry’s top
rival for the nomination, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who has
rarely, if ever, publicly discussed his Mormon faith during his current
With his speech here, Perry drew one of his sharpest contrasts with Romney,
as well as former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr. The contrast was not only over
religion — Huntsman, too, is Mormon — but also over their backgrounds. Romney
and Huntsman grew up in privileged families, but Perry spoke at length about his
more humble origins.
Perry said the only world he knew while growing up was “that little place
called Paint Creek.” The closest post office to his home was 16 miles away, he
said, and there were only two places of worship nearby: “a Methodist church and
a Baptist church — your choice.”
The only exposure he had to someplace else, he said, came in 1964, when he
traveled to the East Coast for the National Boy Scout Jamboree.
“For me, indoor plumbing was a bit of a luxury until I was about 5 years
old,” Perry said. “And I didn’t worry about the latest fashions; my mother sewed
most of my clothes. I didn’t know that we weren’t wealthy in a material sense. I
knew that we were rich in a lot of things that really mattered — in a spiritual
Perry said he turned to God not because he wanted to but because “I had
nowhere else to turn. I was 27. I had been an officer in the United States Air
Force, commanding a fairly substantial piece of sophisticated equipment, telling
men and women what to do, but I was lost — spiritually and emotionally. And I
didn’t know how to fix it.”