ABC News' Arlette Saenz (@arlettesaenz) reports:
Texas Governor Rick Perry invigorated the crowd at "The Response" today, reading scripture passages and leading more than 30,000 people in prayer.
“Like all of you, I love this country deeply,” Perry said. “The only thing that you love more is the living Christ.”
Perry closed out The Response by boasting about the success of the event, which drew in over 30,000 people.
“This is a day that people are going to discuss for years to come,” Perry said. “Beyond my hope that it will begin a renewal of our nation, I sincerely pray that our willingness to stand in the public square to acknowledge the God who made us will inspire others to open their minds and their hearts to their love. I pray there will be families who will welcome God back into their homes. People will be strengthened by his love and by his forgiveness because that is the essential building blocks that will strengthen this nation that we love.”
Perry, who is contemplating a presidential run, read scripture from the books of Joel, Isaiah, and Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians.
There were few references to politics in his brief speech. Perry only remarked that God is not political.
“His agenda is not a political agenda. His agenda is a salvation agenda,” Perry said. “He’s wise enough not to be affiliated with any political party.”
The Texas governor prayed for the state of the country along with the president, the military, and those killed in the helicopter crash in Afghanistan.
“Father, our heart breaks for America," he said. "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.”
“I want to take -– just a special moment -– and ask you to pray for our military, their families, especially and specifically the loved ones and the warrior brothers of those special forces who were lost in Afghanistan yesterday. Lift them up in your prayers. Hold their spirits close to your hearts and souls.”
Engaging in singing gospel hymns and praying, more than 30,000 people attended "The Response," much higher than the initial estimates given by event organizers. Coordinators opened the upper decks of Reliant Stadium, which has more than 70,000 seats, after the floor and lower bowl levels filled up.
The crowd consisted of a broad mix of people from across the country. Janet Lantrip of Houston said Gov. Perry’s call for prayer is what motivated her to join the group today.
“I’m coming to join the people to pray for this nation, Lantrip said. “I’ve come here today because I believe that Governor Rick Perry is like a king over this land and he’s called for prayer for this land.”
Asked whether it is appropriate for a government official to be leading a prayer event, Candis Richardson, who drove six hours with her church group from McAllen, Texas, said Perry is just the person to lead this event.
“Today by doing this not only has he shown his personal integrity, but he’s sort of steering our nation back to where it was started, so we’re really proud of him,” Richardson said. “I think it's definitely appropriate that he be the one who lead us.”
A group of about 30 protestors gathered outside Reliant Stadium to protest the anti-gay and exclusionary views of the American Family Association, which is paying for the event. The professors waved signs saying "Pray Away the Hate" and "Pastor Perry Must Resign."
Peter Montgomery, senior fellow with People for the American Way, said Perry's decision to associate with divisive and controversial figures at the prayer event is not appropriate for a government official.
"It's really not the government's place how to worship," Montgomery said "It's really not the government's role to organize that, particularly when you're organizing with people who are divisive and exclusionary."
"I think Governor Perry is very canny and I think he was using this event to raise his profile among conservative religious voters nationwide," Montgomery said.
But people in the crowd said they’re not thinking about a potential “President” Perry. They are here to offer their prayers for a nation.
“We’re a nation in crisis. We believe the answer to this crisis is to seek the face of God," James Holt said.