Rick Perry leads prayers for jobs, becomes the great Republican hope.

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Aug. 6 2011 8:00 PM

And God Will Send Rick Perry

Amid prayers for jobs and investment portfolios, the Texas governor becomes the great Republican hope.

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"God will send a leader when we need one," says Finn.

Pete Ortega, one of dozens of people who's come up from San Antonio on buses from John Hagee's church, doesn't go this far. There is nothing political about the event, he says. He just wants to praise Perry.

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"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."

That's the brilliance of what Perry has done here: These ideas don't contradict each other at all. He doesn't need to talk about politics, or do anything besides be here and understand this event. The religion is the politics. These worshippers understand that if they can bring "the kingdom of God" to Earth, economic problems, even macroeconomic problems, will sort themselves out.

"If I have a supply, and you have a need, I will be able to help you out," says Jim Hylton, the pastor of a new church in Fort Worth. "That's a far better system than one where the government takes what I have in taxes and gives it to you after a lot of middle men have figured out how to. Now, S&P has downgraded our credit rating. That says to me that our system doesn't work. Well, if our system doesn't work, is there another system we can use? One that works?" He pauses to make sure I know the question is rhetorical. "There is."

When Perry hits the stage, it's a perfect union of speaker and audience. He is not announced by name. The giant screens broadcasting these images to the stadium don't even refer to him as "governor." The only perk he's allowed is that he doesn't have a Spanish-language interpreter sharing the loudspeakers with him, a quirk that has made some of the other speakers hard to understand. He reads from the Book of Joel, 2:12-17:

"Even now," declares the Lord, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning." Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and have pity and leave behind a blessing—grain offerings and drink offerings for the Lord your God. Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly.

Perry is interrupted by applause; the crowd wants to cheer the reference to Zion.

Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber. Let the priests, who minister before the Lord, weep between the temple porch and the altar. Let them say, "Spare your people, O Lord. Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, 'Where is their God?' "

The soon-to-be Republican presidential frontrunner, who is best known among liberal voters for raising the prospect of secession and for presiding over hundreds of executions, has just presented himself as a humble messenger of obvious biblical truth. "Our heart breaks for America," he says. "We see discord at home. We see fear in the marketplace. We see anger in the halls of government." It's one day since S&P downgraded America's bond rating, in part because the agency worried that conservative Republicans had proved that they would never agree to a debt-reducing bargain that included tax increases. Perry was pulling off an impressive act of transference.

Few Republican politicians realized the potential of what Perry was doing. Gov. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., appears in person; Gov. Rick Scott, R-Fla., appears via a video message. "Join me, and pray for job opportunities for those who need them," say Scott's disembodied head. The political risks of endorsing this event are a little clearer when I head to a smoking balcony outside and see that a crowd of around 50 protesters on the ground is enduring the heat, talking to reporters, and waving signs, including: "Todd Willingham Was Innocent," "Pray Away the Hate," and "THINK."

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