Perry, who has turned the Republican primary race upside-down overnight, is scaring the Sunday-school dropouts. John Sharp, the Democrat who lost when Perry was elected lieutenant governor of Texas in 1998, offers glum testimony to the Perry prowess. "Running against Perry is like running against God," he says. Everything breaks his way.
"I don't know if God is calling Rick Perry to run for president, but if he runs, the other candidates are going to need a big dose of magic and a lot of shoe leather," Sharp told Texas Monthly magazine. The Harry Potter generation should understand.
The more serious rap on the governor is that he exploits his faith for political purposes, that he puts it too much on display. His big prayer rally in Houston in August, held just before he announced his bid for the Republican nomination for president, was advertised as a call for Christians to pray for a nation in crisis. What could be wrong with prayer? But some of the people praying with Perry have raised the eyebrows -- and the high dudgeon -- of skeptical pundits.
Perry's prayer meeting was joined by followers of something called the New Apostolic Reformation, including believers who call themselves "Dominionists," who see themselves as modern prophets who receive instructions for political action directly from God. That sounds elementary enough to churchgoers, but for these followers, writes Forrest Wilder in the Texas Observer, a liberal weekly in Austin, that means "infiltrating politics and government" with God's message.
"The new prophets and apostles believe Christians -- certain Christians --are destined to not just take 'dominion' over government, but stealthily climb to the commanding heights of what they term the "Seven Mountains of Society, including the media and the arts and entertainment." This worries the mainstream media worriers.
"I care a lot if a candidate is going to be a Trojan horse for a sect that believes it has divine instructions on how we should be governed," writes Bill Keller, outgoing executive editor of The New York Times.