Religious Biography

Rick Perry

Born in the rural community of Paint Creek, Texas, Rick Perry is a fifth-generation Texan raised by tenant-farming parents. In his 2010 book, Fed Up!, Perry wrote that his family members “were God-fearing conservatives who believed that there is right and wrong and that family values matter.”

In an October 2010 interview with the Austin American-Statesman, Perry said he was raised as a Methodist in a church where there was “comfort in tradition and stability.” As a child, Perry also was “involved” in the local Baptist church, according to his 2008 book, On My Honor. “Life revolved around school, church, and … Boy Scouts,” Perry wrote.

Is there anything more fundamental to the founding of our nation than the right to the ‘free exercise of religion’ as guaranteed in the First Amendment to the Constitution? Yet, the Supreme Court, focusing almost solely on the Establishment Clause – the intent of which was to prevent a national established church – has so meddled with the very idea that we should be able to worship freely, that the mere mention of God or any exhibition of faith in Him is close to being scrubbed from the public square.”

– Rick Perry writing in his 2010 book, Fed Up!

Following his graduation from Texas A&M University, Perry served in the U.S. Air Force from 1972 to 1977 before returning to Paint Creek at age 27 to work on his family’s ranch. In a September 2011 address at Liberty University, an evangelical Christian college in Lynchburg, Va., founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, Perry told students he felt “lost, spiritually and emotionally” upon his return to Paint Creek. “I spent many a night pondering my purpose, talking to God, wondering what to do with this one life among the billions that were on the planet,” Perry said. “My faith journey is not the story of someone who turned to God because I wanted to. It was because I had nowhere else to turn.”

Perry eventually decided on a career in public service. He first was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1984. He served two terms as the state’s commissioner of agriculture during the 1990s and was elected lieutenant governor in 1998. Perry became governor of Texas in 2000 after George W. Bush was elected president, and he now is serving his third term.

Perry and his wife, Anita Thigpen Perry, have two children. According to the Austin American-Statesman, the Perrys were longtime members of Tarrytown United Methodist Church in Austin. But in his October 2010 interview with the newspaper, Perry said he had begun attending services more frequently at Lake Hills Church, a nondenominational, evangelical Protestant megachurch in Austin. According to his campaign, Perry currently worships at Lake Hills Church and no longer attends Tarrytown United Methodist Church. “It’s evangelical and hip. When you start your service with Lynyrd Skynyrd, you know it’s nontraditional,” Perry said of the worship style at Lake Hills Church in an October 2011 interview with Parade magazine.

In a 2006 interview with The Dallas Morning News, Perry said he supported remarks by Texas megachurch pastor the Rev. John Hagee in which Hagee said that non-Christians would go to hell. “In my faith, that’s what it says, and I’m a believer of that,” Perry told the reporter. Perry later clarified his remarks, telling the reporter, “I don’t know that there’s any human being that has the ability to interpret what God and his final decision-making is going to be.”

In his 2008 book, On My Honor, Perry accuses organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union of unfairly attacking the Boy Scouts of America, which requires its members to pledge duty to God. “The ACLU and like-minded liberals” want “to whitewash the public square and our public dialogue of any reference to God,” Perry wrote.  According to media reports, Perry also was involved in the Texas Restoration Project, a group that organized a series of meetings in 2005 encouraging Christian pastors to mobilize their congregants to vote on social issues. “It is a ridiculous notion to say you can’t legislate morality. I say you can’t not legislate morality,” Perry told the group, according to the Associated Press.

In June 2011, two months before he announced his presidential candidacy, Perry issued a gubernatorial proclamation declaring Aug. 6, 2011, “a solemn day of prayer and fasting on behalf of our troubled nation,” and invited Texans to pray with him at Reliant Stadium in Houston. Described by Perry as “a non-denominational, apolitical, Christian prayer meeting,” the event drew upwards of 30,000 attendees. In his remarks at the event, Perry read from the biblical books of Joel, Ephesians and Isaiah, and he said God is “wise enough to not be affiliated with any political party.”

Perry’s rally was partially funded by, and adopted the faith statement of, the American Family Association, an evangelical Christian organization that promotes conservative positions on social issues. Critics of the rally included Houston-area religious leaders and national groups such as the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The Freedom from Religion Foundation criticized the organizers of the event for sending a follow-up email to attendees about a voter-registration drive aimed at conservative Christians, the Houston Chronicle reported.

In his September 2011 address at Liberty University, Perry cited biblical examples as he encouraged students to become politically engaged. “God uses broken people to reach a broken world,” Perry said. “You have the right, like every American, to speak your mind. … Don’t leave it to a bunch of Washington politicians to tell you how to live your life.”

Published on November 8, 2011
PHOTO CREDIT: © Vernon Bryant/Dallas Morning News/Corbis