Office of the Governor Rick Perry

Gov. Rick Perry's Remarks to the African American Pastors and Leaders Summit

*Note - Gov. Perry frequently departs from prepared remarks.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007  •  Speech

Thank you C.L. It is both awesome and awe-inspiring to be in the presence of so many men and women of faith under one roof dedicated to building a better Texas. I am always a little self-conscious about speaking in front of folks who deliver sermons each week, especially when we have hundreds of you in one room. If any of my material sounds familiar, just know I’m a good listener on Sunday morning.

I am humbled to stand before you today as someone who understands that life’s most important battles are not waged in the halls of government, but the hearts of men. While government has an important function in distributing services to people in need, you dispense something even greater to people in need: the hope of redemption. I deeply appreciate all the prayers you offer on my behalf and others serving in public office, and I want you to know that I am praying for you as well.

The walk of faith I began many years ago is the most important journey of my life, and I am grateful that it began where it did. My parents were tenant farmers in a little West Texas town called Paint Creek. The Perry Family wasn’t wanting, but we weren’t awash in material things either. Mom made a lot of our clothes by hand and bathed my sister and me in a number 2 washtub before we got indoor plumbing. But whatever we lacked in material goods I never really noticed because we were rich in spirit. Over the years, my walk has taken me to the top of some mountains, and through a few valleys. In fact during my youth I’m sure my mom thought a time or two I wouldn’t make it through the valley of the shadow of death. But by the grace of God, here I am, a confessed sinner who has accepted the grace of God.

I won’t insult you by pretending to be an authority on the Christian faith. I am just an imperfect practitioner. But this I do know: the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God that led the Israelites out of Egypt, who took Elijah home with the whirlwind, who blinded Saul so that he could see as Paul, and who led the early Christians with the power of the Holy Spirit, the God who transcends time, who shapes the events of history, who has called men and women of His own choosing, IS ALIVE AND WELL AND CONTINUES TO CONCERN HIMSELF WITH THE REDEMPTION OF MANKIND! And this too I know: He who counts every hair on our heads and every drop in the oceans, He who knows the number of our days and every thought before it enters our minds, this all-knowing, all-powerful Creator has a specific plan for each of us, whether you are a child of privilege, the daughter of a single mom in the inner city, or the son of two tenant farmers from Paint Creek, Texas.

I ran for the office I now hold, out of a desire to make a profound difference. This calling, confirmed by the voters of this state, is to make a lasting difference at “such a time as this.” If I could define “such a time as this” I would say it is one of great spiritual battle. Will our children be drawn to a culture of Godlessness and licentiousness, or will we illuminate for them the path of virtue? Will they be raised by the values taught on television, or the values taught by two loving parents? Will they aspire to hear the praise of men, or the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant”? If we can talk so openly about the spiritual battle we confront in churches, mosques and synagogues, why can’t we also talk about it in the public square? One of the great myths of our time is that you can’t legislate morality. Like all great lies, there is a grain of truth to it. It is true that the passage of a law can’t change people’s values, can’t make people love one another. But to say you can’t legislate morality is to abdicate all responsibility for the moral consequences of the laws we legislate. If you can’t legislate morality, then you can neither lock criminals up nor let them go free. If you can’t legislate morality, you can neither allow for prayer in school nor prevent it. If you can’t legislate morality, you can neither recognize gay marriage nor prohibit it. It is a ridiculous notion to say you can’t legislate morality. I say you can’t NOT legislate morality.

The question becomes: whose morals will be legislated? Some say to a person of faith they should not impose their beliefs on society. They claim this is intolerance. But isn’t the act of shutting people of faith out of the public square the very definition of intolerance? We are a pluralist society and I agree government should not endorse a particular religious view. But it is quite different, and I would argue extreme, to say that government’s laws should not be influenced by the views of people of faith. Freedom of religion is not to be confused with freedom from religion. What a sad day it would be if the role of faith in the public square were limited to a few monuments and symbols that recognize God, while the laws we make are an assault on His eternal truths!

One such truth is the idea that human life is a sacred gift from our Creator and should always be protected under the laws of this state and nation. Today that truth is under assault from a decision by the highest court of our nation that allows the most vulnerable in our society to be taken from us before they are ever born. Jeremiah, chapter 1, verse 5 says: “Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.’” That verse speaks to me because it tells of a Creator who knew who we were before we were ever in the womb, a Creator whose plans for our lives, whose plans for all mankind, were conceived long before we were. I can only imagine the great sorrow God feels for the lives of purpose lost to the tragedy of abortion. It is true that not every child is born into ideal circumstances, but let it never be said that there is such thing as an unwanted child. God calls people of all circumstances.

Look at Moses. Floating in a basket at the edge of a river, tears pouring down his tiny face, condemned by an edict from Pharoah that all Hebrew baby boys be murdered, the son of a slave- you could argue that Moses was not born into ideal circumstances. But doesn’t God work in mysterious ways? This three-month old outlaw was found and rescued by the daughter of the man who sought his death. His mother was chosen to nurse him and help raise him- all on pharaoh’s charge card! With so many parents waiting to adopt, and an all-loving Creator who not only gives life, but a clear purpose for every life, there is no such thing as an unwanted child. How can people of faith not march on the public square when the lives of our most vulnerable children are at stake? How can we be silent when those without a voice need a champion? How can we turn our back on policies that trap the very people they intend to help? It doesn’t stop with protecting life- it only begins there. We cannot merely cherish the unborn- we must cherish all children. Every child, of every background is entitled to a quality education. Every child deserves to grow up in communities that are safe and that nourish their potential. Every child should have a future worth living for because every child matters.

I believe the best economic development tool we have in this state is an educated child. And I believe the next best thing we can give to young Texans is a strong job climate that lets them get their foot in the door so they can achieve the American Dream. Texas should always be a haven of opportunity, regardless of the sound of your last name, the color of your skin, or the zip code of your house. I have tried to build a Texas that welcomes all and includes all. I was so moved the day my appointee, Wallace Jefferson, was sworn in as the first African-American on the Texas Supreme Court. And especially proud to later name him chief. It was such an honor for me to put Louis Sturns on the Public Safety Commission, the first African-American to have a voice on a board that oversees our state law enforcement agency. I have been proud to appoint people like Lynden Rose, Bill Jones, Calvin Stephens, Judith Craven and Dr. Charles Mitchell to university boards of regents. And it was a special privilege to appoint the Reverend C. L. Jackson to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Board and Reverend Manson Johnson to the Health and Human Services Council.

There is much to be done, and the issues before us are great, but not greater than the God we serve. People of faith must not be lulled into complacency, nor frustrated into inaction, but empowered by the calling of their faith to change the face of our state and nation. Our greatest threat is not the merit of our ideas, but the danger of indifference. I stand before you but one man, one flawed human being to whom God has given one great opportunity: the chance to make a lasting difference. At the same time this is not about me. It’s not about you either. Whether we get credit is irrelevant compared to whether God gets the glory. I believe we must make an unshakeable stand, one that says in America we will build on solid rock and not shifting sands. We must unite together. We must speak the truth. We must act decisively in the public square. Thank you, and God bless you.

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