The Prayer Rally Divide

In the lead-up to the weekend prayer rally at Reliant Stadium, much was made about the divide between those who supported the rally, and Governor Rick Perry's participation in it, and those who did not. But how well do the two sides understand each other? Do they feel they have anything in common? And is there any way to bridge the differences in deeply held beliefs and opinions? David Pitman went to Saturday's rally at Reliant Stadium to find out.

About 30,000 people came into the cool comfort of the stadium.  Outside, and far away from the main entrance, roughly 200 protestors huddled under whatever shade they could find along Kirby Drive.

(sounds of protestors and car horns)

Everyone I talked to — whether protesting or praying — emphatically said they do not dislike or hate those with whom they disagree. Both sides admitted that their opponents had the right to pray and assemble as they pleased. 

Inside the stadium, 32-year-old Adam Blythe of Houston said he respects the different views on the separation of church and state, but...

"I see this much more of a spiritual dynamic of the nation — that we are at a critical point in our nation's history.  If somebody doesn't stand up and do something, we're all gonna be in a mess.  And I believe what Governor Perry's doing is probably the most crucial thing that our entire nation needs to do.  So I commend him for being bold enough in his faith to stand for the truth."

I heard very little vitriol from people at the rally — if there was hate expressed, it wasn't when there was a microphone nearby. And yet the two sides hardly even engaged each other.

One of the most noticeable attempts at dialogue was a protestor with a bullhorn going back and forth with attendees on a balcony dozens of yards away.

"I know that you up there may hate me because I am different.  But I can assure you that if the roles were reversed, I would be considerate enough to reach out my hand to you and offer you my help."

That's Kathryn Jackson.  The 26-year-old rode a bus from southeast Kansas to be at the rally.  I asked her why use a bullhorn to shout at people from a distance instead of going inside?

"Because I'm afraid they'll beat me up if I walk in that door."

James Vance is an 18-year-old from Spring.  He was on the balcony where Jackson directed her remarks.  He says he couldn't make out what she was trying to say because of the overhead speakers playing sounds from the prayer rally.   So what about going to the protest area to have a real conversation?

"To be honest, I'd think that'd be a bad idea.  I think it'd lead to violence.  It just wouldn't be a good idea, which is why I think they have us separated." 

(Pitman) "That's exactly what the bullhorn lady was saying." 

"I don't wish physical harm on any of them.  I just wish they'd let us do what we do.  When they all go get married in Niagara Falls, I wasn't going up there to protest against them."

So what can be done to bridge the divide between these two groups — to ease the fear and loathing?  The answers from protestors were generally how the other side needs to be better educated on the protestors' views.  But the people I spoke with inside, the people who came to worship, had a different answer. They believed the gap can be erased if the protestors embraced Jesus Christ.

Bio photo of David Pitman

David Pitman

Local Host, Morning Edition

The one question David hears most often isn't "What is it like to work for an NPR member station?" or "Have you ever met Terry Gross?" (he has)...