Gov. Pat McCrory Monday distanced himself from language in a full-page ad in the Observer about a religious rally next month at the Charlotte Convention Center.
The full page ad on Monday touted The Response, an event scheduled for Sept. 26.
“Come Join Me in a time of worship, prayer, fasting and repentance,” the ad says over McCrory’s name and beside a picture of the governor. It goes on to say the Response is “to call on Jesus on behalf of America that he might hear our cry and heal our land.”
In a statement, McCrory spokesman Graham Wilson said the governor had been invited to the event and agreed to speak.
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“Gov. McCrory accepted an invitation from the event organizers and will attend to talk to the audience about underage drinking, substance abuse and other issues … important to the values of North Carolinians,” he said.
“Neither the organizers nor the Charlotte Observer had been given permission to invite people on his behalf as stated in the advertisement. The event is being organized by The Response: USA.”
A 2011 Response gathering drew an estimated 44,000 to a Houston football stadium. Similar events have been held in Louisiana and South Carolina, all with the governors of those states in attendance.
“It’s really a groundswell of many, many churches (and) a desire for a solemn assembly,” said Rev. Doug Stringer, the Houston minister facilitating the Charlotte event. His website describes the need for such events.
“Our country is in crisis because we are a people who are no longer honoring God in our prosperity or humbly calling on Him in our predicaments,” it says.
McCrory said he’s “proud to attend the event and be a part of what hopefully will be a constructive dialog.”
McCrory has attended previous prayer events both as governor and as mayor of Charlotte.
Stringer said the event is funded by American Renewal Project, a non-profit funded by private donations.
A representative for the Charlotte event said the ad may have been poorly worded.
Some critics questioned the governor’s public involvement. Judy Schindler, senior rabbi at Charlotte’s Temple Beth El, said McCrory has a right to his religious beliefs but believes the ad went too far.
The ad “has raised concerns for many of our Beth El congregants, given that Gov. McCrory is the highest ranking elected official in our state,” she said. “Where is the separation of church and state? Did Gov. McCrory consider how this would be interpreted by the non-Christian people of his state? Is he advocating an explicit religious perspective?”
McCrory has upset some religious conservatives this year with his veto of a bill that would allow magistrates to recuse themselves from performing gay marriages, a veto subsequently overturned. He told a Charlotte radio station that a proposed religious freedom act “makes no sense.”
“That was certainly disappointing, but there’s a lot of good things he’s done that I think evangelicals are pleased with,” said Rev. Mark Harris, the pastor of Charlotte’s First Baptist church who has met with organizers of the September event.