LYNCHBURG, Va. — Republican presidential candidate and Texas Gov. Rick Perry used his speech to a packed audience at the conservative evangelical Liberty University to discuss his own faith — and to call for more Christian influence on America.
The governor, whose speech at the university was scheduled long before his presidential announcement, is looking to burnish his already-strong evangelical credentials ahead of early primaries in Iowa and South Carolina, two states with heavy numbers of evangelical voters.
Perry praised the school, which was founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, a father of the religious right movement, for “preserving those unique Christian origins and purpose” upon which it was founded.
He then said those values were needed more nationwide.
“It is important that [pastors] stand in the pulpit every day and defend those values, those Christian values,” Perry said. “America is going to be guided by some set of values — the question is going go to be — whose values? I believe that … it’s the Christian values that this country was based upon.”
After discussing his own time at Texas A&M University and in the Air Force afterward, Perry said he felt lost when he returned home to Texas at age 27.
“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,” he said. “I was lost spiritually and emotionally.”
He said that his “communion with God” had helped him find the path for his life.
Interweaving biblical anecdotes, Perry called on the audience of young conservatives to engage in politics.
“Don’t muzzle your voice because you’re young,” he said. “You have the right, like every American, to speak your right. You have the right to insist on change, to tell the people in power that you will not have your inheritance spent or your future mortgaged. This country is your country as well. Don’t leave it to a bunch of Washington politicians to tell you how to live your life. This is your future that we are debating today. Don’t be silent.”
Perry’s criticism of Washington drew cheers from the 10,000 students in attendance, but the loudest applause came when Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. spoke. Falwell shared an anecdote that he said reaffirmed that Perry was “strongly pro-life” and “strongly pro-[National Rifle Association],” two lines that received louder applause than any of Perry’s own comments.