(Melissa Phillip ~ Houston Chronicle)
"Father, our heart breaks for America," Perry told about 30,000 people gathered at Reliant Stadium. "We see discord at home. We see fear in the marketplace. We see anger in the halls of government and, as a nation, we have forgotten who made us, who protects us, who blesses us."
The Republican was hosting what he has called a national day of prayer before an audience filled with people who sang with arms outstretched in prayer -- and wept -- as Christian groups played music on stage.
Perry has said the event is not political but rather aimed at rallying the nation to a Christian unity during difficult times. Still, the event gave him an important platform as he weighs whether to run for president.
His words reached thousands of religious conservatives in Texas and nationwide; the event was being shown live in 1,000 churches around the country.
Evangelical conservatives are an important voting group in GOP presidential primaries, especially in the early voting states of Iowa and South Carolina.
Critics of the event have argued that it inappropriately mixes religion and politics, and protesters picketed outside the arena.
Perry dismissed the criticism, saying that public leaders needed to keep their faith close at hand.
"We pray for our nation's leaders, Lord, for parents, for pastors, for the generals, for governors, that you would inspire them in these difficult times," he said near the end of a 12-minute speech that drifted between prayer and Bible readings. "Father, we pray for our president, that you would impart your wisdom upon him, that you would protect his family."
Perry also prayed for the U.S. troops killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.
After he spoke, Perry stood for several minutes huddling on the stage in prayer with a group of pastors.
The event was Perry's idea but was financed by the American Family Association, a Tupelo, Miss.-based group that opposes abortion and gay rights and believes that the First Amendment freedom of religion applies only to Christians.
Perry, who has said he is considering a presidential run in part out of a religious calling, is expected to announce his plans soon. He plans to travel to South Carolina next Saturday, when several of the declared Republican candidates for president will be in Ames, Iowa, for that state's presidential straw poll, a closely watched test of campaign strength in the leadoff caucus state.