The announcement yesterday, Jan. 18, of former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue’s appointment to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture for incoming President Donald Trump resurrected critics of one of Perdue’s more well-known acts leading the Peach State.
On Nov. 13, 2007, amid the worst drought Georgia had seen in over 50 years, Perdue led a crowd of some 250 on the steps of the state Capitol to pray for rain. The lunch-hour gathering drew condemnation and protests from separation-of-church-and-state groups.
While in Atlanta, Perdue and his wife, Mary, were members of First Baptist Church in Woodstock. Upon Perdue’s completion of his second term in January 2011, the couple moved to Warner Robins, where they became members Second Baptist Church. Their son, Jim, joined them at Second Baptist as pastor in 2012.
‘Pray[ing] up a storm’
“We come here very reverently and respectfully to pray up a storm,” intoned Perdue at the 2007 prayer gathering.
Compared to today’s intense partisan climate, the meeting drew lawmakers and ministers from across the political spectrum. At the time, the drought had already siphoned Lake Lanier to its lowest point in 21 years. Record lows in state reservoirs had kicked off a “water war” between Georgia, Florida, and Alabama. In addition, all outside water use had been banned with $1,000 fines awaiting first-time offenders. Repeat offenders would have their water turned off.
November 2007 finished with just .96 inches of rain, well below the 30-year average of 4.1 inches for that month in the time frame of 1981-2010 by the National Weather Service. Things began to turn around in December, as Atlanta collected 4.78 inches of precipitation, compared to 3.08 the year before. That month also finished as the area’s third-highest rainfall total in a decade.
Though helped by December’s contribution, in 2007 the Atlanta area would receive only 31.85 inches of rain, its lowest total since the 31.8 inches in 1954.
After a slow start in January, precipitation for February through May 2008 beat the previous year’s monthly totals. The Atlanta area would go on to finish with nearly ten inches more rain than in 2007. By the end of 2009, precipitation totals had more than doubled since two years earlier, as Atlanta finished with 69.43 inches. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, that amount signaled the most annual rainfall for the area since 1948.
Lessons from the 2007 drought
Atlanta had experienced rainfall shortages in the 1980s. The big difference between then and 2007 was the massive population growth in the 90s through the 2000s. As such, many more people clamored for limited water.
And while most protesters near the Capitol steps in 2007 objected to the prayer itself, others wanted more attention toward lack of government planning for such a drought, reported Index managing editor Joe Westbury at the time.
Perdue indicated agreement, telling reporters Georgians had not done “all we could do in conservation.” He added the drought was an attempt by God to “get our attention. Hopefully, we will be better conservators of the blessings God has given us as he gives us more rain.”
Earlier, on Nov. 4 the then-Georgia Baptist Convention (now Georgia Baptist Mission Board) called churches together to observe a statewide day of prayer for rain. The following week on Nov. 13, messengers at the GBC annual meeting at James Brown Arena in Augusta lowered their heads in prayer in solidarity with those gathered in Atlanta the same day.
Perdue is the second Georgian appointed to a position in Trump’s cabinet, as U.S. Representative Tom Price has been tabbed to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.