Discuss as:

Perry on God: I was 'lost spiritually and emotionally'

Rick Perry gave a speech at  Liberty University in Lynchburg Virginia where he discussed his own faith and his personal struggles with academics.  NBC's Carrie Dann reports.

LYNCHBURG, Va. -- In remarks focused strongly on redemption and his own personal “faith journey,” Gov. Rick Perry urged a crowd of over ten thousand students at evangelical college Liberty University Wednesday to speak up for their future in the political sphere.

“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,” Perry said at the school founded by religious leader Jerry Falwell in 1972.

The Texas governor offered a candid description of a time when he “wrestled with God,” saying that at age 27 after serving as an officer in the Air Force he felt “lost spiritually and emotionally… and I didn’t know how to fix it.”

“My faith journey is not the story of someone who turned to God because I wanted to,” he said. “It was because I had nowhere else to turn.”

Perry, whose grades at Texas A&M were far from sterling, also appeared to push back against those who question the intellect of an animal science major with a transcript peppered with Cs and Ds.

“Managing to balance between being a cadet and being a student, preparing for that life in the military while trying to focus on the variety of subjects that would prepare me for life after the military,” Perry said of his life at Texas A&M. “It wasn’t always easy. Quite frankly, I struggled with it. I fully admit that.”

While the 2012 contender’s remarks touched on few policy issues, he did mention the broad framework of his foreign policy philosophy, arguing for forceful American action to counter “evil.”

“Our response cannot be to isolate ourselves within our borders, but to engage our allies and the quest to build these enduring allies around the world for freedom,” he said.

Jerry Falwell Jr., the chancellor of the school and the son of its famous founder, spoke admiringly of Perry at a press conference with reporters before the event, calling the governor’s flirtation with the idea of secession “gutsy.”

“I just think a candidate that’s willing to say things that most polished politicians are advised not to say, I think that shows that he’s real,” Falwell said. “He’s a real person. He’s down to earth.”

The governor’s visit to Lynchburg comes two weeks before his rival Michele Bachmann is scheduled to speak at a similar “convocation” event there; by the end of this month, five of the eight major presidential candidates will have visited the school in recent years.

After his speech at Liberty, Perry heads to a Virginia GOP lunch fundraiser with Gov. Bob McDonnell, and then New York City, where he meets with Donald Trump.