Among the 200,000 or more who converged on the nation’s capital for last month’s “Washington for Jesus” prayer rally were Michael and Cheryl Truitt of Smyrna, Delaware. The last time they had been in Washington was May 1971, when they participated in a violent antiwar demonstration that disrupted the city and enraged many local residents. A lot happened between the two events.
“Along the way the Lord made himself real to us,” explained Mrs. Truitt to a reporter. “He changed our lives, and so here we are, nine years later, for a completely different cause.” Michael Truitt, 28, now pastor of a conservative independent church, said he had come to join others from every state in the union to “repent in the sight of the Lord and ask his help for our nation.”
Those themes—repentance and the need for divine intervention in the life of the nation—permeated the dozens of speeches and testimonies throughout the 13-hour-long rally on the Washington Mall. Leaders described the gathering as the largest of its kind in the history of the nation and perhaps in the history of the church.
“We’re here because we love God and we love this country,” announced program cochairman Pat Robertson, president of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN-TV). “It’s easy to criticize [America], but God didn’t call us to be critics,” he said. “We’re to be intercessors.”
A number of speakers cited abortion, homosexuality, and the ouster of prayer from public schools as examples of unrighteousness in the country. Several warned that America has become militarily weak and is in mortal danger from the Soviets. “Unless we repent and turn from our sin, we can expect to be destroyed,” declared the other program cochairman. Bill Bright, head of Campus Crusade for Christ.
Despite such pronouncements, the event had more the air of a tent revival than a political rally. Crammed together in front of a huge platform outside the Smithsonian Institution (the same spot where Pope John Paul II preached to a smaller audience last fall), blacks, whites, and Hispanics, Pentecostals (the bulk of the crowd) and non-Pentecostals, old and young, intermingled freely, often holding hands as they prayed and sang together.
The rally originated nearly two years ago with Pastor John Gimenez of the 4,000-member Rock Church of Virginia Beach. Virginia. The Harlem-born Puerto Rican—an exdope addict and jailbird—discussed with neighbor Pat Robertson the idea of getting 100,000 people together in Washington to express their concern over the nation’s moral drift and to pray. Robertson endorsed the notion but set a goal of one million participants. April 29 was selected, said organizers, because on that day in 1607 the Jamestown settlers erected a cross on the Virginia coast and committed their future nation to God as a base for spreading the gospel throughout the world.
As the idea caught on, especially among charismatics and Pentecostals, birth pains developed. Robertson, Demos Shakarian and his Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship, and others were unwilling to participate if the leaders of the Mobile, Alabama-based Christian Growth Ministries, storm center of the shepherding-submission controversy among charismatics, were included in the rally leadership (April 4, p. 44). Because the CGM people were excluded, the main Catholic charismatic community leaders—linked with CGM in a “community of communities”—refused to go along. The absence of key Catholic support meant a slimmer crowd.
Film producer John Gilman of Virginia Beach, a former CBN executive, persuaded Bright to come aboard and Bright in turn opened the door to a number of other noncharismatics. Bright had been contemplating a mass meeting of his own in conjunction with his Here’s Life campaign but scrapped those plans in favor of the united effort.
With an approaching presidential election, and against a backdrop of court decisions and legislative proposals that irked many Christians, some of the moral issues of the day became important politically. A Washington for Jesus (WFJ) position paper issued earlier this year denounced homosexuality, abortion, and excessive government spending. It complained that “our government has aided our enemies and destroyed our friends,” and asserted that elected officials are first “servants of God, then servants of the people.” Several WFJ leaders believed that conservative Republican candidates and causes offered hope, and this became publicly known.
Critics charged that WFJ was, in effect, an attempt to baptize New Right politicians and issues as Christian, and that church members were being deceived. Some black WFJ sponsors showed signs of bowing under the pressure. WFJ leaders quietly withdrew the position paper and issued strong assurances that the rally would not be political. They pledged that visits by WFJ delegations to congressmen on the day preceding the rally would center on pledges of prayer support, not on lobbying for issues. Political leaders would be invited to attend the rally but not to participate in platform activities. This opened the way for more endorsements, including one from Billy Graham. (The evangelist sent regrets that he could not attend the rally, since he was busy with a crusade in Indianapolis.)
Robertson and Southern Baptist president Adrian Rogers—keynote speaker for the rally—failed in their repeated attempts to enlist television preacher Jerry Falwell. A source close to Falwell said he was convinced it would be impossible to attract one million people, and he feared a loss of credibility if attendance goals were not revised downward. Falwell also wanted WFJ to be more action-oriented—to take a stand on issues—said a source. Falwell’s absence meant a still slimmer crowd.
To organize grassroots support. 380 offices were set up across the country, one in almost every congressional district. Pentecostals headed most of these offices, and they were successful in reaching mostly other Pentecostals. Observers agree that if non-Pentecostals had been organized on the same scale, the final crowd tally would have been much closer to a million.
Another figure did approach the one million mark: the budget. Organizers said they were within $100,000 of underwriting their expenses on the eve of the rally; anything extra would go toward Cambodian refugee relief, they said, WFJ chairman Gimenez’s own church raised about $200,000 of the budget.
Much of the planning was impressive. Church choirs across the country began rehearsing rally music (five major selections and some choruses) nearly a year ago. In all, more than 1.000 choir members took part. They assembled on the day before the rally for a final five-hour rehearsal.
Months ago. Youth With a Mission sent nearly 100 workers to Washington to help with preparations. In a notable first, CBN. PTL. and Trinity Broadcasting Network pooled their resources to provide live and taped television coverage of the event. Insiders called it a minor miracle in light of the fierce competitiveness among the leaders of the three organizations.
The city’s subway system carried record numbers of riders. Mingling with surprised commuters, rally participants led lively sing-alongs on crowded buses and trains. Organizers paid the Metro system $25,000 to run a shuttle train between Kennedy Stadium and a predawn prayer meeting on the Mall: the train was promptly dubbed the “Holy Roller.” The stadium was a major staging area for hundreds of chartered buses; 30.000 persons attended a six-hour WFJ youth meeting there amid a steady downpour the night before the Mall rally.
At the same time the youth rally was going on, more than 3,500 persons were jammed into Constitution Hall for a WFJ leadership event featuring back-to-back preaching. Harlem preacher Jesse Winley, credited with getting thousands from New York City to attend WFJ, and Baptist evangelist James Robison of Hurst, Texas, were interrupted with applause and cheers.
Responding to critics, Robison announced: “We’re not here to Christianize the government. Jesus left us here to Christianize the world—all of it, including the government.” Why don’t the critics complain about those who are “humanizing” and “socializing” the government, he asked. If there is any organization that needs to come back to God, it’s the government, he declared, and the crowd roared approval.
Earlier in the day, similar enthusiasm permeated the women’s rally at Constitution Hall. Meanwhile, delegations of WFJ participants met with their congressional representatives. They issued invitations to the rally (fewer than two dozen congressmen attended, according to organizers), assured the congressmen of their support and prayer, and even prayed with some on the spot.
Organizers were careful to avoid identification with New Right politics or specific controversial causes. Midway through the rally, about 100,000 participants, organized by state delegations, staged a march along Constitution Avenue. Veteran police officials called it the largest—and friendliest—demonstration they had ever seen in the city. Banners and placards were screened to avoid controversy. Cross-toting evangelist Arthur Blessitt and a number of WFJ leaders led the way. Some churches from distant states brought bands and colorfully clad choirs that performed during the march.
Despite the disclaimers and precautions taken by the organizers regarding politics, critics—mostly from mainstream denominations and the Washington office of the National Council of Churches—kept harping. There were subtle appeals to church members to dissociate themselves from the event. Ironically, at the same time the liberal religious lobbyists of Washington were complaining in the press about WFJ’s alleged aim to pressure politicians, a delegation from the United Methodist General Conference in Indianapolis arrived amid much fanfare at the White House to urge the President’s restraint in dealing with Iran. This prompted private statements of disgust from WFJ leaders. “What they’re saying is that it’s okay to lobby for liberal causes in the name of the church but not for conservative ones,” commented one WFJ leader.
Bright and Robertson told reporters that the event signals a new era of Christian unity, and Gimenez disclosed that leaders have already been meeting together for months with the idea of keeping the spirit of WFJ alive. He hinted the movement may become international, with leaders from Canada in touch with each other about a similar event for their country, and with a Germany for Jesus effort already under way for next year.
Consultation on world Evangelization
A Smaller, More Studious Lausanne—in Thailand
Six years ago 4,000 church and mission agency leaders from around the world met at Lausanne, Switzerland, to discuss world evangelization. One of many lasting results of that gathering was the establishment of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization (LCWE), made up of 50 churchmen from the U.S., Canada, Asia, Latin America, Europe, and Africa. The U.S. contingent is a veritable “Who’s Who” of denominational and interdenominational evangelicalism: Billy Melvin, Stanley Mooneyham, Peter Wagner, Warren Webster, Leighton Ford, Thomas Zimmerman, Robert Coleman, Vonette Bright, Edward Hill, C. B. Hogue, Donald Hoke, and A. D. Raedeke.
Next month they will join other committeemen and a select group of 650 scholars and executives at Pattaya, Thailand, for another 10-day go-around. Simply put, they want to evaluate what’s happened since 1974 and develop new strategies for evangelizing unreached people.
“Current world conditions underscore the urgency of the church’s task,” said LCWE chairman Leighton Ford. “The volatile international situation confirms the need for the meeting. Churches everywhere are confronted with new challenges. We want to help them reach secularists, city dwellers, Marxists, and the nominally religious people.”
Participants will convene in 18 “mini-consultations” to hear the fruit of international study groups that have been meeting for the past two years. This Consultation on World Evangelization (COWE), in contrast to the one in Lausanne, is purposely being kept small, to help participants dig into the various study reports.
“Participants will not be starting in a vacuum,” said COWE director David Howard. “They will be building on a broad and deep foundation. The program is coming from the grassroots upwards. There’s a sense we don’t know what will happen, since we’re dependent on the findings of the study groups.”
According to Howard, participants were chosen on the basis of their contribution to world evangelization and their influence in their own churches. He explained how LCWE carefully worked its way through the minefield of international choosing: “No attempt was made to represent every country, nor every denomination or Christian organization. Strong attempts were made to keep a relative balance in geography, denominations, types of work, sex, age, and so on.”
Ford emphasized that “the participants are an army of veteran strategists, not a group of theorists.”
Several hot issues, exposing the church’s entanglement in world affairs, are sure to surface at Pattaya: the problems of refugees; the clash of Christianity and Marxism, Islam, and Judaism. One of the more sensitive subjects is evangelizing nominal Christians.
“There is certain to be lively discussion,” said Howard. “Must a person leave a given ecclesiastical structure in order to develop as a committed Christian? The answer to this may appear simple to some people, but it’s certain to be a debatable issue with others.”
Significantly, there will also be discussion of the future of LCWE itself. One entire study group will focus on cooperation in world evangelization. The outcome will clarify LCWE’s role in relating to both the World Council of Churches and the World Evangelical Fellowship. LCWE has members in both groups.
Prior to the consultation there was already concern that these political maneuvers would overshadow Pattaya’s prime purpose—how to evangelize 2.5 billion people. Gottfried Osei-Mensah, LCWE’s African executive secretary, said, “The consultation should stir up the Christian community to its evangelistic responsibility and, in addition, furnish strategy and insights with which to discharge it.”
He and other COWE leaders will have to work hard to keep Pattaya on track.
JAMES W. REAPSOME
Judge Rejects Paying the Piper to Maintain Belief
Homosexual musician Kevin Walker’s lawsuit against the local First Orthodox Presbyterian Church was dismissed last month by a San Francisco County Superior Court judge. Judge John A. Ertola rejected Walker’s claims for damages against the church, which had fired him as its organist last summer after he refused to give up his homosexual lifestyle (Sept. 21, 1979, p. 52).
Walker claimed the church had violated a San Francisco ordinance that prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of their sexual orientation. But Ertola, in a 10-page summary judgment, said that “applying the ordinance to these defendants infringes too greatly on their First Amendment rights.”
The judge noted that by paying damages, “the defendants would be penalized for their religious belief that homosexuality is a sin for which one must repent to be accepted as part of the group that leads the congregation in worship.” The church, in effect, would be forced to pay to maintain its religious beliefs—“a substantial burden on [the] defendants’ right to free exercise of religion.”
Pastor Charles A. Mcllhenny naturally felt pleased at the church’s victory. Contributions to his church’s so-called Christian Rights Defense Fund have come from Christians all over the world, he said. Leading the defense has been attorney Thomas Neuberger, who also is vice-president of the Christian Legal Society.
But Mcllhenny has been cautioning that the powerful San Francisco gay community will fight the ruling. Walker’s attorneys have until July 1 to file their promised appeal. A local gay rights newspaper complained that what really is at stake is “whether churches are exempt from civil rights.”
The Argentine government modified a year-old decree that mandated the teaching of Roman Catholic religious values and attitudes in secondary schools, following protests by several Protestant, Jewish, and secular groups. The “moral and civic education” course is still required, but certain “confessional elements” have been excluded from the curriculum, and books by non-Catholics have been added to the reading assignments.
Pope John Paul II has decided to move toward a showdown with rebel Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, according to reports published in Paris newspapers. He has been moved to action, the sources say, because the traditionalist archbishop—against the expressed wishes of local church officials—went to Venice on Easter Monday and celebrated a traditionalist mass there. Despite a number of reconciliation gestures from the Pope, Lefebvre has become increasingly defiant.
Hans Küng, Roman Catholic liberal theologian at odds with the Vatican, will continue to teach at Tübingen University, but not as part of the Catholic faculty of theology. Under the compromise arrangement, Küng will remain as director of the university’s institute for ecumenical research, but it will be separated from the theology faculty. The Catholic faculty will not recognize work done under him for its degree requirements.
Two thousand delegates from churches throughout Britain participated in a National Congress on Evangelism last month. The Evangelical Alliance-sponsored event, held at Prestatyn, Wales, broke into 51 regional groups on its final day to produce plans for motivating and equipping for evangelism locally. Methodist Bishop Donald English, chairman of the Nationwide Initiative in Evangelism, noted with satisfaction that evangelism is now “at the top of the agenda of nearly every church in the land.” And Michael Cole, Evangelical Alliance chairman, said that evangelicals need to reconsider seriously the “hot potato” of their links with Roman Catholics who are placing a “growing emphasis on the Bible and on the living person of Jesus.”
The Soviet trial of the “Kiev Four” was a travesty, judging by documents reaching Keston College, England. In the pretrial hearing of the members of the unregistered Baptist church in Kiev, defense lawyers had so discredited the prosecution’s flimsy evidence that the judge refused to proceed. But after the four refused a KGB offer of freedom in exchange for their agreement to become informers, new charges were framed. At last December’s trial, long after expiration of the nine-month limit on pretrial detention, stiffer sentences were demanded. The 70-plus witnesses all testified for the defendants, and many complained of being forced to sign statements against them. The judge nevertheless found the four guilty, sentenced them to a combined 32 years in labor camps, and filed a complaint against the defense lawyers.
The first school year of the Evangelical Bible Seminary of Southern Africa began in February with 10 students. The graduate-level school is located near the center of Pietermaritzburg. South Africa. Authorities have granted permission for the seminary to enroll both white and black students.
Persecution of the church in Ethiopia continues unabated. German Roman Catholic sources report that 40 Christians in Bale province have been sentenced to death for continuing to witness after “training in scientific socialism.” They also report the closing of all churches in Gamu Gofu province. A German mission director reports that 15 workers of the Ethiopian Evangelical (Lutheran) Church Mekane Yesus have been arrested and imprisoned in the West Wollega province.
The Laotian refugees who at first tentatively approved the plan of an evangelical relief agency consortium to resettle a contingent in Guyana (March 7. p. 48) have backed away from the project—at least for now. The Hmong tribal people, who were widely employed by the CIA as irregular anti-Communist forces during the Indochina conflict, perceived a potential threat in the socialist character of Guyana. They sought therefore to increase the agreed number to be accepted from 1.500 to a minimum of 10.000. The Guyanese authorities stood by the negotiated agreement.
Adequate monitoring of relief supply distribution in Kampuchea (Cambodia) “is not taking place and is not possible under the present restriction and controls imposed by the Vietnamese-controlled Heng Samrin government.” That was the testimony of an evangelical relief agency official before a Senate committee in March. Robert “Bud” Hancock. Washington liaison official for World Relief Corporation, had just completed a four-day survey trip into the country. He urged the Senate Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs, meeting with the State Department Kampuchean Working Group, to demand full accountability from the Cambodian regime, insisting on the right to control distribution of relief goods, including monitoring of their use.
The Nationalist Chinese government of Taiwan has arrested and imprisoned the executive secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan. The whereabouts of C. M. Kao and the charges against him were unknown at the beginning of the month. Kao is the ninth Presbyterian pastor arrested in the last three months. Observers say his rank indicates the serious view the authorities take of social rights activism engaged in by the denomination.
China’s rehabilitated Three-Self Patriotic Movement is calling for a national conference and for formal organization of a national Protestant church. This message was contained in an open letter issued last month over the signature of Shen Teh-jung, associate general secretary of the movement’s standing committee. Shen made clear in the letter that foreign influence “in the name of ‘evangelism’ and ‘research’ ” remains unwelcome. The Three-Self Movement, organized in 1951 at the initiative of Premier Chou En-lai, became the exclusive Protestant church structure answerable to the government’s bureau of religious affairs. Although it too was harassed and suppressed during the Cultural Revolution, it is widely mistrusted by those who had earlier refused to bend to its control.
First he changed the sect’s name from Black Muslims to the World Community of Islam in the West. Now, five-year president Wallace Muhammad has changed his own—to Warith Deen Muhammad, meaning “inheritor of the faith of Muhammad,” the prophet of the Islamic religion. Muhammad’s father Elijah founded the movement in 1930, giving it an antiwhite orientation. But the son has brought whites into leadership, and moved the sect toward a more orthodox Islam: he said he has already used the name Warith Deen when dealing with foreign Muslim groups, and believes the name change will help introduce Islam in America “in the right way.”
After spending the last three years on the church workshop and lecture circuit, relational Christianity proponent Bruce Larson has chosen a home in Seattle, Washington. He was installed there last month as senior pastor of the 2,000-member University Presbyterian Church (UPCUSA).
An ordained United Presbyterian minister and Union Seminary graduate whose academic work has been in the field of ethics and society, Franklin I. Gamwell, was appointed dean of the University of Chicago Divinity School. Gamwell, an associate professor at the school, succeeds Joseph M. Kitagawa, dean since 1970, who resigned to return to research.
Seattle Pacific University (Free Methodist) officials have a goal of making their 2,500-student university a national basketball power within NCAA Division II. With that in mind, they recently hired James Poteet, 29, as head coach. He succeeds Keith Swagerty, who was dismissed earlier. Poteet compiled a 39–13 record last year as coach of Campus Crusade’s touring basketball ministry. Athletes in Action. He earned national recognition while coach at Bethany (Oklahoma) Nazarene College from 1971 to 1979.
Pioneer radio preacher H.M.S. Richards is celebrating his 50th year in broadcasting. The 85-year-old founder of Voice of Prophecy, the radio branch of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, began in 1930 with a devotional program on a Los Angeles radio station. Presently he is heard each Sunday on more than 610 North American stations, along with his son H.M.S. Richards, Jr., who likewise airs a daily program on 135 stations.
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