Christian conservatives who blame "moral depravity" for everything from the recession to terrorism are converging on Philadelphia for a rally they hope will spark a religious revival as Election Day nears.
Called "America for Jesus 2012," the prayer assembly on Independence Mall is attracting support across a spectrum of Protestant clergy and activists. Among the scheduled speakers are religious broadcaster Pat Robertson and Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, along with preachers such as Cindy Jacobs of Generals International ministry who say they’re prophets with a direct line to God. Many backers had also endorsed "The Response," the prayer rally hosted last year by Texas Gov. Rick Perry just before he entered the GOP presidential primary.
John Blanchard, national coordinator for "America for Jesus 2012," said the two-day event starting Friday night is nonpartisan. It’s modeled after the 1980 "Washington for Jesus" rally, considered a pivotal show of organizational strength by the then-fledgling Christian right. Bishop Anne Gimenez, whose late husband John helped lead the 1980 assembly, is a lead organizer of the Philadelphia gathering.
"We are praying that God would touch America," said Blanchard, executive pastor of Rock Church International in Virginia, which the Gimenez family founded. "We’re not Democrats and Republicans. We’re Christians."
Still, many of those offering prayers at the event have been outspoken critics of President Barack Obama. Steve Strang, the influential Pentecostal publisher of Charisma magazine, wrote in a blog post inviting readers to join him in Philadelphia that America is under threat from a "radical homosexual agenda" and Obama "seems to be moving toward some form of European socialism."
Jacobs blamed a mysterious Arkansas bird-kill last year on Obama’s repeal of the policy known as "don’t ask, don’t tell," enabling gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military.
David Barton, a self-taught historian who emphasizes the Christian roots of the U.S., is another rally supporter. Barton wrote in a Feb. 29 article that Obama has shown "hostility toward Biblical people of faith" while giving "preferential treatment" to Muslims. (Obama has said he was raised in a nonreligious home and later became Christian.) The publisher Thomas Nelson last month withdrew Barton’s book, "The Jefferson Lies," citing historical errors. The book challenged the belief that Jefferson was largely secular and promoted the separation of church and state.
Anne Gimenez said in a phone interview that although the event is Christian, the assembly will not advocate that the U.S. government be limited to Christians.
"I have no boundaries or limitations on that. I would just like to see someone who is God-fearing" in public office, she said.
Gimenez said Philadelphia was chosen because of its importance in U.S. history. The rally will be held outside the building where the Declaration of Independence was signed. Pennsylvania is also where evangelist George Whitefield preached during the first Great Awakening, the 18th-century religious revival that spread through the American colonies. Blanchard said his group successfully petitioned Pennsylvania lawmakers to declare Saturday "William Penn Day" in honor of Pennsylvania’s founder, who championed religious freedom.
"America is in a state of emergency evidenced by the symptoms of widespread moral depravity and economic meltdown," organizers wrote on the rally’s website. "Education, government, and man’s wisdom cannot solve this problem."
Two weeks ago, the ministry coalition behind the assembly distributed food and offered medical care throughout Philadelphia as part of the run-up to the gathering. Attendees will be asked to start 40 days of prayer and fasting, through the Nov. 6, election, to help turn the nation toward God. Preachers representing Messianic Judaism, which teaches that Christ is the Messiah, a belief at odds with traditional Judaism, will blow the shofar, a ram’s horn used in Jewish ritual.
The major speakers are scheduled for Saturday. Joel Osteen, the Texas megachurch pastor, has sent a video prayer message to the event. An executive with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is also among those offering prayers. A message of support from 93-year-old evangelist Billy Graham will be read.