Thursday, November 24, 2011

TheCall Detroit: Final Thoughts

For an introduction to TheCall Detroit, click here. To read about Alveda King's speech at the rally, click here. To read about an unidentified black man's speech on race, click here. To read about Lou Engle's anti-abortion speech, click here. To read about Judaism and Islam at TheCall Detroit, click here. To access a full video archive of TheCall Detroit, visit www[dot]thecall[dot]com/Groups/1000080537/TheCall/Events/Detroit/Detroit.aspx

Having shared excerpts from TheCall Detroit on November 11th, I'd like to conclude with some parting observations about the rally. Behind the spiritual ecstasy and prayer were startling messages about politics and religion.

First, Lou Engle justified TheCall Detroit by weaving it into a spiritual narrative. For example, in Part II of TheCall Detroit video archive, he described a dream he had in which he told fellow IHOP leader Mike Bickle, "We're going to Ford Field."  Since Engle frequently interprets dreams as harbingers of cosmic portent, a dream about Ford Field would give TheCall Detroit legitimacy in the eyes of his followers.

Engle insisted that he'd had reservations about hosting an expensive gathering at Ford Field. At the 1:42:48 mark of Part II, he defended his choice of venue.

"I didn't want necessarily to come to Ford Field, because it costs a million dollars, and I thought, God, if I had a million dollars, I could feed the poor of Detroit. I could buy some buildings for the poor. Now I wrestled with it in my heart. I've actually said, "God, you know"-- then I thought, you know, probably no other place could house this many people. [Applause] No, no, don't go there."
This quote was heartbreaking. Engle knew that the money used to rent a venue for TheCall Detroit could have helped the less fortunate in concrete ways. He knew how much good that money could do in an economically disadvantaged city like Detroit. And yet, he chose to host another rally instead. Why did the desire to host another public spectacle take precedent over the moral imperative to help those in need? Because, I suspect, the goal of TheCall Detroit was to promote certain political messages through public spectacle.

As with many other New Apostolic Reformation gatherings, TheCall Detroit blended spiritual and political messages. Amidst praise for God and calls for racial reconciliation were anti-abortion monologues, pro-Israel messages, and anti-Islam rhetoric. Indeed, TheCall Detroit's calls for racial reconciliation -- as hollow as some of them might have sounded -- may have served a deeper political purpose. In an exhaustive commentary at Truth Wins Out, Wayne Besen speculated that the TheCall Detroit was intended to draw African-American voters away from the Democratic party before the 2012 elections. Besen imagined their strategy as such.

1) Pick a key swing state with a beleaguered city that had an economically disadvantaged African American population.

2) Create an emotional spectacle where tearful white people pleaded for forgiveness and repented onstage for past racism.

3) Sharply define new wedge issue(s) and create a racially-based conspiracy theory that could ultimately be used against the Democratic Party.

4) Exploit these emerging wedge issue(s) to the point they become more important than fixing the economy.

5) Redefine voting criteria so candidates are primarily judged by where they stand on these wedge issue(s) – with the ultimate goal of leading many African Americans to conclude that they are best represented by the conservative GOP.
Besen was alarmed at "the conformity of the crowd and the ease in which they were led" at TheCall Detroit, no matter what strange ideas were being promoted. The atmosphere at TheCall Detroit might be partially to blame for this, in my opinion. Amidst the hypnotic drone of worship music and the rapture of communal prayer, receptive attendees would have found it easy to enter a altered state of consciousness and leave critical thought at the door. As Besen observed, the ecstasy of such communal experiences can be as powerful as a drug.

"...[T]he “highs” produced at Ford Field occurred without psychedelic drugs such as mushrooms or ecstasy. But make no mistake about it, this was no less a mental manipulation designed to flood brains with endorphins that induce an unnatural euphoria."
Having watched several segments of TheCall Detroit and listened to the rhetoric about reconciliation, I was struck by who wasn't at the table: LGBTs and Muslims. While TheCall Detroit was brimming with rhetoric about repentance for racism and anti-Semitism, I heard no repentance for homophobia or animosity toward Muslims. After all, why repent for homophobia when you've demonized homosexuality as "spiritual bondage" or "sexual immorality"? Why repent for antipathy toward Muslims when you've cast them as rivals and fifth columns? Similarly, I heard no calls for reconciliation between Christians, Jews, and Muslims, as much as interfaith dialogue is needed in these times. Instead, Kamal Saleem cast Islam  in ominous shadows.

Fortunately, some observers criticized the divisive messages of TheCall Detroit. For example, USA Today reported that about 150 people participated in a demonstration against Lou Engle and TheCall Detroit. Clergy, women's rights advocates, and supporters of LGBT rights reportedly took part in the demonstration. In a press release at People for the American Way, Rev. Charles Williams II of Detroit's King Solomon Baptist Church condemned Engle's divisive rhetoric and urged people of faith to work together.

In an interview with WXYZ 7, Dawud Walid of CAIR accused TheCall of making hateful statements about Islam, including claims that Muslims are demon-possessed. Walid told mosques to increase security during the rally weekend and warned Muslims to stay away from Ford Field because of "belligerent" and "provocative" people who might be there. Also, he encouraged Muslims to attend a gathering at the Islamic Center of America and discuss Islamophobia and racism there.

The New Apostolic Reformation has revealed an unsettling agenda through events such as TheCall Detroit. Those who cherish diversity and dialogue cannot afford to ignore them.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

Truth Wins Out: TWO Special Report: TheCall Detroit -- A Slick Political Revival Disguised as a Religious Revival

One Utah: The Religious Right's Cheap Grace and Even Cheaper Repentance

Huffington Post: TheCall Detroit Mixes Anti-Muslim Rhetoric With Message Of Racial Reconciliation

Huffington Post: Detroit Prayer Event Puts Muslim Community on Edge


  1. I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with good food, family and friends.

  2. I can completely understand your stance on Engle and what he said about helping the poor versus putting on this event, but I am not sure that it is fair. I can't speak for you, but I know I personally do not do everything I can for the poor. I'll buy a six-pack of brew or take my wife out to an expensive dinner with money that could have been used in helping someone less fortunate. Sure, a million dollars is a lot more money, but the principle is the same. My actions are in principle as much against that cited moral imperative as his. Yet that does not mean that I do not have some compassion for the poor. I do give to beggars and poverty is one of the causes I am considering for my end-of-life endowments.

    Plus, there is that passage in the Bible where Jesus said that the poor would always be with you, implying that their are probably other cases which for a moment in time take precedence over helping the poor.

    However, I think you are right to highlight again the anti-gay and anti-Muslim rhetoric there. They may be playing on the common historic theme of uniting people against common "enemies." What do you think?

  3. Mildred -- Thanks. Happy Thanksgiving to you too.

    Wise Fool -- I may have been a bit harsh on Engle, as you pointed out. I certainly need to do more about poverty myself. Still, I question whether it was the best use of $1 million.

    I definitely agree that LGBT folks and Muslims are being used as scapegoats to unite the flock.

  4. I know I'm cynical but I am an informed cynic. I watch my own former religion spend millions on marketing while performing token acts of charity that are also used for marketing purposes -- complete with strategic press releases and glossy photos. They do not desire to ease suffering in the world. They desire to promote their image and thereby increase their bottom line. Their marketing efforts are so transparent (especially around here) it's a wonder to me that everyone can't see it.

    Engle demeans gays, women, and everyone who doesn't embrace his religious beliefs. He portrays his message as one of love, but it is a message of hate, oppression, and exclusion. The truth is Engle has no desire to help the poor. He does not care about them. Helping the poor is not a priority for him as he spreads his messages of hate. His desire is to promote his own hate-filled agenda. He prefers marketing himself over practicing the teachings of the god he pretends to worship.

  5. Cognitive Dissenter -- Now I'm intrigued. Tell me more about the LDS' token charity and marketing thereof. It definitely sounds in-character for them.


All comments are subject to moderation. Threatening, violent, or bigoted comments will not be published.