(To read about the America for Jesus solemn assembly on Saturday, click here)
The America for Jesus rally took place on September 28-29 on Independence Mall in Philadelphia, PA. The event, chaired by Bishop Anne Gimenez of Rock Church International in Virginia Beach, Virginia, was scheduled 40 days in advance of the U.S. presidential election. Promotional materials (such as the above video) lament America's supposed moral failings, which must be healed through faith in Jesus.
According to a press release at Christian News Wire, the rally was organized by One Nation Under God, a coalition of Christian ministries that sponsored various Washington for Jesus events in the 1980s and 1990s. The events' executive board features prominent voices from the New Apostolic Reformation, including Lou Engle (TheCall and International House of Prayer), Cindy Jacobs (Generals International), Ron Luce (Teen Mania Ministries), and others.
According to Christian News Wire, America for Jesus national coordinator John Blanchard said that the event would be patriotic, not political, and would not be divided along partisan lines. However, speeches at the event were brimming with political rhetoric on abortion, homosexuality, Israel, and Christian influences on government. Even before the rally, America for Jesus prayer materials were infused with Seven Mountains theology. For example, this prayer encounter guide on the supremacy of scripture illustrate how Seven Mountains theology informed the event. (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch. More here.)
"The Word of God teaches us God’s divine purposes and loving principles to govern all areas of our lives. His divine instructions are for our good, and when obeyed, the blessings of God are promised and are released. This is true for individuals, families, cities, states, regions, and nations!I had every intention of infiltrating the America for Jesus rally this weekend, since I live within driving distance of Philadelphia. However, a knee injury prevented me from attending the event. Fortunately, GOD TV provided a live feed of the event online, so I could still observe from afar and blog on the gathering.
The Bible provides guiding principles for all spheres of society: government, family, church, science and technology, economics and business, education, media and communications, and arts and entertainment. Every book of the Bible gives us instruction and principles on how to establish God’s kingdom purposes on earth."
The evening of Friday, September 28th was devoted to the Awakening Youth Rally on Independence Mall. It took me about thirty minutes to access GOD TV's live feed of the event on Friday night, but I finally got through around 9 p.m. My first images of the event were of the Philadelphia Mass Choir singing upbeat gospel songs. As the cameras panned over the crowd, several members of the audience were waving American flags. After their performance, master of ceremonies John Gray celebrated the racial unity in the audience, saying "Isn't it great to see that we are all connected?" He called listeners his "blood relatives" because they'd been saved by the same blood of Christ. "We understand the power of scripture. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord," he told the audience.
Dr. Carlos Campo of Regent University took the stage next, telling the crowd that "opinion-makers" said that people wouldn't attend the rally because we now live in a "post-Christian society," but that they were wrong. Campo spoke of ancient Romans who would put unwanted children in clay pots and leave them by the side of the road to die, adding that those children's cries were heard by Christians who took them in. Today, this generation does the same thing. Whether Campo was referring to abortion or simply to converting lost souls to Christianity, I didn't know.
Campo lamented that many colleges and universities have allegedly become "bastions of secularism" where young people are supposedly being stripped of their faith. However, he claimed that this generation of young Christians will enter college with devotion to their faith, demanding "truth" in every classroom and of every professor.
After Campo spoke, John Gray reminded the crowd that they must honor the nation of Israel, the "root" that Jesus came from. He introduced Robert Stearns of Eagle's Wings, who called young Christians the "chosen generation" and a "generation of destiny." Stearns insisted that "forces of darkness have come against this generation like they've come against no generation prior." Even though the "enemy" has come against their lives and tried to silence them, Stearns assured them that they were there tonight to "let God arise and his enemies be scattered."
Stearns asserted that Christian youth are called on by defend the defenseless and speak out for truth and justice. He told them that sixty years prior, the church of Europe was mostly silent as the Nazis slaughtered six million Jews in concentration camps. Now, they will declare that the Jewish people will never stand alone again, and that Christians will stand loyal to Israel. He instructed the audience to leave the rally with the understanding that they were "watchmen on the walls" who must stand for the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the covenant people, the Jews. Stearns instructed the crowd to face the east, extend their hands toward Jerusalem, and on the third bellow of his shofar, to become the shofar and shout to God on behalf of Jerusalem. As Bishop Anne Gimenez held the microphone, Stearns blew into the shofar three times, with the crowd joyfully crying out on the third blow.
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After a musical performance by School of Worship, Ron Luce of Teen Mania Ministries spoke at length on stage. Luce complained that a lot of things are "painted with the stripe of Christianity" without being true Christianity. He also complained that many people in the church do not understand the Bible and its big picture, comparing them to people who show up at a movie halfway through and struggle to understand the storyline. He likened creation to a story unfolding from the beginning of time, and he narrated the Genesis creation story as lavish computer animation sequences appeared on screen. The audience was treated to vivid displays of planets, stars, oceans, mountains, and animals as Luce told the story of "God the master artist" creating the universe.
God created the human species to love him, Luce said, adding that such love must be freely given and cannot be forced. Love was the central force in the Adam and Eve story, Luce observed, particularly when God told the first couple to be fruitful and multiply. "A God who thinks of sex, now that's a good god," Luce quipped. Even though God created humans to live in love, creation was compromised when Adam and Eve fell after eating the forbidden fruit. Images appeared on-screen of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and the events leading up to the crucifixion, with ominous music and cries of "CRUCIFY HIM!" in the background.
"We start in one garden and end in another," Luce said, the implication being that Adam and Eve's fall necessitated Jesus' crucifixion for the salvation of humanity. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, sin and darkness entered their hearts, thereby separating them from their creator, he claimed. Every war, every starving child, every act of abuse and abandonment started in the Garden of Eden when the fall occurred, Luce told the audience.
Luce grieved over the multitude of people who are "dead" on the inside and who try to distract themselves from their inner deadness with entertainment, drink, and others forms of self-medication. We are "born dead" because of the effects of sin from the Garden of Eden, and thus we must be born again to truly live, he argued.
Luce described Jesus' influence as a "rescue mission" to rescue those who don't know they need to be rescued, or don't want to be rescued because they are infatuated with the sin that is spiritually killing them. When Jesus insisted that he was the only way to God, it was really his way of saying that he was the only one coming to rescue humans, Luce deduced. The only possible response to Jesus' "rescue mission" and resurrection is to love him with all of one's mind, heart, and soul, Luce concluded.
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I stepped away from the live feed for about thirty minutes, and when I returned, a white-haired man (whose name I did not catch) was speaking warmly about "40 Days to Save America," shouting, "We want God's law to take precedence over man's law!" I returned just in time to hear Lou Engle of TheCall and the International House of Prayer give a talk to the gathering.
Engle reminisced about TheCall Washington D.C. twelve years ago, where 400,000 people (he claimed) fasted and prayed to God. At the time, his son Jesse announced his intention to become a Nazirite, and Engle claimed to have heard the voice of God that night telling him that America had not yet seen her Nazirites. (For background on Lou Engle's Nazirites, see his 2009 book Nazirite DNA.) Engle rejoiced that he was seeing a movement that could change America as another generation took up the Nazirite vow to return the U.S. to God. What if a generation could break the "spell of Jezebel" in a nation under the dominion of "dark spirits", he asked.
Engle had the audience kneel in prayer, shouting, "You didn't come for a festival! You came for a fast!" Engle prayed to God to speak to the young people and raise up a "Daniel anointing" or a "John the Baptist." He urged the audience to fast, to abstain from TV and websites, and to pray to God to put fire in their hearts for 40 days. The GOD TV cameras panned over an audience of kneeling people with arms outstretched, some swaying, others fist-pumping toward the sky. As intense rock music poured over the scene, a worship vocalist hypnotically droned "mark my heart with fire, mark my heart with fire" over and over. "Before heaven tonight, we sign our lives, our sacred honor, for the sake of America! Have mercy! Send a great awakening!" Engle cried.
Anne Gimenez spoke after Engle, estimating that 10,000 people were in attendance that night. She stressed that such gatherings need to take place more often across the country, where young people express their love for God and assert that "we will serve no foreign gods." She expressed her delight and gratitude that GOD TV was broadcasting the event live across the globe.
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The Awakening Youth Rally, the first stage of the America for Jesus event, reminded me of other New Apostolic Reformation youth rallies such as TheCall and OneThing. The rally delivered a heady message to the youth in attendance, urging them to change the country with their faith and overcome dark, supernatural forces. The Awakening rally, with its intoxicating emotional highs, music, videos, and calls for racial unity, was well-designed to appeal to a young audience.
However, despite Blanchard's claim that the event would not be political, the Awakening rally clearly contained political themes, such as support for Israel and distrust of secularism. The youth rally would pale in comparison to the America for Jesus Solemn Assembly on Saturday, which was overflowing with right-wing messages about abortion, homosexuality, Israel, and church-state separation issues. As is often the case with Religious Right event, the spiritual is tightly entwined with the political.
For more information on the America for Jesus rally, click here and here.