(To read about the America for Jesus youth rally on September 28th, click here)
The America for Jesus rally took place on September 28-29 on Independence Mall in Philadelphia, PA. After Friday night's Awakening youth rally, a Solemn Assembly took place on Saturday, broadcast live on the GOD TV website. The Solemn Assembly's content was even more blatantly political than the youth rally's content, brimming with pro-Israel, anti-LGBTQ, and anti-abortion messages from prominent Religious Right speakers.
I tuned into GOD TV's live feed of the event around 11 a.m. Eastern as musicians were performing Christian music for the praying audience. The lead singer begged Jesus to bless America, lamenting that "we have devalued blood, we have devalued the blood of Jesus, royal blood shed for us." The crowd, a diverse mix of races and age groups, was dotted with American and Israeli flags and the occasional cross. Occassionally, the bellow of a shofar would ring out. In the distance was a Family Research Council bus similar to one I saw at the Values Voters Summit in Washington D.C. earlier this month.
Jim Garlow of Skyline Church took to the stage, asking listeners, "How did our nation get in the situation it's now in? What happened that would allow us to kill 55 million babies in the womb?" He expressed dismay that America was allegedly redefining marriage and plummeting into a debt-ridden "economic suicide." Garlow blamed these supposed ills on silent pulpits in the U.S., which started on July 2nd, 1954, when "166 years of pulpit freedom" was allegedly undermined by the Johnson Amendment. The result of the amendment was that "muzzled and intimidated" pastors began to "self-censor" themselves on issues such as homosexuality, marriage, and abortion, because "Biblical application" to national life was . "People no longer recognize authentic biblical preaching, and it's time to turn that," Garlow insisted.
Garlow asked pastors to exercise "Biblical authority" and celebrate their "pulpit freedom" by defying the Johnson Amendment from October 7th until the election. America would not witness a spiritual turnaround until the pulpits were unmuzzled, he insisted. The tax exemptions awarded to churches did not come from the IRS, but from the Founding Fathers who understood that government has no authority to dictate a church's message, Garlow claimed. After giving a shout-out to the Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly Alliance Defense Fund) he promoted the Pulpit Freedom website.
Garlow's speech quickly turned to the subject of same-sex marriage. Four states would soon be voting on same-sex marriage, and thus those states need the support of people with "Biblical values" to defend "traditional, Biblical, natural marriage," he told the audience. He likened "religious liberty" and the "radical homosexual agenda" to two locomotives racing toward each other on a train track, adding that the two cannot exist in the same nation at the same time. Parental rights, religious liberty, and personal freedoms would all be jeopardized if the definition of marriage were expanded to include same-sex couples, he claimed.
Next, Matt Staver of Liberty Counsel took to the stage, delighting in the sight of so many American and Israeli flags in the crowd. He told listeners that they must stand with Israel, as they share common values with the Jewish people and America was supposedly founded on a "Judeo-Christian" foundation. America, which exalts the divine as "one nation under God," is a "shining city on a hill," but that shining city is now jeopardized by "forced abortion funding" and redefinition of marriage, he claimed. "We are deeply sorry that in this land, under our laws, we kill a child every 20 seconds," he prayed. "Forgive us that your pulpits have been silenced."
After Staver spoke, right-wing history author David Barton of Wallbuilders addressed the crowd. Barton discussed the Great Awakening of the 18th century, with emphasis on preacher George Whitfield. Barton described how Whitfield's "Father Abraham" sermon encouraged Christians to transcend their sectarian differences, as well as how it supposedly influenced the Founding Fathers. He also spoke of Congress calling Americans to prayer, fasting, and thanksgiving throughout its history, trying to depict America as a historically prayerful country. The America for Jesus rally was "rekindling a covenant" made earlier in America's history, Barton said.
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In keeping with the rally's pro-Israel theme, several Messianic Christian speakers delivered pro-Israel rhetoric. The next speaker was Jonathan Cahn of the Beth Israel Worship Center/Jerusalem Center in Wayne, NJ. Cahn, author of The Harbinger, affectionately pointed out an "Arab believer who loves Israel" in the audience.
Cahn preached that when a nation is in danger of divine judgment, God calls his people to repentance. He plugged The Harbinger, claiming that it explains the September 11th tragedy and America's economic downturn as signs of impending judgment. When ancient Israel turned away from God, nine warnings (harbingers) appeared in the land, he claimed, and the same nine harbingers are now appearing in the U.S. because America has turned from God. Like Israel, America was founded on God's will and blessed more than any other nation, Cahn asserted, but it has driven God out of government and culture while sacrificing the lives of unborn children. However, God will heal the land if Americans humble themselves before him again, Cahn assured the audience, stressing that America's hope lies with Jesus rather than the president, military, or economy.
Robert Stearns appeared after Cahn, repeating many of the same messages he delivered to the youth rally on Friday evening. He delivered a prayer of repentance for the "apathy" and "silence" that have characterized the church for the past century, begging that the crowd's shouting and rejoicing would spill out from churches into universities, media, and Congress. He blew his shofar three times, with the crowd shouting and cheering on the third bellow.
Sid Roth of It's Supernatural, who introduced himself as "the Jewish man who's red-hot for Jesus," reminded politicians of Genesis 12:3, a passage he interpreted to mean that God will bless those who bless the Jewish people and scorn those who disrespect the Jews. He called "dividing up God's land" a "tipping point" for the U.S., insisting that Israel is not the Jewish people's land or the Palestinian people's land, but God's land. God has arranged a "long-term lease" of Israel to the Jewish people, and as the U.S. does to Israel, God will do to the U.S., he warned. Cindy Jacobs of Generals International echoed his sentiments, assuring the audience that God is willing to forgive the U.S. just as he forgave ancient Israel.
Other speakers grieved for a supposedly tainted America, bringing talk of demons and dark forces to the stage. Phil Cappuccio of Kingdom Life Covenant Church in Hershey, PA urged listeners to repent because the "waters have been polluted" and death haunts the land. Bishop Bill Hamon of Christian International Ministries preached that it was time to release God's people from "demonic activity," joyous that Stearns' shofar would blast millions of demons from the area. Hank Kunneman of One Voice Ministries asked God to descend upon America and allow the "demonic veil" to be lifted off the nation.
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The America for Jesus rally, which took place forty days before the U.S. presidential election, seemed to be an attempt to energize the Religious Right base. With its unabashed homophobia, anti-abortion rhetoric, and pro-Israel sentiments, the rally would have reminded right-wing voters about key Religious Right issues. Although I did not hear speakers promote any candidates, this was an undeniably political rally with a familiar Christian nationalist message.
For more information on the America for Jesus rally, click here and here.