Pieces of bright red tape with the word “LIFE” covered their mouths as young Americans rocked back and forth, swaying their arms in the air to loud Christian music while they listened to the raspy voice of their leader, Pastor Lou Engle.
Engle, standing before some 50,000 teens and young adults on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., summoned the young generation to “revive” the nation from what he often refers to as “forces of darkness.”
“Keep praying, young people,” Engle called out. “Your prayers move heaven and earth today.”
Joined by other pastors and religious leaders, including Baptist preacher and former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, Engle spoke about today’s youth’s ability to “move heaven” by fasting and praying.
The event, referred to as The Call DC, was held on Aug. 16 and is the 14th like it since Engle began the movement in 2000.
Engle credits his initial gathering, held eight years ago also on the National Mall, to be a “breakthrough” in electing George W. Bush president in 2000.
“I believe The Call DC was part of a shift in the heavens and that God has thrown a window open,” Engle told Charisma, a leading Pentecostal magazine. “We have entered a season of time in a massive [spiritual] war. It’s Pearl Harbor. It’s Nazirites or Nazism. We are in a war, and if we don’t win, we lose everything.”
Some young evangelicals who are part of Engle’s movement see themselves as soldiers in this “war.” They view it as their duty or calling to end the nation’s immorality and stop what they consider the “dark forces,” such as legal abortion and gay marriage.
Despite recent reports by The Washington Times and The Washington Post that young evangelicals are suffering from “fetus fatigue” and want to “give up,” movements like The Call are recruiting thousands of young Americans into Religious Right causes.
Directed toward teenagers and college students and marketed on social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook, the drive has a religious veneer, but at its heart is a theocratic political agenda.
Since 2000, evangelical Christian youth have gathered with Engle for The Call events in cities including Las Vegas, Nashville, Cincinnati, Dallas and Los Angeles. Events have also been held across the world in Australia, Germany, the Philippines, Norway, England, Israel and Brazil. Attendance has reached up to 400,000 at these rallies.
To Engle’s young generation of followers, he is their John the Baptist, Charisma magazine claims.
Engle is a seventh-generation pastor and a descendant of the founder of the Brethren in Christ denomination. According to Charisma, he became a born-again Christian in 1976 and attended Ashland Theological Seminary in Ashland, Ohio. He later made a covenant with God to seek the Pentecostal empowerment of Acts 2.
In 1984, he moved to California and after 10 years of little success in planting a congregation, he finally co-founded Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena.
Engle’s plan to stir America’s youth into fasting and prayer began with a vision he had stemming from the Old Testament Book of Joel, he told Pat Robertson’s “700 Club.”
“I had a dream in 1996, and in this dream, I was with these leaders of a prayer movement and there was a little boy named Joel and I was supposed to be giving him a letter but I had lost the letter,” Engle said. “I was frantically looking for it. And I woke up out of the dream and the Lord spoke to me and said ‘Don’t lose Joel’s letter. Call the youth of America to fasting and prayer.’ Chapter 2 of Joel: When there is no hope for a nation, blow the trumpet. Call for a fast, gather all the inhabitants and afterward I will pour out my spirit.…That’s God’s prescription when there is no hope.”
At a press conference the day before this year’s The Call DC, Engle was backed by Huckabee, Bishop Harry Jackson and the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, all who claimed the event on the Mall was “spiritual” not “political.” They were to gather to stop the “shedding of innocent blood” and to pray for the end of abortion.
During his sermon, Engle preached, “There is a pollution problem in America, and it’s far greater than the environmental issues.… People want to change the environment, but I’ll tell you, you’ll never change the environment until you change the moral fabric of our nation.”
Engle added, “Abortion is not another social issue. Abortion is fueling the demonization of our whole culture.”
Though his rhetoric during The Call seemed to stay on point with the event’s mission, Engle has been known to be far more extreme in other venues. That has led the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to link him to a larger, more militant movement, Joel’s Army. Members of Joel’s Army believe America – and the rest of the world – should be ruled by conservative Christians and their interpretation of biblical law.
“There is no room in their doctrine,” said the SPLC, “for democracy or pluralism.”
But unlike the peaceful nature of Engle’s Call events, Joel’s Army is more militaristic, with its pastors dressing in camouflage and congregants addressing these leaders as “commandant” or “commander,” according to the SPLC report.
The report claimed that Engle is “careful to avoid deploying explicit Joel’s Army rhetoric at high-profile events like The Call, [but] when he is speaking in smaller hyper-charismatic circles to avowed Joel’s Army followers, he can venture into bloodlust.”
At a “Passion for Jesus” conference in Kansas City sponsored by the International House of Prayer, a ministry for heavy metal, punk and goth teens, the SPLC quoted Engle as saying: “There’s an Elijah generation that’s going to the forerunners for the coming of Jesus, a generation marked not by their niceness but by the intensity of their passion.…The kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force. Such force demands an equal response, and Jesus is going to make war on everything that hinders love, with his eyes blazing fire.”
At his public rallies, Engle includes prayer, worship and repentance on the program, with sermons and speeches centering on the main topic of the event.
Engle and his followers hope fasting and prayer will result in future Supreme Court justices and government leaders who “line up with God’s Word,” which is why Engle’s next event will be a rally in Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego on Nov. 1. The attendees will pray California’s Proposition 8 passes and ends same-sex marriage in the state.
“This is a spiritual battle; it must be won in prayer,” Engle said on a conference call between pastors to develop a strategy to win passage of Proposition 8, and similar ballot initiatives in other states. “We need to take away the rights of the powers of darkness to bring this resolution forward.”