At America for Jesus 2012, thousands rally for change

Attendees join in fellowship during a song at the America for Jesus rally in front of Independence Hall on Saturday.
Attendees join in fellowship during a song at the America for Jesus rally in front of Independence Hall on Saturday. (MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 01, 2012

Pat Robertson stood before Independence Hall Saturday and proclaimed that "This nation belongs to Jesus."

The 82-year-old broadcaster, a stalwart of the Christian right, spoke to a crowd of nearly 10,000 that had gathered on the mall to reverse the course of what they called a United States gone wrong.

"I ran for president once, and it's a mistake I wouldn't want anybody to make," said Robertson, who had walked to the lectern slowly and hunched over. "We will never change America through politics. We will only change America through an outpouring of God's Holy Spirit."

Robertson, one the biggest names in Christian activism, took the stage on a chilly afternoon at America for Jesus 2012, a national prayer gathering.

The two-day event was the work of One Nation Under God, a coalition of ministries that organized a similar series of meetings in Washington during the 1980s and 1990s. The first "Washington for Jesus" drew 500,000 and is considered a critical turning point in establishing the political power of the religious right.

This year's event began Friday night with a youth rally on the mall. The Saturday program started at 7 a.m. with two hours of praise and worship, with Christian bands and singing groups leading a diverse crowd in songs and prayer.

A park ranger estimated the crowd at 8,000 to 10,000.

Organizers called for 40 days of prayer before the presidential election. Saturday's speakers also included Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, who is on a nationwide "Your Money, Your Values, Your Vote" bus tour.

Organizers maintained the event was not about politics. Few speakers mentioned President Obama or GOP candidate Mitt Romney. Prayers and speeches focused on what speakers portrayed as the nation's plague of societal ills and the only remedy - God.

But Robertson was in the middle of his presentation when a loud and unexpected dose of partisanship came from the audience.

"Obama is bringing sin on the nation. Support Mitt Romney," yelled Rives Grogan of Los Angeles. "Don't be a hypocrite. Who are you going to vote for?"

Grogan, who described himself as an antiabortion protester and pastor of the New Beginnings Christian Church in Los Angeles, held up a plaque with several photos of bloodied images.

Robertson continued his speech, followed by a prayer, but eventually told Grogan to "shut your mouth" because "this is not political." Robertson also told Grogan he was disrespecting the prayer.

Participants surrounded Grogan and began to pray for him. He continued to shout and told people not to touch him, eventually stopping as the crowd broke into song. Security personnel came over and told him they would pray for him.

Deputy Mayor Richard Negrin and the Rev. Bonnie Camarda of the Hispanic Clergy of Greater Philadelphia helped open the gathering Saturday morning. Camarda, one of several local pastors who are members of the national board of America for Jesus 2012, helped organize the event.

During the day, speakers discussed the seven deadly sins and connected them to government issues and social problems, including crime, joblessness, poverty, substance abuse, and government stewardship.

Attendees waved flags in support of the United States and Israel, danced to religious music, and held hands to pray.

Perkins urged the assembly to pray for Obama in one of the few mentions of a political candidate. During an interview before his speech, Perkins said the values tour had stopped at the prayer meeting to encourage people to register, become informed, and vote.

"That's not political," Perkins said, "It's part of being a citizen."

Leonora Mayfield of West Oak Lane sat a field away from the stage in a folding chair near Market Street.

A member of Balance Ministries church in Mount Airy, Mayfield said her congregation had been praying for the success of the event for months.

"The country has turned so far away from God that we are no longer in a blessed state," she said, "but prayer changes things."


Contact Kristin E. Holmes at 610-313-8211 or kholmes@phillynews.com.

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