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Christians Rally Under the Rain in Washington

Religion: Thousands of evangelicals chant and pray at two-day gathering. The demons they are fighting are social, not political, in nature.

May 01, 1996|STANLEY MEISLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Despite a heavy downpour, thousands upon thousands of evangelical Christians rallied at the foot of Capitol Hill on Tuesday, pledging with prayer to battle the demons that they said were plaguing America.

Although the chanting crowds were obviously sending a message to Congress, they did not seem to have any particular legislation in mind.

In fact, the Rev. Bryan Claxton, pastor of the New Creation Christian Church in Baltimore, said: "The message we want to forward to Congress is that the government isn't going to solve the problems. But the churches will."

The two-day demonstration, called the "Washington for Jesus" rally by its sponsors, was organized by a church in Virginia Beach, Va., that hoped to attract 250,000 people to the capital. Buses came from as far as Texas and California with Bible-carrying parishioners, many wearing "I Love Jesus" T-shirts.

It was difficult to estimate their numbers, however, because a steady flow of demonstrators kept leaving the rain-lashed grounds to take their children into shelter for a few minutes at least in the nearby National Botanical Gardens and government office buildings. The National Park Service said that it would announce an estimated attendance figure later.

But speakers and gospel singers still had many thousands of rain-defying spectators before them throughout the day. "The Lord God is now watering on the sacrifice," the Rev. R. V. Hill of Los Angeles told the crowd. "Rain, like the sun, is the will of God. We don't run from it. We accept it."

The scene stirred with color as the crowds put on yellow and blue ponchos and hovered beneath a rainbow of wide umbrellas. The profusion of ponchos, however, hid the bright, commemorative T-shirts that many had bought from hawkers to mark the two-day event.

From time to time, some took off their ponchos to shout, "Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!" as the rain beat down on their closed eyes.

Claxton, who led almost 100 parishioners to Washington from Baltimore, said: "There are seven demons in the land affecting our children, and the first letters of these demons spells Pharaoh."

He described the demons as persecution, homosexuality, addiction, racism, abortion, the occult and HIV/AIDS. Some demonstrators wore buttons that proclaimed, "Go down Moses. . . . Tell the PHARAOH to let my people go," with the "demons" listed next on the buttons.

Francis Williams, a member of Claxton's congregation, said: "We are here to take back America. Our aim is to save the children."

The demonstration began Monday with thousands of young people dancing to reggae, gospel and rock bands and listening to preachers exhort them to battle the evils of drugs and violence.

Young people arose to denounce abortion, homosexuality, premarital sex and divorce. Older people joined the youths soon after dawn Tuesday.

Although the organizers of the demonstration, which seemed to include almost equal numbers of blacks and whites, stressed the nonpolitical nature of their rally, the featured speakers included the Rev. Jerry Falwell, a prominent Christian conservative.

"This nation is in spiritual denial as to who we are," Falwell said.

The crowds also heard Norma McCovey, the woman who was identified only as "Roe" in the original Roe v. Wade case that ended in 1973 with the Supreme Court ruling that abortion should be legal. She is now opposed to abortion.

The main organizer of the rally was the Rev. John Gimenez of the Rock Church in Virginia Beach, Va. He operated through a nonprofit, nondenominational organization known as One Nation Under God Inc. His supporters said that he had organized similar demonstrations in 1980 and 1988.

The National Botanical Gardens, which fills a small building below Capitol Hill, probably never had as many visitors as it did Tuesday, when many in the crowd took shelter there from time to time, standing under exotic trees while making plans on how to avoid rush-hour traffic while leaving Washington.

There were so many inside the building that the administrators of the botanical gardens, fearful of damage to the plants and trees, decided to close the building at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday instead of the usual 5 p.m.

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