TheCall event in San Diego was announced weeks ago. People were asked to pray and fast for 40 days (apparently a biblical reference) - with the fast being "Daniel" vegan fast of no dairy or meat, I was told later. They anticipated so many thousands of young people, they expected to fill Qualcomm Stadium.
The stadium has the capacity for 71,000 people. TheCall's PR people told the media the crowd size was 33,000 from 8:30am - 3:30pm, measured by security "clicking" people coming through the gates. Neither freelance journalist Rex Wockner nor I saw any clickers at Gate J, one of the main entrances.
It was difficult to make a good guesstimate of the numbers because many of the participants were in the shade - but Rex Wockner and I both guessed that at, a generous maximum, the crowd was about 10,000 to 15,000, with families and a diversity that included Asians, Latinos and African Americans.
On a trolley ride to the train, however, a Yes on 8 Latino guy who happens to work at Qualcomm said he thought the crowd was only around 5,000. There at the behest of his pastor, Miles McPherson, one of the speakers, he called the event "a failure."
Indeed, one of the preachers briefly noted the mostly empty stadium saying, "We all know preachers whose congregations alone could fill this stadium."
It was hard to keep track of who was speaking. The lineup was jumbled and some of the scheduled speakers were a no-show.
The event was divided into several segments between 9:45am to 8:30pm.
The first segments were an old fashioned evangelical/charismatic revival/prayer meeting, minus the big tent to provide shade from the unforgiving sun in the 84-degree heat.
The main theme of the revival part was repentance and a "call" to "stand in the gap" - to be the bridge between God and the people and to stand against Satan.
"We stand in the gap so You won't pass judgment on America," Sergio Scataglini said in one of the countless prayers to God.
I asked Matt about that. Matt, 23, was part of a band in from Colorado Springs with his preacher, Dutch Sheets, who was one of the speakers. Matt said TheCall was NOT about Prop 8 and he wished the message on the signs was "We Love Homosexuals - Yes on 8." He explained that he couldn't judge anyone else's sin because he, too, was filled with sin. Besides, "God orchestrated" the human condition and "gays are human, too...and God loves them, just as much as he loves me."
I asked Matt how he came to be this religious, and he said that he grew up in church but he was depressed and angry and he would go into his room and just curl up into a ball. He didn't know why he was "so screwed up." But then he was introduced to Jesus and "His presence just freed me from all that. It gave me life."
That was my sense of why the people were there - to repent and pray for themselves or someone else they felt was drowning in sin and needed salvation or redemption.
On the marriage front - while there were references to saving traditional marriage - it was mostly in the context of "healing" the institution of marriage as a whole - divorce, domestic violence, bad relationships between parents and children - and especially bearing the crucible of additions to drugs, alcohol, pornography, cybersex, and even TV.
And then, around 2:30, came the politics and the mood changed.
What was chilling for me about this was that these folks had been fasting, intensely praying, jumping up and down with the music and kneeling or falling on their faces, prostrating themselves sobbing at the commandments from the various preachers - and they seemed primed for seductive cult-like influences as soldiers in the righteous army of God. There is a long history of danger and violence associated with zealots acting in the name of religion and the enthusiasm with which these remarks were received indicates a lasting imprint.
The two main stars were Lou Engle, co-founder of TheCall, and Dr. Jim Garlow, Senior Pastor of Skyline Wesleyan Church. It was his job to introduce Focus on the Family's James Dobson, the national heavy-hitter, who had flown in for the event, as had the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins.
Garlow introduced Dobson by chastising "the mockers" who have been making fun of this moment of crisis - which he called a "make it or break it moment for our state and our nation."
Here's a long stretch of his introduction:
There are discerning people who are telling us what this is. Chuck Colson calls it the Armageddon, the spiritual Armageddon. James Dobson calls it Gettysburg. Donald Wildmon said to me on the phone just two days ago, "If we lose now, it is over." ...
Tony Perkins sent a jolting line to me the other day. He said that if we are defeated at this point, we have to retreat to high ground until the water take us out. I don't like that language but I do like a man who understands how desperate the situation is....
Discerning people here today know that in the heavenlies (that's what he called it) a great war is taking place. There have been three tragic national sins in American culture. The first one was race-related and racism. The second one was the killing of our unborn. The third is the vicious attack upon marriage itself. This is the first one of the three in which those on the other side have found a way to completely silence - completely silence - the voice of those who are talking with God....
[People are dying for their faith]...And what we have seen in the last few weeks in California is unprecedented, in terms of persecution and harassment coming against people whose great crime is a belief that marriage should be the same as its been for 5,000 years - one man and one woman. That is not a crime. That is truth.
One of the pastors who was supposed to be here today called me last night and cancelled because of threats against his life ...in his city are so severe that [the] police department has him in an area that they are watching him 24 hours a day - that's what's happening in America....So what hangs in the balance - what we do here in these next few moments determines everything....
So I'm asking you today - I know it's in the afternoon, I know you're in the sun, I know it's hot, I know you haven't eaten food, some of you haven't eaten food for 39 days - I understand that. But if you can see what's at stake - you'll hang together with us. Are we one accord, one voice on this?
Finally, he introduced Dobson as "one of the five star generals who has stood for this cause for three or four decades" and played the portion of Dobson's radio interview with him - which went out to 1600 outlets - in which Dobson choked up and said God told him to go to TheCall event.
Here are excepts from Dobson's remarks:
I did feel the Lord's hand in my back telling me to go...because it is so critical. We're here in this segment to talk about the defense of marriage. Who would have believed that on our watch in our day the institution of marriage would be on the ropes? And it is across the country and if the Lord does not intervene it will be lost. And many, many things will go with it.
You heard Dr. Garlow say a minute ago that the institution of marriage goes back at least 5,000 years and to the Garden of Eden, whenever that was. And at that time, the Creator gave Adam and Eve the institution of the family. It was before the Church, it as before the government - the three great institutions that the Lord has provided.
But marriage was the first. When in Genesis 2-24, we read, 'For this cause a man shall leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife and the two shall be one flesh.' That's God's plan. And we're here to defend it.
We find out a little bit later in Malachi - 2-15 - tells us why God did that. Why did He create the family? It says because He wanted godly children. And that's what it's all about. It's about children. It's about their next generation. It's about transmitting our values to those yet to come. We could lose it right here. But we're not going to and that's why we're here.
You see the crisis about marriage is not just about marriage. Proposition 8 is not just about marriage. Its about everything else. It is, as I said, about children. It is about what's taught in public schools. It is about God. It is about business and what business people are able to do and the laws. And it's about the courts - because if they can unilaterally change the definition of marriage, as long as it has existed on every continent on earth - it can change anything else. We've got to stop it right here.....
We're here to join our voices with yours today. Now there are a few protesters here...we can hear them up here. I don't even know where they are but I can hear them and there are some others outside. I want to say something specifically to you: I want you to know that we care about you. We're glad you're here. This is not about hate. This is about love. We love you. We're praying for you and I know that many of you have been through very hurtful circumstances in childhood and there's a history there - not for everybody but for some. And that's of concern to us.
So just know that we welcome you here. I understand your passion. But we believe that God has an answer to every situation. With that, let me pray for you and pray for Proposition 8 which is going to take place on Tuesday. Help me pray....Lord I pray that you will save this great institution of marriage because what happens in California will have a positive influence on the rest of the nation...."
Before he could leave, Dobson was stopped so the ministers on stage and the audience could pray over him, spurred on by Lou Engle.
Please note: I was in the stadium all day and neither saw nor heard any protesters, inside or outside the stadium. I was also directly in front of the stage when Dobson said he heard protesters, and I heard none. What I heard was scattered young Christian kids mumbling prayers out loud.
Family Research Council's Tony Perkins was introduced by a video. Here are excerpts from his remarks:
Our responsibility as Christians to stand does not end on Tuesday....I'm going to ask you this afternoon, will you stand - not today, not tomorrow, not Tuesday at the ballot box - but Wednesday morning? Will you make a commitment that you're going to continue to stand for righteousness and for the truth? You're going to stand for Jesus Christ?
Perkins just left, without folks praying over him.
The next segment was something of a surprise, with Garlow returning to introduce some "ex-gays."
Here's what Garlow said, in part:
We don't hate anybody. Are we in agreement? We love all. We love all. We choose to love all. One of my prayers is - in the state of California - in the church of Jesus Christ in the state - that there will be an avalanche of explosive love pouring from Bible-believing Christians to those who identify themselves as same-sex attracted. I hope there will be an absolute explosion of revival. We pray for a revival to bring out among those who've identified themselves as lesbians, gays, we ask for God's touch - His loving touch - His loving touch - His loving touch upon us to make them a miracle.
Garlow then turned the microphone over to Yvette who said:
I used to be a radical lesbian activist. For six years - every year I'd go to the gay and lesbian pride parade in West Hollywood and Long Beach and I'd fight with the Christians like you and I'd tell them that if they were going to be in heaven, I didn't want to go there.
But then she started working with this guy named Jeff who was nice to her and well, eventually she married a man.
Garlow introduced two more changelings to the crowd, a man who changed after his sister prayed for him for 40 days, and another man whose wife discovered he lived a double life.
That was it for me. Throughout the day, I had been very courteous and professional. I never once felt afraid or compromised, though at times I felt sick at heart for the hurting LGBT folks hiding there among us.
But I also walked away knowing that these Christians are not ready to accept us as who we are.