National Commentary

The Call Detroit: A Slick Political Rally Disguised As a Religious Revival


“Please, come join us,” insisted an attractive college student flashing her bright Aquafresh smile.

Before I was able to decline her friendly invitation I was gently pulled into a large prayer circle of 30 or so Charismatic Christians. “I’m sorry my hand is sweaty,” the girl said with a sheepish grin.

We quickly surrounded a handful of young preachers who whooped and hollered before surrendering English for the unintelligible language of tongues. The manic participants sounded like a cross between a prayer service and a Native American tribe preparing for battle.

Eventually, they raised their hands toward the sky pointing to God, which allowed me to escape and enter the main seating area at Ford Field in Detroit. It was in this arena where Lou Engle, founder of The Call, had gathered 27,000 fundamentalist Christians from across the nation on 11.11.11 for a 24-hour prayer session and fast.

I had expected a gay bashing and Muslim trashing extravaganza. While red meat was certainly on the menu, it was not the typical all-you-can-eat carnivorous buffet. It took several hours to figure out what was really going on – but I gasped when the disturbing pattern finally revealed itself. This elaborate show had all the trappings of a modern religious revival – from the thumping music to the two gargantuan video screens suspended above the enraptured audience. But this ostensibly religious event was little more than a political front.

Its real aim was to peel African American support away from the Democratic Party in a swing state during a critical election year. Not only is President Barack Obama’s reelection at stake, Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow is locked in a tight race that includes social conservative and former GOP Rep. Peter Hoekstra. This cynical revival was not about “values” — it was about votes. It was not about worship, but winning office for Republicans by promoting what writer Ed Kilgore called in The New Republic, a “big-God, small-government creed.”

The amazing part was that the audience seemed totally unaware of the underlying motives and machinations. After all, the words “Democrat” and “Republican” were never spoken and there was only one local politician identified on-stage. It seemed that even some of the minor speakers might not have been privy to the overarching strategy. Nonetheless, a brilliant display of political subterfuge was unfolding as the oblivious crowd bopped to Christian rock with their hands swaying above their heads.

Lou Engle understands that much of Michigan is conservative. If he were able to peel off fifteen or twenty percent of Detroit’s black Democratic vote, he might be able to turn the state solidly red. The main wedge issue he selected to accomplish his plan is abortion. For good measure, he helped weave a conspiracy theory: Sinister white bigots who run programs like Planned Parenthood were using abortion to reduce African American birthrates.

“What Birmingham is to the civil rights movement, Detroit is to abortion,” bellowed Engle at the event. “Detroit has a calling…blacks and Latinos could lead the parade of history.”
In the end, one can only feel sorrow for this fanciful movement that is based on pure fantasy. It exists to restore an idealized version of the 1950’s family that never existed. It contorts and distorts history to turn our founding fathers into false idols whose words and views are as inerrant as their bible.

Even more tragic is that The Call, a wing of the New Apostolic Reformation (aka 7 Mountains Movement) has tremendous ambition, but will always be numerically too small to fulfill its pipedream of earthly dominion. Researcher Bruce Wilson has written extensively on the New Apostolic Reformation. He says that the mandate of the Seven Mountains Movement is for “Bible believing” Christians to seek control of seven key sectors of society: Education, government, media, business, arts and entertainment, religion, and the family. According to a movement video, the church must regain control of those sectors, which are now occupied by “darkness.”

Americans may prattle about family values, but the majority will never want the Bible to replace the Constitution, ushering in a cruel and narrow form of Christian Sharia. They don’t want a cabal of weepy, melodramatic zealots lording over their lives, censoring their beloved movies and television shows, indoctrinating their children, and turning Wall Street into Wailing Wall Street.

It must be exceedingly difficult for this movement to swallow, but we have surely reached a point where the strikingly bizarre behavior displayed at this rally is significantly weirder to most Americans than floats at gay pride parades.

Lou Engle and the New Apostolic Reformation can only win its culture war through stealth strategies and sleight of hand. It is certainly possible for this to occur and that is why we must remain vigilant. But Engle’s ascendance requires the almost unimaginable descent of this nation from modern to medieval. Are we willing to go there?



Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”