James Farmer, the longtime civil rights activist,
said at a news conference on the afternoon of the
"Washington for Jesus" rally of right-wing fundamentalists in Washington April_28-29, 1980, that "if God
looked down on /the Mall/ today, He probably would say,
Thank God, I'm not a Christian."
The organizers of "Washington for Jesus" did drum
up a sizeable crowd. An estimated 200,000 showed up,
according to U.S. Park Police. That was some 25,000
more than turned out last October to see the Pope give
The leaders issued a
Mass, but all the same well below the one million promised by "One Nation Under God," the collection of video
preachers, tent-show revivalists and squeaky-clean entertainment figures who put the show together.
They sang and they prayed, come rain or come shine
- mostly come rain. The red, white and blue bunting
that festooned the bandstand from which the preachers
held forth was streaked and stained from two days'
drizzle, but the crowd remained in high spirits nonetheless. In fact, a picnic atmosphere prevailed, as
the Faithful from all over sat in folding chairs and
knelt in prayer on muddy blankets.
They heard one preacher after another all day long,
and the notion of American Paradise Lost got big play.
According to the Reverend Bill Bright who heads Campus
Crusade International, America "is disintegrating because we have turned from the faith of our fathers."
But others insisted that there's still hope. "In time
of crisis in our land, to come and say, God of our
fathers, you will save us - that is why we are here,"
said the Reverend Pat Robertson who, as host of the
Christian Broadcasting Network's "700 Club," doubles
as the Johnny Carson of the Hookworm Belt.
There was at least a trickle of politics on tap.
Most of the preachers railed against abortion, homosexuality and "permissiveness" in general, and the Rev.
Bright even took on Communism and the sad state of
Specialists in the field say Robertson and his ilk
reach some 100 million Americans each week on 36 wholly
religious television channels, 1,300 radio stations and
dozens of gospel television shows that buy time on commercial TV. Their entire constiuency nationwide may
consist of more than 50 million "born again" Christians,
mostly Protestants, plus 30 million "morally conservative" Roman Catholics and a few million Mormons and Jews.
That's "enough votes to run the country," Robertson
told U.S. News and World Report. "And when the people
say, 'We've had enough,' we are going to take over."
Washington lesbian and gay groups and assorted
liberals had been bracing for the arrival of the Twice
Born since planning began months ago. Back then the
rally was to have been explicitly political, with Christian Voice - a Pasadena-based political lobby that re
cently issued a Congressional report card rating
elected officials on "moral issues" - consulting in the
Senators Jesse Helms of North Carolina and John
Warner of Virginia were active, too. The rally would
feature sympathetic politicians who would be asked to
address the throng. Original preparations also called
for the platform from which the sermons were broadcast
to have seats for every Member of Congress, with their
names emblazoned on them. That way, one Washington-
based Christian activist told me, the preachers could
acknowledge the politicoes who showed up and "zero in
on the empty chairs."
In January, the leaders went so far as to issue a
"Christian Declaration" that denounced abortion, homosexuality and excessive government spending. Oregon
Senator Mark Hatfield, a "born again" Christian but a
liberal, was especially outraged. He met with the
leaders to express his misgivings. A source close to
the planning says it was made clear at the meeting that
if the right-wingers did not back off, the tax-exempt
status of "One Nation Under God" would receive very
close attention indeed.
At that point, the leaders "did a 180-degree turn,"
announcing that there would be no political speeches
and no politicians would be allowed to address the
crowd. Even so, the rally was attended by Senators
Bwith a fair amount of
Helms and Orrin Hatch (a Utah Mormon) and several
congressmen.Pat Boone, who had come to croon at the
stadium songfest, put in an appearance at a New Right
At the rally itself, however, much care was taken
to make sure the speakers didn't get too political -
with a fair amount of success.
by Alan Crawford
from THE LIBERTARIAN REVIEW