Nearly 10,000 evangelical Christians marched on Washington yesterday to raise prayers, hymns and even cheers to Jesus and to help rescue America from sin.
Led by a silver-haired Los Angeles minister who said he was personally summoned here by God, the crowd marched up the Mall to the Capitol for an upbeat rally amid blooming azaleas and warm spring sun.
"The Lord spoke to me last October," the Rev. John Hinkle of Los Angeles explained. "and He said: 'I want 100,000 believers of all faiths to come together in Washington, D.C., and for no other reason than to lift My country up to Me in prayer.'"
The Lord also, Hinkle said, "give strict instructions that in no way was this to be a protest, but rather a glorious event of prayer and praise to Him."
Since "charismatic" Christians like Hinkle think it is not at all unusual to get marching orders direct from God, when he shared his divine command with other fellow believers via Christian television, they acted.
"We came because God told us to, and we said, 'Yes, Sir!'" explained Betty Austin of Thousand Oaks, Calif., as she pushed her husband's wheelchair down Constitution Avenue.
"We've got to pull this country out of the hole the Devil has dragged it down," said James McCalla, a retired naval shipyard worker from Akron, Ohio. "Pornography, women going with women, men going with men . . . So much sin."
Most of the crowd, however, appeared less concerned with sin than with praise and thanksgiving.
They ranged from Jim Wilhelmson, who heads a leather-jacketed gang of born-again motorcyclists from Detroit, as well as the Rev. Arthur Blessit, an itinerant evangelist from Los Angeles who travels around the country trundling an oversize wooden cross.
It was Blessit who kicked off the March up the Mall from the Washington Monument at noon yesterday by literally jumping for joy and Jesus.
"Let's finish off with the Jesus yell!" he shouted to the swelling crowd. "Gimme a J!" . . . Gimme an E! . . . Gimme an S! . . . Gimme a U! . . . Gimme an S! . . . What does that spell?"
"Jesus!" the crowd roared back at him.
"He is yours and what are you going to do with him?" Blessit shouted.
"Go, Go, Go!" came the response.
All ages, all races, some in Sunday best and some in scraggly jeans and T shirts, the crowd swung out behind their police escort down Constitution to the Capitol. Some passed out tracts along the way to each other and to bystanders. Others dropped out for a few moments' rest on benches by the art museum.
At Constitution and 12th they smiled and shouted "Bless you" to irate motorists who swore at them for holding up traffic.
True to the divine guidelines, there were no issues raised at the rally on the Capitol's west steps. But one of several scripture readings recounted the degradation of the ancient Sodom and Gomorrah and God's promise to spare those ancient cities if any righteous men could be found in them.
"In this great land today we know there are at least 10,000 here who love Jesus," one speaker said.
Members of the crowd appeared to have their own ideas about present-day evils that they were praying against. "There's too much abortion and too much crime," said Hugh Lupien, a computer project manager for Sperry Univac in Harrisburg, Pa. "I think that when Christ is brought back to the center of the nation this will turn things around," he said.
According to Hinkle, God had made it clear, back in October, that "no personality was to be lifted up in any way," the pastor explained. "He wouldn't share this day with anyone."
Accordingly, none of the leaders at the rally was introduced by name, not even Rep. Robert K. Doren (R-Calif.) and Sen. Roger W. Jepsen (R-Iowa) who addressed the crowd.
Like other participants, they read from the scriptures or the more religious utterances of the Founding Fathers - such as Washington's prayer at Valley Forge - rather than voicing their own sentiments.
Some members of the crowd were so concerned about not lifting up personalities that they worried about giving their names to a reporter. "Maybe you should just say a motorcycle club,' said Wilhelmson, whose motorcycle vest had "Jesus is Lord" stenciled across the back.
"God made it possible for us to be here," Wilhelmson said. "God gave us a bus." Unfortunately, the bus brokedown on the way, torpedoing Wilhelmson's hopes of arriving early enough to see the Smithsonian.
Hinkle expressed no disappointment that only a tenth of the expected crowd of 10,000 showed up. "In communities across America, in over 30 cities I know of, there are rallies going on like this today," he said.
"They're praying for God to lift the darkness from this country, and the fear," he added, "and He said He would if we get together and pray." CAPTION: Picture 1, The Rev. John Hinkle, leader of Capitol prayer rally, leads crowd in a prayer for Congress. By John McDonnell-The Washington Post; Picture 2, Crowd responds to prayers to Jesus to save nation from sin at rally on the Capitol grounds. UPI