Leaders of a massive evangelistic movement, avowedly nonpolitical but organized nationally by congressional districts and local precincts, unveiled plans here yesterday to bring a million Christians to Washington for a giant prayer rally here April 29.
"It's going to be the greatest day in the history of Christianity in this country," proclaimed Ted Pantaleo, national coordinator for Washington For Jesus, as the movement is known. He said every member of Congress would be visited the day before the rally.
"This is God's time, God's hour," the Rev. John Gimenez of Virginia Beach explained to some 250 local Pentacostal and evangelical Christian leaders, who were urged to support and promote the rally. He said that God had directed him nearly two years ago to begin organizing the massive rally "to change the destructive course this nation is on."
Nearly a year ago a Los Angeles fundamentalist pastor, the Rev. John Hinkle, also claiming a divine mandate, tried to marshal 100,000 believers to come to Washington on a similar mission of prayer. But only 10 percent -- 10,000 -- came.
Gimenez, however, who was billed in the invitations for yesterday's session as "a Puerto Rican who was a heroin addict for a number of years prior to his conversion to Christ," has sought powerful allies to help implement his vision.
He has made common cause with the Rev. Pat Roberston of the Christian Broadcasting Network; Demos Shakarian, whose Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship has chapters in every major city in the country; and with the Rev. Dr. Bill Bright, whose Campus Crusade and its related groups comprise probably the wealthiest and most ubiquitous force on the evangelical Protestant movement.
Four years ago Bright was involved with a movement to elect "Christians" -- defined in fundamentalist evangelical terms -- to Congress.
Gimenez told the local pastors and their wives who gathered yesterday in George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium that the Washington for Jesus movement is organized "In every city in every state, in every congressional district, even down to every precinct," under the direction of seven regional coordinators.
Asked after the meeting about possible political implications, Pantaleo insisted that "we don't have any political axes to grind. We are coming up here to worship the Lord."
Not all Washington area Christians are supporting the Washington for Jesus movement. "There's not enough clarity about the objectives of the rally for me to feel I want to become fully involved," said the Rev. Dr. Ernest Gibson, who heads the Council of Churches in addition to pastoring a downtown congregation.
Neither Roman Catholic nor mainline Protestant church leaders have endorsed the movement. "There's a lot of us that are for Jesus who don't feel called upon to buy into this thing," said the Rev. Dr. Edward White, regional Presbyterian executive. "We were here before they came and we'll be here after they're gone."
The most prominent local name on the local sponsorship list was Del. Walter Fauntroy. Fauntroy could not be reached yesterday to confirm the extent of his involvement.