Washington for Jesus, a campaign to bring a million fundamentalist Christians to the nation's capital next month, has lost the support of some leading black clergymen here because of its right-wing political overtones.
D.C. City Council member Jerry A. Moore Jr. (R-At Large), who is also pastor of the 19th Street Baptist Church, and the Rev. Dr. Robert Pruitt of Metropolitan AME Church have withdrawn as sponsors of the event. p
And an aide to D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy, who is also a minister, said Fauntroy is "gathering more information" about the event and its sponsors to reevaluate his support of it.
Washington for Jesus has been billed by its promoters as an apolitical drive to gather a million Christians here on April 9 for a day of prayer and national repentence.
But some of the campaign's promotional material -- as well as its organizational structure -- have raised questions about its real purpose.
Nancy Brailsford, an aide to Moore, said he withdrew when he "discovered [the campaign] had some views" with which he disagreed, specifically when he "discovered they were anti-D.C. voting rights."
She also said that Moore "has been in the forefront of the human rights issues, and this group is opposed to gay rights."
Asked about the group's stance on D.C. voting rights, a spokesman at the campaign's Virginia Beach headquarters responded that "Washington for Jesus has no stand on political issues."
Asked about gay rights, the spokesman, who refused to give his name, replied that "homosexuality is an abomination in the eyes of the Lord."
Pruitt, who is listed on Washington for Jesus literature as a member of the "Washington D.C. Advisory Board," said he never agreed to let his name be used that way. "Some young people came around and asked if I would sponsor a film on Jesus," he said. "That's all I agreed to."
The commercially distributed film "Jesus" has been bankrolled by one of the campaign's leaders and will be shownlocally to promote the crusade.
The moving forces behind the rally are Bill Bright, head of Campus Crusade for Christ International, and Pat Robertson, who heads the Christian Broadcasting Network.
Both have worked to mobilize fundamentalist and evangelical Christians into a voting bloc that would make religious beliefs -- namely conservative Christianity -- a test of fitness for public office.
Robertson told a press conference here earlier this week that the crowds they hope to attract "are coming to support no candidate whatever for public office. We are coming to repent of our corporate sins. . . . then to ask our fellow citizens to repent" of our sins as a nation, "then to call for a healing."
Some area religious leaders suspect, however, that the well organized campaign has goals beyond prayer and repentance.Interchange, a loose coalition of religious, labor and public interest groups, has charged that "religious language is being used to mask a political agenda."
Most pastors of local mainline churches, as well as officials of the Council of Churches and the Interfaith Conference here, have spurned the prayer rally effort because of such suspicions.
Promotional efforts for Washington for Jesus have been organized nationally by states, congressional districts and local precincts, with a coordinator at each level -- all for the avowed purpose of recruiting people to come to Washington for a day of prayer.
At a promotional meeting with some area pastors last month, Ted Pantaleo, the group's national coordinator, observed that with this system "it may be possible for one man to pick up the phone . . . and elect any person president of the United States that he wants."
A little-publicized part of Washington for Jesus called Intercessors for Congress, is recruiting 1,000 believers in each congressional district. On April 28, the day before the rally on the Mall, they will visit each member and pray "that they will have God's mind when they work on legislation," said Pantameo. But he insisted that this was not lobbying. "We don't have any political axes to grind," he insisted. "We are coming here to worship the Lord."