Next week's "Washington for Jesus" prayer rally, which its sponsors assert has only spiritual goals, has drawn criticism from religious leaders who charge it is more oriented to rightwing politics than to prayer.
The rally is scheduled for Monday and Tuesday.
"It is unnecessary and wrong for any religious group or individual to seek to 'Christianize' the government or to label political views of members of Congress as 'Christian' or 'religious'" said a statement issued earlier this week by a group of Washington-based religious leaders.
"It is arrogant to assert that one's position on a political issue is 'Christian,' and that all others are 'unChristian,'" the statement continued. "There is no 'Christian' vote or legislation."
Signing this statment were the Washington representatives of 20 Roman Catholic, Jewish and Protestant denominations and interfaith agencies, including the National Council of Churches and the Jesuit order. A spokesman for the coalition said the statement marked the first time the group had publicly criticized another religious group.
The Rev. John Gimenez, a Virginia Beach pastor who originated the WFJ prayer rally idea and who is on the steering committee, has denied that the effort is political.
"We're not coming to denounce anyone, we're coming to pray," he said.
Put together more than 18 months ago by televison evangelists and other conservative evangelical Protestants, the announced aim of Washington for Jesus is to bring a million Christians here "for a day of prayer and repentance for our nation."
What troubles its critics is that the effort seems to equate national well-being with a particular view of Christian morality.
Another aspect of the Washington for Jesus campaign has had believers for the past year praying for the conversion of members of Congress to born-again Christianity.
In addition, the rally's schedule calls for delegations from each of the 50 states on Monday to call on every member of Congress "to assure the officials that in accordance with the Bible, many people in the various states are committed to praying for them, and to urge the senators and representatives to carry out their responsibilities in keeping with Biblical standards of right and wrong."
The national staff of Washington for Jesus includes a special coordinator whose task it is to make sure that all these visits are organized and carried out.
"I really think it's dishonest to say that a million people are coming to worship God while in the background you're carrying on a political effort," said the Rev. Charles Bergstrom of the National Lutheran Council.
The council, which includes the major Lutheran bodies in this country, has issued a statement on religion and politics in which demonstrational leaders "strongly discourage members of Lutheran churches from joining or supporting movements which confuse church-government relations and distort the churches' advocacy mission in the political world."
The statement, signed by presidents of the Lutheran churches, adds: "We support parish pastors and church laders who do not endorse such movements."
Last Sunday the Rev. W. W. Finlator of Raleigh, N.C., a nationally known Southern Baptist pastor, devoted his sermon to analyzing the Washington for Jesus effort.
"When a religious communion undertakes to sanctify a political persuasion with the blessings and sanctification of the Christian faith," he said, "we have violation of church-state separation with a vengeance."
Finlator, who also is chariman of the North Carolia advisory committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, warned that "it follows as the night the day that theocracy rather than democracy is out the make, repression and recrimination are around the corner.
". . . Political leaders," he said, "are exhorted to remember, in the words of the Christian Declaration [of the WFJ] "that you are first, servants of God, then servants of the people' and you must therefore frame laws, statutes and ordinances that are in harmony with God's world. Repeal those rulings, laws and statutes and ordinances which have offended Him."