A vast throng of 200,000 Christian worshippers, many of them clapping, singing, speaking "in tongues" and shouting joyous hallelujahs, rallied on the Mall yesterday as their leaders urged them to save America from the jaws of sin.
The outpouring -- the largest religious gathering here in at least several decades, according to U.S. Park Police -- brought together a colorful array of pentacostals, charismatics and evangelicals who prayed, embraced one another and raised their hands to the sunny skies in a daylong effusion of the spirit.
While the crowd -- a huge cross-section of middle America -- came to Washington ostensibly on a religious pilgrimage, speaker after speaker denounced abortion, divorce, pronography, homosexuality and other sensitive political issues, and prayed earnestly for national deliverance.
The skies, after two days of heavy rains and gray mist, turned blue yesterday for Jesus" and sponsored by One Nation Under God, a coalition of independent, mostly conservative, church leaders.
The mood of the throng was overwhelmingly friendly. There were no serious confrontations and no arrests. People courteously stepped around blankets and sleeping bags spread on the Mall. People in groups both large and small held hands, clutched each other, eyes closed and faces turned heavenward in fervent prayer.
The Rev. Bill Bright of Campus Crusade International of Arrowhead Springs, Calif., and one of the sponsors of "Washington for Jesus," set the keynote of the gathering.
America, he said, is "disintegrating because we have turned from the faith of our fathers. Our first president, George Washington, began every day on his knees with prayer and ended every day on his knees with prayer," Bright said.
"We've turned away from the true God," he said. "We must return to God and God will stop chastising us."
U.S. Park Police estimated the crowd reached its maximum size of 200,000 about 2 p.m. -- the biggest religious assemblage officials could recall and 25,000 more than the crowd that came to the Mall last October when Pope John Paul II celebrated mass.
The mass of humanity created predictable traffic jams and Metro subway delays in the Mall area during much of the day. Long lines, sometimes 10 and 12 people deep, formed at the nearby Smithsonian Metro station in the late afternoon as the worshippers began leaving.
The Metro subway system ran at rush-hour schedules throughout the day to handle the crowds, and the subway system offered a special predawn shuttle service between RFK Stadium and the Mall to transport rally celebrators.
The rally capped two days of religious activity costing an estimated $1 million. It began with a series of religious meetings here Monday and a huge youth rally at RFK Stadium Monday night that attracted an estimated 36,000 persons.
Many of the youths at the stadium then came to the mall to join older worshippers for the day of preaching, praying and singing there.
The stage, draped in red-white-and-blue bunting badly streaked by earlier rain, stood opposite the Museum of Natural History on the Mall -- almost the identical site of the altar for the visit of Pope John Paul II. A massive public address system carried the sound for more than a mile in every direction.
The mood on the mall was one of unity with one another, with bright words of "Praise the Lord" and "Hallelujah" replacing more conventional greetings such as "Hello" and "How are you?" Despite the prayers of forgiveness for national sin, the troubles of the secular world seldom intruded into the emotionally charged religious celebration.
Unlike the antinuclear rally here this weekend, this crowd paid little heed to current international events except in vaguest terms of "sin." Only two or three of the more than 60 speakers and prayer leaders scheduled during the day even mentioned Iran.
The Rev. Pat Robertson, who heads the Christian Broadcasting Network in Virginia Beach, Va., and one of the cochairmen for the rally, prayed to God to "reach into Iran and free the hostages, to give us a token that you have heard us."
The crowd was overwhelmingly white, most appeared to be under 40 years of age, and most appeared to have come either as a family group or by bus loads from their churches throughout the country. The National Park Service said 1,150 charter buses were parked at Kennedy Stadium and West Potomac Park. Other buses discharged passengers at subway stops in the suburbs.
At noon, thousands of the Mall worshipers began a march down Constitution Avenue NW from Seventh to 14th Street and back to the Mall, singing "America," "Amazing Grace" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."
Marching in home state contingents, they waved to bystanders and shook hands with police officers standing at intervals along the way. Their banners, billowing in the breeze, variously said "Jesus is the Answer," "America for Jesus" and "America Must Repent or Perish."
"Praise the Lord for the cops," participants shouted at D.C. police along the way.
The usually friendly mood soured somewhat when a contingent of Christian homosexuals, brandishing placards and banners proclaiming their affiliations, wandered through the crowd.
"In the name of Jesus, how dare they," exclaimed a young woman as the homosexuals marched past.
Those who came to the rally were a mix of old and young, small businessmen, housewives, farmers and factory employes. Many of the older generation dressed chruch-like -- suits and ties for the men, dresses and high heels for the women -- while many of the youths were more casual in blue jeans and corduroys.
One woman, who came to the rally with her husband and six of their seven children, said she has high hopes the rally will make a difference in the nation. "I'd like to see prayer back in the schools, and I'd like to see our leaders come before God before they make decisions for our country," said Shirley Holland of Surrey, Va.
Holland also believes the rally may have some effect in outlawing abortion, which she said is against God's law. "Other people are entitled to their opinions, but it's what God says that counts," she said.
Another woman, who declined to give her name because she took off from her government job to join the rally said: "All this trouble America has had is because America has turned its back on God. I think God's going to heal this land and the country will be united because all these people came together for the prayers."
A coalition of religious and social service leaders opposed to Washington for Jesus held a midday press conference to condemn the Mall rally as right-wing politics masquerading as religious fundamentalism.
Thirteen participants ranging from a black pentascostal preacher and a lesbian minister to a Catholic priest, a rabbi and a Mormon feminist supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment voiced opposition to the program.
The Jesus march "borders on manipulation," said the Rev. David Eaton, of All Souls Unitarian Church here.
The Rev. Charles V. Bergstrom, a Lutheran minister and chairman of the Washington Interreligious Staff Council, warned of the "danger of mixing politics and charismatic fundamentalism."
Maida Rust, a Mormon supporting ERA, said, "The marriage of the right wing and the church surely was not made in heaven."
James Farmer, veteran civil rights leader and executive director of the Coalition of American Public Employees, said that if "God looked down on (the Mall) today, He probably would say, 'Thank God I'm not a Christian.'"
Participants in the rally, however, denied that "Washington for Jesus" was intended to be political in any way.
Julie Wanless of DePere, Wis., said about 35 members of her state's contingent visited Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.) on Monday. There was no political pressure, she insisted. "We said we were praying for him, and we know he has difficult decisions to make for this country."
"Nobody's coming here to pressure a congressman," said Charles Conger of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. "We're here to say, 'Do what God tells you to do.'"