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Christian women gather on the Mall and criticize feminism

Women dance on the Mall on Monday. (Julie Zauzmer/The Washington Post)

One after another, the women who gathered for a prayer rally on the Mall on Monday said that when they decided to travel to Washington for this event, they had in mind another assembly of women in the same place: the Women’s March on the day following the presidential inauguration, which drew massive crowds of protesters in “pussy hats.”

Those women marchers didn’t stand for them, the Christian women said on Monday.

“For years, the feminists lied to us,” Christian author Lisa Bevere shouted from the stage. “They said for us to be powerful as women, we needed to act like men.” The women gathered on the Mall raised their hands in praise.

Many spoke about their reasons for coming to a women’s prayer rally on a muddy day on the Mall: their desire to bolster women in their God-given roles as wives and mothers, their belief that women’s activism should make outlawing abortions a priority, and their faith in the power of prayer to change the country’s culture.

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Lou Engle, who has been organizing revivals and giant prayer rallies for decades, planned a day specifically for women to conclude his four-day event on the Mall this week. As the day dawned rainy and the gravel paths to the event turned to mud, the turnout was modest. All the women (and some men) gathered in front of the huge stage had ample room to form spontaneous dance circles, jump up and down to the amplified worship music, and twirl multicolored scarves.

For Linda Shebesta of Burleson, Tex., it was a day to pray alongside the family members of three generations who traveled to Washington with her. “We believe our nation was founded as a Christian nation. The enemy is trying to take it in another direction, not Christianity,” she said. She saw lots of proof of Satan at work during the Obama administration, especially the Supreme Court’s ruling authorizing same-sex marriage nationwide, she said. She’s relieved to see the Trump administration undoing many of Obama’s policies.

“We believe God put Donald Trump in,” Shebesta said.

Most of the speakers in the first hours of the all-day rally stayed away from politics, focusing instead on personal stories of mothers’ prayers for their children and biblical stories about women and men. Engle and a group of female preachers led the crowd in ecstatic worship — bringing them to their knees, where many wept in anguished prayer and some spoke in tongues, and then to their feet, where they lifted their hands in the air and shouted the names of children and loved ones whose salvation they were praying for.

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But asked why they came to the event, the first thing one attendee after another said was that she wanted to be part of a different sort of women’s movement than the massive anti-Trump January protest march. “We still love and honor men at the same time. We value life. We don’t believe in abortion,” Jubilee Underwood, 32, said, comparing the Women’s March that she disdained to this event that led her to travel from her home in Alaska. “We’re not fighting for women’s rights. We’re just fighting for our country to be unified.”

Ruth Freeman of Franklin, Tenn., brought up her discomfort with the pink pussy hats that filled cities around the world in January. Freeman reasoned: If men aren’t supposed to think about women just for their anatomy, why should women make their genitalia central to their message? “I want to be seen for who I am,” she said, “not for my body parts.” The hat’s name references Trump’s comments in the leaked 2005 “Access Hollywood” audio, in which he bragged about grabbing women by their genitals.

The speakers from the stage made the same comparison between the two events. “We don’t need to be empowered by marches and speeches,” Gloria Engle, a relative of Lou Engle, said. “What we need is to be empowered in who we are as daughters of the living God.”

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Toward the back of the crowd, Becky Little sat on her scooter, staring straight ahead at the U.S. Capitol.

“It’s an interesting time, because the most unlikely person, in my opinion, won the presidency,” she said. She had been so disgusted by the nation’s gridlocked politics that she found it hard to vote at all, but she still remained patriotic enough to wear a gauzy American flag vest today. That was how she felt about Trump: He concerned her, but she also hoped God might move him to work for a Christian purpose.

“The guy’s made plenty of mistakes, but everyone has. I think this is an opportunity,” she said. And she thought that this prayer rally, which she drove three hours from Gloucester, Va., to attend, might help move the president’s heart. “I feel like I was born for this. I was born to be here in this moment. All my steps have been leading me up to this.”

As Little spoke, Lou Engle asked the crowd to lay hands on one another, and hundreds of people in colorful ponchos wriggled their hands out of the plastic sacks to wrap their arms around strangers. Little stared at them, and then at the Capitol dome, in wonder. “I mean, look at this,” she said.

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