Facing Controversy, Anti-Muslim Preacher Tones Down Criticism

DETROIT — The only thing more noticeable than Lou Engle saying he was going to pray that Muslims would have “dreams of Jesus” during his marathon 24-hour prayer gathering over the weekend in Detroit were the efforts he undertook to show that he was all about sensitivity to minorities.

From the American Indians dancing in full-feathered dress to his proclamation a few hours later that he chose Detroit in a nod to black Americans’ sufferings, Engle carefully avoided the anti-Muslim rhetoric for which he is known and emphasized his affinity with minorities instead. Indeed, he described Detroit as the final stop on the underground railroad, the end of “black America’s trail of tears,” in explaining why he chose the city for the interfaith event that began Friday.

This was the same man who earlier had said that Muslims are “fueling the demonic realm” and in the thrall of “spiritual dark powers.” But after widespread criticism of the event — Engle seemed at pains to avoid any semblance of intolerance.

Instead, he asked his audience to ask God to bring Muslims particular dreams. "We're actually calling people to stay all night long and worship in the night watch," he said Friday. "We are going to pray in the night watch that the love of Jesus would break in on Muslims all across this area with dreams of Jesus."

And pray they did, as many as 30,000 according to one estimate. Through the night, they swelled the stands of Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions, as if they had come for a rock festival. Some dozed as the night dragged on with their hands reverently clasped, or rocked gently in their seats. Others danced in the field and yelled, shook and wept as they circled a towering steel cross lit with glowing yellow lights near the 40-yard line.

For a decade, The Call has been one of the festivals Engle has led to energize young Christians to oppose abortion, homosexuality, and pray for the recovery of what he sees as a morally bankrupt nation. But this year, it all came under increased scrutiny. Detroit was no coincidental locale, after all. The city and neighboring Dearborn, Mich., are home to one of the nation's largest Muslim populations. The state has also been hit by the downturn in the economy. People are hurting and looking for help.

But news of Engle’s event quickly provoked controversy.

It began after several comments from Engle about Muslims that were quoted by the Family Research Council (FRC), a religious right group named as a hate group because of its animosity toward gays and lesbians. "The place where they say there is no hope — a microcosm of our national crisis — economic collapse, racial tensions, the rising tide the Islamic movement, and the shedding of our children's innocent blood on the streets ...God has chosen as his staging ground for healing and prayer," Engle said of Detroit in an FRC release.

In a video that has since been taken down from The Call’s website, Engle was more specific about his goal of converting Muslims. "You got to pray all night long because it's when the Muslims sleep," Engle said in the video. "We're gathering together to say, God, pour out your grace and revelations of Jesus all over Dearborn and the Muslim communities of North and South America."

Engle, who is a senior leader at the International House of Prayer (IHOP), a megachurch in Kansas City, Mo., is also an adherent of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) movement, a highly energized culture in Christianity with close ties to groups opposing abortion and homosexuality. NAR adherents believe they have been tapped to be prophetic apostles to return the nation to God.

Holding himself out to be one of those prophets, Engle has held The Call every year since 2000, when the inaugural gathering in Washington, D.C., drew a remarkably large crowd. But perhaps no other gathering has been as symbolic of the harsh views Engle really represents than that held last year in Uganda, where Engle praised the country’s “courage” and “righteousness” in considering a bill that would impose the death penalty on people who have AIDS and engage in gay sexual activity.

Evangelizing to the Muslims at home is a new role for Engle, however, and it comes at a time when rampant anti-Islamic rhetoric has already inspired an uptick in violence against Muslims. Recognizing this, a small group of pastors, including some from Detroit, denounced The Call as a deceptive disguise for hate.

For instance, the Rev. Charles Williams II, who leads Detroit's historic King Solomon Baptist Church, urged people to distance themselves from The Call and chastised the area's religious leaders who had signed on to be involved. "They went and got some of the biggest Africa-American pastors in the city of Detroit," Williams told The Detroit News. "They tricked them into believing this was a nice, goody-goody event. ... And that's not really what the situation is."

Perhaps that excuses the pastors too quickly. It isn't hard to find out what drives Engle, nor is it hard to see the animus behind many of those who partnered with The Call to worship.

Anti-gay pastor Cindy Jacobs was there, offering shrill cries for the youth of America to arise as the donation baskets circled the stadium. As a pastor with her husband at Generals International, a group devoted to "spiritual warfare," she regularly proclaims that catastrophic natural phenomena are the product of God’s anger over the nation's acceptance of homosexuality.

So was Rick Joyner, the pastor who has popularized a radical brand of militant Christianity preparing for the end of days.

In the waning hours of the event, Joyner took the stage and told the dwindling and exhausted crowd that the end of times was near. It was time to prepare. He didn't mention Islam by name—not many did after Engle's initial proclamation. But with all that had come before, he didn't really need to.

"We're among the ultimate time of the ultimate conflict of light and darkness," he said, pacing the stage in front of a quiet audience. "Make the crooked straight, because the Lord is coming."