What I learned about power and politics in Washington
I was at Washington for Jesus in 1988. That huge gathering on the Washington Mall had all the indicators of a massive movement, including a stage filled with Christian leaders from many denominational and nondenominational streams of the Christian Church. The National Park Service estimated the crowd at 200,000. The 1988 rally also helped set a single day record for Metrorail, with an estimated 565,000 trips on the day of the rally.
Youth With A Mission was there in DC. YWAM DC was on C Street. And many YWAM groups converged on DC that day. It was a powerful event.
Jumbotrons and gigantic speaker systems lined the mall every hundred yards or so. Tents were there for devout prayer warriors. Those same prayer leaders peppered intercession from the platform. Popular Christian artist bands sang and shouted praise to Jesus over the nation. Mega church pastors declared revival and new hope for the nation.
But this event was not only a prayer gathering. It was political as well. After the first Washington for Jesus rally in 1980, a group of 20 prominent religious organizations, including the National Council of Churches, criticized that rally as explicitly political and an effort to “Christianize the government”. Things got even more political in 1988. Pat Robertson had recently lost a bid for President. During the 1988 rally, President Ronald Reagan addressed the crowd via videotape, and announced the National Day of Prayer which took place that following Thursday.
I had a behind the scenes view as a security volunteer in the Press Tent. YWAM DC was directed by Landa Cope, the Dean of the College of Communications for YWAM’s Pacific & Asia Christian University. Landa was responsible for coordinating all media for the event. Thousands of believers filled the Mall applauding these men and women who stepped onto the platform and then into the tent to speak on video camera with the various media representatives. Watching this “circus” reminded me of a message Landa gave at one of our recent YWAM conferences. She spoke of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, and most particularly about the temptation of power, which was ubiquitous in Washington, DC. Still, my head was spinning with all high powered people surrounding me that day.
Immediately after the rally was another 3-day event organized by Youth With A Mission. It was there that the first edition of The Declaration of Universal Rights was distributed to the thousands of delegates from more than one hundred nations attending the “Lord of the Nations International Conference” held in Washington, D.C., April 30 through May 2, 1988. The Declaration was an attempt to define rights biblically, systematically and clearly.
Clearly, the reach and the ambition of this movement was beyond the American political landscape. Echoing in my mind were the words of Satan when he tempted Jesus the third time in the wilderness: “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” The temptation for power was oozing everywhere.
The number of famous Christian leaders and musicians filled the schedule so full that Loren Cunningham, the founder of Youth With A Mission, had only five minutes to address that international assembly. Every word was being translated simultaneously to six different languages, so every word during those five minutes had to count and the message needed to be absolutely clear. In retrospect, I’m convinced the devil was also present during that meeting, attempting to confuse, distort, and draw these influential people away from the simplicity of Jesus’ message of peace.
With almost no introduction or preliminary words, Loren walked onto the platform, held out his open hand, and said: “Everyone stretch out your hand.” Translators repeated his instruction and everyone responded immediately. “What does that hand represent?” Very quickly, he answered his own question, “That is the hand of a servant. It is open so that God can put something into your hand and he can take something out.” Then he said, “Now, everyone stretch your hand up high.” Hands moved silently and Loren asked, “What does your raised hand represent?” He answered, “That’s the hand of a volunteer and a worshipper.” The crowd mimicked him when he raised the other hand into the air. “These are the hands of surrender.” There was a slight pause as translators helped everyone understand. Then Loren closed his fist, instructing everyone to do the same. “What does this represent?” Again, he answered his own question, “This is the sign of rebellion. You raise your fists in the air when you demand your own rights.”
Another pause and then Loren brought his fist down and added his other fist in front of him. Then he asked, “What does this represent?” “This is like holding a steering wheel, or gripping a bridle for a horse. This represents manipulation and control.”
After the translators quieted down, all eyes were on Loren. Then he asked his final question, “How does the Lord of the nations want us to disciple the nations?” And he walked off the platform.
The emcee returned to the stage with another question. Trying to excite the crowd again, he said “So, what are we gonna do?” Then he raised his fist in the air and said, “Take the nations!” I guess he wasn’t listening.