Everybody’s worship for the weekend

I’ll tell you one thing I admire about charismatic Christians: They skip the theology and go straight for the wizardry. Take the televangelist Benny Hinn, for example. Hinn is a master hypnotist who can make whole swaths of his studio audience fall on the floor by a mere swish of his wrist.

Wingardium falliosa! And down they go. That’s not as easy to do as Hinn makes it look.

Last weekend, the religious firebrand Lou Engle brought his Call to Conscience camp meeting to Raley Field and the state Capitol. I attended both gatherings, and I have to say right off that Engle falls short—Willow Ufgood short—when measured against a Gandalf like Hinn. He doesn’t really have much charisma. When he preaches, he rocks back and forth like an autistic child trying to self-soothe. His voice is perpetually hoarse from trying to work the crowd into a frenzy.

Doesn’t he know working the crowd is a deacon’s job? Jesus fed the multitude with seven loaves and a fish, but for goodness sake, he didn’t wash the dishes afterward.

Engle’s claim to fame is that, in 2000, he got 400,000 young people to gather in Washington, D.C. There certainly were not 400,000 people in Raley Field on Friday night. The stadium was maybe two-thirds full.

Engle is a right-winger and a culture warrior. The overturning of Proposition 8 and the looming midterm elections were obviously not unrelated to him coming to town. But on Friday, politics took a back seat to worship.

Apparently, worship nowadays means putting your hands in the air and getting teary-eyed whenever you hear Christian rock music. If you don’t particularly care for U2, I can tell you that enduring five straight hours of Christian rock is going to be Calvary. Try to imagine U2’s most unctuous tune dragged out for 20 or more minutes. It’s like having Rattle and Hum stuck on a loop, except Bono isn’t sermonizing about Reverend Tutu, but just keeps repeating the same empty slogans over and over. God is holy. The Lord is mighty. Jesus, I need you deep inside me. By song’s end, you’re not asking The Edge to play the blues, you’re begging him.

On Saturday, the anointed ones and I gathered on the west side of the state Capitol. Organizers anticipated some 50,000 faithful; the turnout of less than 10,000 was an unequivocal failure. We were supposed to fast and pray for 12 hours in the sweltering heat, and this would magically cause gay folks across California to walk the straight and narrow. As I munched on peanut M&M’s among the famishing faithful, I wondered why God gave humans free will, but made them naturally gullible. If I shared Engle’s reactionary politics, I wouldn’t waste my time praying. I’d start a megachruch, get rich and fund Sarah Palin’s White House bid.

Then again, why bother? So what if America goes to the devil? I’ve read the Bible, and (spoiler alert) it’s going to happen anyway.

I’d advise Engle to follow Benny Hinn’s example. Buy a fancy white suit, fleece the born suckers of the world for all they’re worth and, if he must, call the whole thing bloody brilliant.