PHILADELPHIA — Saying America is so mired in "moral depravity" that only a mass appeal to the Almighty can save it, Christian evangelical leaders from across the country are planning a giant prayer rally for Sept. 29 in Philadelphia.
The "America for Jesus" daylong gathering on Independence Mall is expected to draw at least 30,000 people who "want to turn the nation around," said Bishop Anne Giminez, chairwoman of the event and pastor of Rock Pentecostal Church in Virginia Beach, Va.
"We see the symptoms of decline all around us," she said Wednesday, citing murder and abortion rates and the decline of marriage. In the past, she has also pointed to the ailing economy and catastrophic weather as warning signs.
Giminez and other leaders were in Cherry Hill, N.J., for an organizational meeting with about 80 area pastors.
Philadelphia was chosen for the assembly — and a youth rally the night before — because the American struggle for independence, born in this city, was an outgrowth of the "Spiritual Awakening" movement of the early 18th century, Giminez said.
"We wanted those great symbols, such as Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, around us."
Noting that the gathering will precede the presidential election by 40 days, organizers say "America for Jesus" will be free of partisan politics.
"We don't feel a man can save America," Giminez said, referring to the presidential contenders. "God is our only hope."
The history of "America for Jesus" suggests a Republican leaning, however.
On April 29, 1980, Giminez's late husband, Bishop John Giminez, convened the landmark "Washington for Jesus" prayer rally in the nation's capital attended by an estimated 500,000.
Organizers included televangelist Pat Robertson, the Rev. Jerry Falwell and Campus Crusade for Christ founder Bill Bright, who later told Ronald Reagan: "Mr. President, you were elected April 29, 1980 — not in November."
Historians agree the rally was a watershed in the emergence of conservative Christians as an electoral force.
Speaking at John Giminez's funeral in 2008, historian Vinson Synan of Regent University — founded by Robertson — described the 1980 rally as "calling the nation to God, and evangelicals and charismatics back to the ballot box."
Giminez and the others also convened prayer rallies in Washington in 1988, 1996 and 2004, although none was as large as the first.
The leadership of "America for Jesus" includes such conservative Christian stalwarts as the Rev. Lou Engle. A vocal opponent of abortion and homosexual rights, Engle in 2009 laid hands on and prayed over Republican presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich at Giminez's church.
Philadelphia-area clergy on the national board include the Rev. Herb Lusk, pastor of Greater Exodus Baptist Church; the Rev. Bonnie Camarda, president of Hispanic Clergy of Greater Philadelphia; and the Rev. Luis Cortes, president of Esperanza USA, a national Hispanic Christian advocacy group.
As part of the "America for Jesus" rally, local churches will give food, clothing, and diapers to the needy at eight locations around Philadelphia on Sept. 15.
comments on this story
"We'd like to see area churches and organizations continue as an ongoing movement after Sept. 29," said the Rev. Ed Crenshaw, a local coordinator and pastor of Victory Church in Audubon, Montgomery County.
"We not only want to see America healed," he said. "We want to see Philadelphia transformed for the better."
For more about the "America for Jesus" prayer rally, go to www.afj2012.org.
©2012 The Philadelphia Inquirer; Visit The Philadelphia Inquirer at www.philly.com ; Distributed by MCT Information Services