DETROIT -- A neo-Pentecostal minister with a history of preaching intolerance against gays and Muslims brought thousands of people from Michigan together for a 24-hour prayer meeting in this city on Friday and Saturday, despite condemnations from local faith leaders.
The minister, Lou Engle, has organized a series of prayer meetings in arenas and amphitheaters over the past decade. The events, known as TheCall, have often targeted abortion rights and gay rights. He is notorious for speaking in support of legislation in Uganda that would have sentenced gays to death simply for being gay.
The promotional website for TheCall Detroit had warned about "the rising tide of the Islamic movement," but after complaints about that phrase, TheCall dropped it from its website.
Still, inside Ford Field on Friday night and Saturday morning, warnings that Muslims needed to be converted continued. But those warnings didn't reach as many people as Engle expected. Although organizers had predicted more than 50,000 would attend, the mostly empty stadium seemed to have perhaps a tenth of that.
"We are going to pray in nightwatch that the love of love of Jesus would break in on Muslims all across this area, dreams of Jesus," Engle told a rapt crowd on Friday night. "Let Dearborn see the face of Jesus," he said, referring to the nearby city, which has a large Muslim population.
Mike Bickle, a close associate of Engle's from the International House of Prayer in Kansas, asked for the Christian God to be "magnified over every other false God" in the Middle East.
Their rhetoric about defeating "every other false God" mixed uneasily with some of Engle's more conciliatory statements during the night about interracial and interdenominational unity. In the weeks leading up to TheCall, Engle made extensive attempts to enlist black Detroit ministers to his cause, and on Friday he said he had "never been received" like he had by his "black American brothers and sisters."
Although the Detroit metro region is highly racially segregated, the crowd for TheCall was racially mixed. An African-American imam and some of the city's leading black ministers, however, charged that Engle was sowing racial divisiveness with his calls to convert Muslims.
"This agenda has nothing to do with Christianity," said Charles E. Williams II, a pastor from the King Solomon Baptist Church who held a press conference against TheCall on Wednesday and then a protest outside it with about 150 others on Friday. "It has all to do with, we're going to come to Detroit, and we're going to put some fear in black Detroiters."
The program for TheCall featured nearly three hours of prayer about the "African American LIFE Movement." By the time that segment began, the crowd was mostly white. Engle, along with a variety of African-American pastors, decried abortion in Detroit and elsewhere. He prayed for the face of Jesus to "break over the black, the inner city" to "end the slavery, the abortion."
Dawud Walid, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relation's Michigan chapter, said on Saturday that he watched some of the event over a video livestream and said the rhetoric was as fear-mongering as he had expected based on Engle's past comments.
Walid held out particular ire for Kamal Saleem, who claims to be an ex-terrorist who converted to Christianity. In the early morning hours on Saturday, Saleem told his story of working on terrorist missions for the PLO before undergoing a conversion from Sunni Islam to Christianity.
"If he's an ex-terrorist, he should sue me for slander. Because I'm calling him a fake," said Walid, who claims Saleem's real name is Khodor Shami. "He's a charlatan making money off of Islam-bashing."
Despite Engle's hopes, Walid reported on Saturday that the face of Jesus did not break over him in his dreams.
"No, but I sighted Jesus this morning when I picked up the Koran and read it," said Walid. "Jesus is called the messiah in the Koran, and I read about him this morning."
CLARIFICATION: This report has been updated to clarify that Lou Engle is a neo-Pentecostal minister.