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5,000 faithful fill Verizon for pre-DNC prayer revival

Those in nonpartisan throng say city, nation need spiritual balm

CHARLOTTE, N.C. Thousands of socially conservative Christians gathered Sunday in northeast Charlotte to pray for a spiritual revival of the country, offering a emphatic counterpoint to a city gearing up for the Democratic National Convention.

Organizers said the afternoon of music, sermons and prayer drew an estimated 5,000 to Verizon Wireless Amphitheater.

If so, it dwarfed the number of demonstrators parading through uptown Sunday, an event for which the city has been planning for more than a year.

Charlotte714, which drew its name from a Bible verse that speaks to the power of God’s forgiveness, received support from more than 80 churches, organizers said. Buses brought some groups from out of state.

It was designed to be nonpartisan, but it was timed to lead into the DNC.

“The convention is an incredible platform for our cause,” said David Benham, one of the organizers. “One church for the city speaking about the moral condition of our country.”

The gathering was by far the largest spiritual event on a day in which “the City of Churches,” lived up to its billing.

At First Baptist Church, pastor Mark Harris led about 50 members on a morning prayer walk through uptown, asking God to keep the city and its visitors safe and to lend them spiritual wisdom.

“We want this city covered in prayers,” said Kevin Qualls of Waxhaw, who walked with his wife and children.

Later in the morning, prominent preacher Dr. James Forbes took over the pulpit at Myers Park Baptist to sermonize on what he described as the country’s crisis of spirit. He compared the current racial, economic and political divisions to a bad marriage.

“God has determined: United States, you’re going to counseling. It makes no sense for us to dwell in the same house but live in different quarters. We need to talk!”

In the days ahead, dozens of houses of worship will host programs and speakers highlighting social issues. They hope to grab the attention of convention delegates and thousands of media representatives.

At Pritchard Memorial Baptist, for example, Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, offered her own call to action.

She blamed the country’s alarming number of children living in poverty on America’s “profound values and priorities problem.”

None of the events drew the numbers of Charlotte714, where people were still arriving as evening approached.

Organizers did their best to keep politics at bay. That wasn’t easy, given that most of those on hand disagree with the Democratic Party on almost every social issue.

A truck parked near the entrance road carried a large sign that called for an end to “Obama tyranny.”

Closer to the front gate, another vehicle featured a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, a bumper sticker that denounced “Obamacare” and a sign that said abortion is murder.

Inside, however, the target of many of the preachers who spoke was a former God-fearing country that they believe has lost its way.

Jennie Wyatt, of Grace Covenant Church in Cornelius, came to take part with other believers “in a repentant prayer for the nation. It’s not about Republicans or Democrats. Not now.”

On a hillside overlooking the seating, Jennifer Powell waved an orange Menorah flag in prayer, in hopes that America will “turn back to the God of Israel.”

The event drew support from some of the largest Protestant churches in the county, including Hickory Grove Baptist of Charlotte.

“Sometimes when you have a big church, you think you’re it, that there aren’t any other Christians around,” said church pastor, the Rev. Clint Pressley.

“So this was a unique opportunity to be in touch with a city full of churches.”

One of those other congregations was First Baptist, where Harris started his prayer walks three Sundays ago.

“We are so blessed to have the convention in our city,” he said. “We have the privilege to pray for an event that will have such incredible consequences on our future.”

Likewise, Forbes, a North Carolina native and the retired pastor of Riverside Church in New York City, gave the same sermon in Charlotte that he delivered in Tampa churches before the Republican convention last week.

He led the Myers Park congregation in what he described as a musical prayer, “God Bless America,” then called on Americans to return to a spirit of fairness and acceptance of one another.

That, he said, could lead to a relationship of “mutual delight” with God. Staff Writer Victoria Guida contributed.

Gordon: 704-358-5095
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