Anti-gay pastor holds prayer meetings at St. Louis church

by Joseph Erbentraut

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday June 25, 2010

Pastor Lou Engle has had a busy few weeks.

He backpedalled over the degree to which he supports Uganda's anti-homosexuality bill after he spoke at a rally in the country's capital last month. And Engle is now conducting prayer meetings at the Gateway House of Prayer in St. Louis through July 12.

A veil of secrecy has enveloped the nightly gatherings he and Michael Brown, who co-chairs his The Call ministry, have conducted. Both Gateway and Engle's Web sites have removed any mention of the them, but activist Evan Hurst, who blogs for Truth Wins Out, attended a meeting on Tuesday, June 22.

He told EDGE in an exclusive interview Engle spoke for approximately an hour and a half before an audience of approximately 250 people; whom he described as surprisingly young.

Hurst said Engle spoke forcefully and convincingly, drawing cheers from the audience assembled in Gateway's main meeting room. He said the pastor spoke of the "battle" or "warfare" in which they needed to engage through fasting and prayer. Engle's comments focused on the idea of "reclaiming" the next American generation as a Christian, evangelical one.

"Lou Engle truly believes every word he says," said Hurst. "He believes he is the prophet and believes he has been chosen to fight the gay 'ideology.' These people truly believe they are doing the work of God and that they are the only true Christians."

Hurst further recalled the 90 minute prayer meeting.

"There is no amount of correct information that will convince them otherwise," he said. "But I don't think they see themselves as haters. You don't have to be a malevolent person to get caught up in this type of ideology and that's the scary part of it all."

The Call has hosted prayer gatherings in other parts of the country. These include events in Washington, D.C., Nashville, Cincinnati and Houston. But the timing and depth of the St. Louis engagement, however, coincides with the National Organization for Marriage's Summer for Marriage cross-country tour.

Though Engle has continued to distance himself from the Ugandan bill, which would impose the death penalty against anyone found guilty of homosexuality in the East African country, David Bahati, Julius Oyet and other sponsors continue to consider the pastor on board with their anti-gay crusade.

At the May event in Kampala, Engle accused the United Nations and other international organizations of pushing their Western, pro-gay values upon the African nation.

"Today, America is losing its religious freedom." Engle said. "We are trying to restrain an agenda that is sweeping through the education system. Uganda has become ground zero."

As the blogosphere criticized Engle, he issued statements indicating he did not speak in support of the so-called "kill the gays" bill. He has distanced himself from Bahati and Oyet, but Engle continues to stand in solidarity with Ugandan opposition to "homosexual ideology."

"[The Ugandan leaders] were committed to raise up a principled stand to protect their people and their children from an unwelcome intrusion of homosexual ideology into an 83 percent Christian nation, an intrusion that is being pressed upon them by the UN, UNICEF, and other [non-governmental organizations] NGOs and Western colonialist powers," Engle wrote earlier this month.

Many LGBT activists, however, remain skeptical of Engle's claims. Saint Louis activists are planning actions to raise awareness of The Call's goals and mission in the coming weeks.

Ed Reggi, an organizer with Show Me No Hate, said he and other activists planned to spread the word during this weekend's Pride festivities in the city, particularly reaching out to progressive people of faith.

"We're not concerned about getting less people to go to the meetings, that's for sure, but we'd really like to speak out against not just him, but that these people are fundamentalists and exhibit religious intolerance," Reggi told EDGE. "We want to say that there's really nothing about [their ministry] that is positive or about 'love.'"

Wayne Besen, founder of Truth Wins Out, hopes LGBT people will speak out against Engle's ministry, recognizing him as "an incredible danger to not only the movement, but the entire country." He sees Engle's rhetoric as part of a trend toward more radical speech as anti-gay leaders find themselves facing an increasingly more progressive national stance toward LGBT issues.

"As people like Engle realize they're losing, they're getting crazier, more radical, more rabid and more extreme," said Besen. "This rhetoric borders on dangerous and people like this need to be closely monitored and watched. We need to take what they say seriously and continue to speak out against them."

Joseph covers news, arts and entertainment and lives in Chicago. He is the assistant Chicago editor for The Huffington Post. Log on to to read more of his work.