Evangelicals worshiped and swayed to gospel songs inside the North Charleston Coliseum on Saturday as part of “The Response: a Call to Prayer for Our Nation,” where Gov. Nikki Haley asked for blessings on families, troops and those struggling to break free from the addiction of drugs and alcohol.
As one of the lead-off speakers, Haley spoke of those brutally beheaded overseas on account of their beliefs, families struggling to find work in America, and also of “Ferguson and Baltimore, where we are seeing complete collapse.”
“Please, help lift up a country and know that the one thing we need to believe in, is you,” Haley said during her brief appearance on stage.
Haley’s message came as the six-hour prayer meeting was punctuated by booming sermons, calls to worship, light shows and drum and guitar-driven contemporary Christian music.
A tennis court-sized “mosh pit” was spread wide open in front of the band on the Coliseum floor for those who wanted to move or join hands. Many raised their hands, with open palms in reflective praise. Families of all sizes attended.
While promoters insisted the meeting was not to be injected with politics, the crowd, which looked to be at about 3,000 at its peak, was made up largely of the types of church-attending voters projected to dominate the state’s Republican presidential primary in February.
Louisiana’s Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is expected to declare his White House run on June 24, was among those who spoke, delivering a message that focused on how he discovered Christ as a young man after the death of his grandfather.
“The single most important time in my life is the moment that I found Jesus Christ,” Jindal said during his time on stage.
“The United States of America did not create religious liberty; religious liberty created the United States of America,” Jindal added, receiving loud applause and a standing ovation.
The Response was created by Dallas, Tex., pastor Doug Stringer, who has held previous and similar rallies elsewhere in the country, including Texas and Louisiana. He called Saturday’s assembly “God’s appointed day for us to cross racial and denominational lines.” Stringer called for everyone to “recognize we still need God’s presence in America.”
Saturday’s event was broken into five categories: repentence, reconciliation, revival, reformation and refreshing belief in Jesus. There were linking of hands across rows and up and down lengths of seats in the arena.
The gathering did not go off without some controversy. In the buildup to the event, the South Carolina office of the American Civil Liberties Union and some atheist groups challenged Haley’s promotion of the Christian-themed rally on taxpayer time.
Haley appeared in a video supporting The Response and endorsed it in a letter on her office letterhead. Herb Silverman, of Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry, said Saturday that at the same time the rally was under way, members of his organization volunteered at a food bank and helped build a wheelchair ramp at a home in St. Stephen.
“We want to use our hands to work, not our lips to pray,” he said, adding that the atheists’ effort was aimed at “helping people that we know exist.”
Haley, who was raised in a Sikh family but later became a Methodist, did not venture into controversy, speaking only of her individual faith and sharing that she has gotten down on her knees many times and prayed for guidance.
“We will never apologize,” she said of the right of freedom to worship. Other speakers included political pastors, including former Charleston City Councilman Jimmy Gallant, and state Rep. Samuel Rivers, R-Goose Creek.
Those who attended, many of whom had driven in from distant parts of the state, said politics was the furthest reason from why they chose to be at the event. Among them was Lor Cunningham, who awoke at 4:30 a.m. to make the trip to North Charleston from Taylors, near Greenville.
“This is really committed Christians who see that the country is in deep trouble,” she said. “Economically we’re in trouble, morally, spiritually, you name it.”
Stacy Lattimore-Johnson came from nearby Lincolnville. She spoke of the feeling of togetherness that came out of so many people in the same arena feeling the same spirit.
“Just a connection from the people who are here for prayer for our city and our nation,” she said. “Everyone was speaking about prayer and bringing everyone together.”
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.