BY Jeff Sharlet
August 23 2010 4:00 AM ET
In Kampala, I attended a rally I’d seen advertised all over the city on posters featuring a group of handsome young men with the word “holy” Photoshopped on their foreheads to look as if it had been carved with a knife. It was a flier for TheCall, an American ministry led by pastor Lou Engle. The last time I’d seen Engle was on U.S. television, where he led a “prayercast” in December against health care reform with a group of conservative politicians: Senator DeMint, Kansas senator Sam Brownback (a former roommate of Engle’s), Virginia representative Randy Forbes, and Rep. Michelle Bachmann, a Minnesota Republican so extreme that she makes even fundamentalists cringe. Pastor Lou is like that too. He represents a convergence of populist fundamentalism and politics that has made countries such as Uganda into laboratories for the “God-led government” that Engle wants to bring back from the margins to the center.
But the Kingdom began, on that day at least, in Uganda: Engle on a stage in a field surrounded by Ugandan pastors in suits, Engle decked out in modern safari cargo, a middle-aged bald man with a brown walrus mustache and a great, guttural voice, shouting at Uganda. Engle’s signature move is davening like a rabbi, rocking backward and forward at the hips, only he doesn’t need scripture to do daven; he moves to his own words. The crowd was small, about 1,300 people clustered in the midst of a vast, mostly empty field, and the sky was threatening, bruised clouds tumbling over one another, rain coming like a veil across the city and specks crackling on the mike. Or maybe that was spittle. Engle was working up a lather, an anointing, working it for God and the cameras on each side of the stage. Press, yes, but more importantly, Engle’s own media men, tattooed fundamentalist hipsters with “tribal” piercings parachuted into Uganda — they’d arrived hours ago, and they’d leave soon — to document every one of Engle’s God-given syllables. The real audience was back home.
“Uganda is leading the world in prayer,” Pastor Lou groaned. “Do it again! Do it again!” Revive us, he meant: Lead us, show America how it’s done. “Pray for America,” he begged the Ugandans. “We are restraining! And trying to restrain! An agenda! That’s going to hurt the nation, and hurt them! Right now, that homosexual agenda is sweeping into our education system. And parents are losing their rights over the education of their children. I believe there’s only one hope! Hope is God! Hope is God! And I believe — ” He took a big breath, rocking to his own beat, ready to lay some prophecy on the crowd: “And I believe” — here it is — “Uganda! Has become ground zero.”
When he was done preaching, Engle got down on his knees and the Ugandan preachers surrounded him, covered him in hands. An eerie stringed instrument moaned in the background as another preacher pleaded for fire that Lou could take back to America.