San Francisco Chronicle, 1 Nov 1990

6,500 Christians Attend S.F. ‘Exorcism’

Gays, pagans rally outside auditorium

by Don Lattin and David Tuller
Chronicle Staff Writers

Running a gantler of angry Halloween demonstrators, an exuberant crowd of 6,500 charismatic Chrisitans crowded into the Civic Auditorium last night to see Texas evangelist Larry Lea and his fiery brand of aerobic exorcism.

More than 1,000 gays, pagans and other Halloween revelers changed, blew whistles, and occasionally tossed eggs as worries worshipers made their way into Lea’s “Prayer Breakthrough” crusade.

Once inside, howeve,r the charismatic believers exploded in an energetic, three-hour worship service, cheering the controversial Texas preacher as he paced the stage, waved a Bible and exhorted his followers to declare “spiritual warfare” on demonic forces he believes control the Bay Area.

“The spirit of fear is holding the Bay Area in bondage,” Lea said as the worshipers jumped to their feet and screamed “hallelujah.”

Although most of the demonstrators were gone by the time the prayer rally was over, someone speeding up Polk Street on a morotcycle tossed a tear gas cannister at the departing crowd, sending hundreds running down the street, choking on the fumes.

Lea took the hostime reaction in stride.

“Our welcome in San Francisco is quite unique,” he said at a press conference right before hitting the stage. “We’re not afraid of those who curse us. Jesus taught us to forgive.”

The highly publicized meeting last night was the first of three that Lea is holding this week in San Francisco. With similar “Prayer Breakthroughs” around the country during the past tow years, the 39-year-old preacher and protge of televangelist Oral Roberts has carved a niche for himself in the nation’s turbulent, fast-growing charismatic Christian movement.

Speaking in Tongues

Amid fervent praying, military rhetoric, and “speaking in tongues,” believers attempt to conquer Satanic princes and spcific “territorial spirits” holding sway over various metropolitan areas.

“Spirits of witchcraft, violence, greed and moral corruption must be broken in this region,” Lea said in an advertisement calling his “prayer army” to San Francisco. “Prayer Warriors from across the nation will raise a mighty roar that will quake Satan’s camp.”

Some gay community organizers and practitioners of paganism were outraged at Lea’s emotional crusade in “a city famous for sin and satanism,” saying it was a thinly-veiled attack on the civil rights of homosexuals and the freeom of religion.

That anger was highly visible last night. Outside the Civic Auditorium, protestors shouted “same” and occasoinally tossed eggs and other items at the faithful as police officers hurriedly escorted them inside. Some of the wirshipers appeared bemused by the crowd and waved their Bibles high in response; many seemed shaken by the turmoil and clutched each other tightly, and a few burst into tears once they had gotten isde.

“I think they must be awfully frightened to be so loud and belligerent,” said Cloetta Smith, an El Cerrito resident and a Lea follower.

Mock gravestones

Across the street in Civic Center Plaza say a row of mock gravestones bearing the names of Lea and other fundamentalist preachers, above which a hugh banner read, “Born Again Bigots, Go Home.”

One demonstrator carried a sign procliming that “God is a black lesbian.” A man dressed in a monk’s cloak carried a cross with a bleeding Bible nailed to it.

“They’re trying to push their views on other people — it’s repulsive and I wish they’d go back to Texas,” said San Francisco artist Joe Babcock, who came dressed as the devil.

Gay rights lawyer Ben Schatz, decked up in an orange and magenta housedress and surveying the outlandish costumes of many others in the crowd, said that the gathering was the “best party I’ve been to… It’s wonderful to be at a demonstration that has both an incredible sense of defiance and an incredible sense of humor.”

Pagan protests against the Christian crusaders acrually began Tuesday afternoon when a raggedy assortment of 100 people wearing cloaks, negligees and black leather jackets formed a circle on the Civic Center lawn for a “public cursing” of the Texas preacher.

Eric Pryor, high priest and head warlock of the New Earth Temple on Geary Street, led that rally, burning and decapitating a black candle meant to represent the Texas evangelist.

Last night, however, Pryor attended the prayer meeting as the honored guest of Dick Bernal, a close Lea associate and pastor of the Jubilee Christian Center in San Jose.

Pryor and Bernal said the pagans and Pentecostals have agreed to a kind of metaphysicial détente, having agreed to find out more about each other’s beliefs and defuse tension.

“We are open to any religious belief that has something positive to offer,” said Pryor.

Lea was also trying to ease tensions.

“People ask me, ‘Larry, what do you think of all these people,” he added in a reference to the demonstratoin outside. “They are looking for Jesus, they are looking for love, they are looking for someone to help them.”

Copyright 2013-5 Mark Pritchard, Bernal Heights, San Francisco