Prop. 8 and the prayer pros

Times Staff Writer

For more than two weeks, Missy Huff has spent her days in a darkened church classroom, praying all day and into the night and subsisting on a pastel-colored regimen of VitaminWater and Jamba Juice smoothies.

But she does not yearn for food.

She is too committed, she says, to the cause of traditional marriage.

“God, we are asking for an awakening,” she prayed one recent afternoon, standing before a group of young people who had come together to ask for divine intervention in California’s upcoming election.


Next to her, another woman, whose blunt black hair and fashionable clothing would not have been out of place at a Silver Lake club, added her own prayer: “I am asking for rains of revival to open up over California.”

Huff and about three dozen others in their 20s and early 30s have spent every waking minute since Sept. 24 at a San Diego County megachurch praying for the passage of Proposition 8, which would amend the California Constitution to define marriage as only between a man and a woman.

They are the fervent, ecstatic center of a statewide prayer vigil and fast that religious leaders say includes thousands of people asking for God’s help in passing the measure.

But what distinguishes Huff and many of the young people she prays with at Skyline Church here is that after the election, they will not return to normal life.

Praying and fasting is their job.

They have forsaken traditional lives to live in communal homes -- supported by donations --and pray. All day, every day.

This year, the focus of their prayers is ending gay marriage.

“We believe we pray and God answers,” Huff said. And her prayer is simple: “To heal California and establish righteousness.”

The praying and fasting have discomfited some religious leaders who oppose Proposition 8.

“I am a person of prayer,” said the Rev. Susan Russell, a lesbian and a priest at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena. But she said she does not believe prayer is “a weapon to be used to influence the political process.”

That, she said, “takes us down a slippery slope from democracy to theocracy.”

The communal home Huff shares with 10 others is on Haight Street in San Francisco, next door to Amoeba Records and a few steps from Golden Gate Park. The Justice House of Prayer San Francisco was established in 2005 by followers of the Rev. Lou Engle.

Huff has been there almost from the beginning.

She grew up in a small town in northeastern Alabama and left high school at 15.

She had a restless intellect, she says, and was ready for more advanced work. Her plan was to attend junior college and then transfer to a four-year institution.

But at 17, she happened to hear Engle speak at a local church.

Engle was starting “houses of prayer” in select cities across the country. The plan, according to his website, was to “call young adults into a lifestyle of radical prayer, fasting and holiness.”

Soon after he established the first house in Washington, D.C. -- near the Supreme Court, so young people could pray for the justices to end abortion -- Engle visited Alabama, and Huff went to hear him speak.

“What he said, it gripped my heart,” Huff said, “and I just knew this is what I wanted to do.”

The next day -- almost as if it were part of God’s plan, she said -- a family friend gave her a gift of $200 out of the blue. Then she heard about an acquaintance who was driving that day to D.C. Without hesitating, Huff asked if she could have a spot in the van.

Her parents, she said, “really freaked out.”

Huff said she told them she felt called “to see abortion ended in America.”

She said her father, a computer programmer, told her he did not agree, that he was pro-choice. Her mother, a middle school teacher, asked what had happened to her plans for college.

But in the end, her mother, who is also a Christian, became convinced she should not stand in her daughter’s way. Her father agreed as well.

Huff stayed in D.C. for six months, then moved to the house in San Francisco.

Her housemates include several of the people she is now praying with in San Diego, including Gabrielle Joyner, 28, and her husband, Roger, 31, whose many tattoos include “Pray” and “Fast” on his fingers.

Most days begin about 10 a.m. with a worship service and meeting. House members discuss their dreams and what they feel called to pray about that day.

At noon they break for lunch, then spend the afternoon on administrative and household tasks, such as cooking, returning phone calls and walking their chocolate Labrador retriever, Enoch, in Golden Gate Park.

At 6 p.m. they have a communal dinner, then spend the evening in prayer together.

Sometimes they leave the city, as they have done now for Proposition 8 and as they did this summer when they spent a month praying in front of every abortion clinic they could identify across California.

On Friday nights they often head to the Castro district, the center of the city’s gay community, to play guitars and sing and share their views about the love of Jesus.

Some passersby assume they’re performing satiric street theater. Others argue with them vociferously.

“I think it’s pretty shocking” for people in the Castro, Gabrielle Joyner said.

After the state Supreme Court ruled in May to allow same-sex marriage, evangelical leaders in California, working with their counterparts in the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, began organizing to pass Proposition 8.

They launched a fundraising organization, which has raked in so many contributions that the most recent campaign finance filing crashed the secretary of state’s computer.

But they also wanted a spiritual component to their campaign. Central to that is the 40-day fast, leading into what organizers hope will be a huge rally Nov. 1 at San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium. There, Engle will lead 12 hours of prayer for the passage of Proposition 8.

Though some people, including Huff, have given up solid food entirely, others are “fasting” by giving up sweets, shopping, a TV show or some other favorite indulgence. Jim Garlow, the pastor of Skyline Church -- which is hosting the fasters from San Francisco and around the country -- said almost all of his church’s 2,500 members have given up something, as have members of other churches up and down the state.

Some afternoons they take a break and drive their van to Jamba Juice.

They debate which flavor is most delicious. Huff’s choice is the Protein Berry Workout.

Huff said that although they are cloistered here in the rolling hills of eastern San Diego County, they feel they are doing as much or more for the cause as the political professionals who are plotting strategy, raising money and producing TV ads.

“The political cause would be a lot less effective without people praying,” she said. “When they encounter the love of God, that’s what changes people’s hearts.”