A popular Southern California pastor denounced white nationalists and called for a "spiritual awakening" as he kicked off an annual Christian retreat in Anaheim this weekend attended by more than 25,000 people.
"For the followers of Jesus Christ, there is no place for racial bigotry or prejudice of any kind," Pastor Greg Laurie told the crowd in his opening remarks Friday night at Angel Stadium. "I see people carrying these crosses and wearing swastikas and talking about white supremacy. There is no race that's superior to another race. We're all part of a human race."
Laurie is senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Orange County, an area known for its conservative roots. Every year, the church hosts the SoCal Harvest, a festive, three-day gathering that features food, testimonials and music performances by popular Christian artists.
Laurie began his evening message — the highlight of the event — by addressing the racial and political division that's troubled the nation this week, following a white supremacy protest in Charlottesville, Va., that left with one person dead and then President Trump's controversial remarks blaming both sides for the violence.
Laurie called his speech "A Second Chance for America." He spoke about the tensions of the 1960s and his own troubled past, doing drugs and being "filled with hate."
"When you become a Christian, those barriers come down," he said. "Racial barriers come down, prejudice comes down."
Laurie said there are many threats to the United States right now — the tension among ourselves, terrorism, North Korea nuclear weapons — and asked the audience to pray for a spiritual awakening.
"I pray we have another Jesus revolution in America," he said. "We need it now more than ever."
Several attending the festival said Saturday that they agreed with Laurie's message promoting unity and diversity.
"God looks at us all the same," said Ernie Vasquez, a 39 year-old Maywood resident at the event with his wife and 3-year-old son. "God doesn't look at color. The United States should not be promoting racism, certain races against each other. All the Nazis and all that stuff, it's really disgusting."
Alora Twine, 21, of Anaheim, who was attending the festival with two friends, said Americans "really need to be unified instead of tearing each other down."
She said she thought it was OK for the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville to remain until it became a focal point for racially charged violence. A group of white supremacists staged a rally in front of the statue to protest the city's efforts to take it down.
Twine said she believes now the country has changed and that such statues should come down. She said she also thinks Trump was wrong in blaming both the white supremacists and counter-demonstrators for the violence that ensued.
The president's statement "makes it sound like he chose one side over the other," she said.
Dennis Beagle, a 70-year-old Vietnam veteran, had a different take. He said "they can tear down all the statues they want. It's not going to stop prejudice."
He also said he believed Trump was being honest when he blamed both sides for the violence in Charlottesville.
"It's a no-win situation for him" because by telling the truth, he gets attacked, Beagle said. And for telling the truth, he's being "put on the cross...just like Jesus."
6:10 p.m.: This story has been updated with more comments from people attending the festival.