Seduced by Morris Cerullo's second coming

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BENNY HINN, one of Morris Cerullo's supporting acts, had promised that Aids sufferers would be healed at the evangelist's rally on Saturday night, the last evening of his London run. So I took my friend Richard Kirker, who runs the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, and we had a profound experience. So did the 16,000 other people there. It was wonderful for Morris, too.

He works his audience like James Brown, but without the theodicy. His backing band consists of guitar, bass, drums, and above all, organ. The electric organ is wonderful for this sort of preaching, because it can play mighty growling surges at a climax or delicate tickling spacey noises for invoking the Holy Spirit, and everything in between. And Cerullo shouts, in broken sentences, over and over again, above the rhythms of the organ: 'God] Come forth. In Jeesuss my name] You have the power]'

'In Jeesuss' name]' he cries, sobbing orgasmically, 'Something is happening] I have no control over it] In Jeesuss' my name]'

The organ swells, filling the hall. Cerullo's voice cracks. He falls into a panting, rhythmic crooning of the name of the beloved. But just when he seems lost, he pulls back and calls: 'Is anybody out there?'

'Yes]',the 16,000 shriek. Down at the front, you flinch from the noise. He goes straight back into the old rousing rhythm. 'In Jeesuss my name] In Jeesuss my name] In Jeesuss my name] How many of you want that which comes from God?'

Everyone puts their hands up; in fact almost everyone puts both hands up, since that is the charismatic wave. 'I want to yield every member of my body to God]'

He is almost sobbing as he paces the stage. His face seems transfigured with insincerity; he drops his voice and at the same time gestures at the sound man to crank it up, so that a huge intimate whisper echoes off the concrete in Earl's Court.

'If you felt that God was speaking to you tonight, I want you to rise up - In Jeesuss' name . . .'

And he's back working the groove. 'In Jeesuss' name] In Jeesuss' name]'

Long after I have lost count he is still beating it out to them, as the crowd turns into one vast, pre-orgasmic jelly. 'I want you to come, from wherever you're standing. I want you to say, 'I'm ready] I'm ready]' '

And they rush towards him, from all over the arena. The space in front of the stage filled; the aisles are filled, until there are about 4,000 people standing there, singing hymns to the beat, and waving their hands in the air. Looking out from behind the stage, all I can see are hands; pale palms waving like sea anemones. It is enormously touching and moving. In the background, Cerullo is still shouting hoarsely about Jesus, but the words are indecipherable against the singing, the rhythm section and the hard-working organ.

Eventually the climax of noise and excitement ebbs away. But it has been wonderful for them: you can tell from the huge applause that follows. Almost immediately, he starts working on them again.

'I see incredible healing taking place in the family] Families on the verge of divorce are being held together right now. In Jeesuss' name] Your home is not going to be destroyed] Your home is not going to be destroyed] Your home is not going to be destroyed] It is healed]'

Now he is shouting and the sound system is right up high and the audience is screaming. I've been to quieter rock concerts.

'In Jesus name] The power of God is going to hit you in a few minutes. Are you ready? Are you READY?'

They scream back their assent. The air is so thick with hysteria you can bite it. The bouncers are taking up their positions all around the stage; a woman sobbing hysterically is led out by two friends. Cerullo comes down the side of the stage, flings out his arm and shrieks: 'Take it, in Jesus' name]' The crowd quivers and recoils as about 40 people faint away from his arms. To faint like this is known to charismatics as being slain in the spirit. It is said to bring deep inner peace.

'I saw tonight people who were on the verge of suicide, delivered from the spirits of suicide]' shouts Cerullo, and the suicidal are urged to the front, where they form a dispirited queue to be blessed and then slain in the spirit. The first is interrogated over the PA system. 'I woke up at five o'clock today and I was going to slit my wrists,' she says in a dull voice with a Lancastrian accent.

'At five o'clock] And you were going to slit your wrists?' asks Cerullo, with the ferocious enthusiasm of a quiz-show host unveiling his latest prize.

A man who had been doing high kicks, calmer now, leans over to me and yells happily: 'Think of all those people who could have been dead in a few months' time and now are going to be saved]'

Richard and I flee. We had heard nothing about Aids, but he came away with a book by one of Cerullo's sidekicks, Edwin Louis Cole, called Maximising Manhood.