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Here is the place to be heard on the issues raised in the San Antonio Express-News editorial pages, or any other topic that is on your mind.




Commentary

 

Republicans can count on many evangelicals

Web Posted: 01/22/2008 03:03 PM CST

By David Horsey
Seattle Post-Intelligencer

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Precisely at 11 a.m., the drums thundered, the guitars clanged and the sound of an 11-piece rock band boomed across the auditorium. The thousands in the audience jumped to their feet. Spotlights perched high in the rigging overhead scanned the crowd. Ten giant video screens displayed close-ups of the singers’ faces.

Young people danced and hopped up and down in front of the stage and in the aisles. With arms waving, they sang along, repeating the final line of one song over and over:

“I am counting on God, I’m counting on God.”

This was not Springsteen. This was church.

Not your grandmother’s church, obviously. Not a fading, old-line Protestant congregation with a sea of gray hair in the pews. Not a Catholic Mass with a centuries-old liturgy.

This was the New Life Church on Sunday morning and I had a seat, front and center. There wasn’t a cross in sight. There was no hymnal or statue or altar or stained glass window. After the band had played for half an hour, the assistant pastor came up and read the scripture from a palmtop computer he pulled from his pocket.

Nothing was traditional here but the morality, nothing conservative but the politics.

To get to the church, I turned off I-25 north of the city at exit 153 and took a right. Those are all the directions anyone needs to find New Life Church. It’s a place you can’t miss. Due east across the valley from the Air Force Academy’s football stadium, the church is planted on a broad plateau where business parks, shopping malls and housing developments are rapidly filling in the empty spaces. It looks nothing like a quaint New England chapel or a gothic cathedral. It looks exactly like a big convention center.

Inside there is a restaurant, a bookstore, all kinds of elaborate meeting rooms and the vast circular auditorium with a stage in the center.

This is the church Ted Haggard built from a handful of believers meeting in the basement of his home to a congregation with 11,000 members.

Haggard was forced from the pulpit in 2006 after a male prostitute identified the preacher as a repeat customer. Until then, Pastor Ted was a major leader among religious conservatives. On Mondays, he had a standing appointment for a conference call with the president of the United States.

He also helped transform Colorado Springs from a city filled with what Haggard called “New Age and satanic type of activity” into a conservative Christian Mecca, the base for more than 100 evangelical organizations.

Among those is James Dobson’s Focus On the Family. Dobson’s headquarters is just one exit down the interstate. From that complex of faux-Colonial brick buildings, Dobson sends out pronouncements that can break candidacies and rock the foundations of the Republican Party.

Not long ago, Dobson said a third party might be an option for evangelical voters in 2008 if Republicans failed to nominate a Godly candidate for president. The Godly folks I talked with at New Life Church thought that was a pretty dumb idea, however. Sure, most said they like Huckabee or Thompson better than McCain or Giuliani, but they don’t want to split the conservative vote and assure the election of a pro-choice liberal.

After the service, I went looking for the free donuts and for Rob Brendle, the young associate pastor, to ask him if evangelicals are as dispirited by the choice this year as some pundits claim. Brendle was engaged in a conversation about a local political battle with a woman who appeared to be highly stressed. He placed his hands on her shoulders and prayed that the Lord would help her “lead in Colorado against the onslaught of secularism and humanism.”

Brendle eagerly shared his political analysis with me. The pastor thinks the country needs “a morally principled diplomat in the White House” like Mitt Romney, not a religious leader like Mike Huckabee. Nothing would be worse for Christian conservatives than a candidate who scared the rest of America with too much focus on his faith, he said.

“What about the Democrats?” I asked. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been making overtures to churchgoers. Brendle laughed and said he’d seen it before. He was in a meeting with John Kerry in 2004 where the Democratic candidate pulled a tiny New Testament from his pocket to prove his piety. Nobody bought it then, Brendle said, and it wouldn’t sell this year either.

“If Hillary has suddenly started reading the scriptures, then I’m glad she’s reading the scriptures,” Brendle said, but evangelicals are sticking with the Republicans. He assured me the movement may be undergoing a reshuffling, looking for new leaders and new tactics, but conservative Christians are not retreating from the political fight.

If so, this is good news for Republicans. Evangelicals may be singing, “I’m counting on God,” but the Republican Party is counting on them.

David Horsey, the P-I’s Pulitzer-winning editorial cartoonist, is on a three-week swing around the Western primary battleground states. “Electoral Bonanza” will appear regularly between now and Super Tuesday. You can also follow Horsey’s progress on his Web site, davidhorsey.com.



 

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