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