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Colorado town as Mecca of religious right.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- The passage of an anti-gay-rights measure last November, spearheaded by activists here, may well have sealed the reputation of this central Colorado town as a New Jerusalem for the religious right, a beach-head for regaining national political influence.

Since 1980, 30 parachurch groups -- evangelical groups not tied to establihed churches -- have set up headquarters here and together generate an estimated annual income of more than $300 million with a 2,200-employee payroll. The old-time religious politics parachurches practice in their new, Rocky Mountain Bible Belt have taken a tone milder than the brash one set by the Southeastern evangelicals who helped steer the Reagan 1980s.

Colorado Springs is a natural launching pad for Christian right-wing groups. The town was chartered in the late 1800s as a colony free from alcohol and prostitution and now hosts the U.S. Air Force Academy, an Army base and the largest population of retired generals in the United States. Republicans outnumber Democrats 2-to-1.

James Dobson, a former professor of pediatrics at the University of Southern California, has become the unlikely leader of this new evangelical wave. Portraying himself as nothing more than a popular family counselor, Dobson is the founder of Focus on the Family, by far Colorado Springs' largest parachurch group. He is not a television evangelist and heads no church, and his group claims no affiliation with a political party.

In a 1989 survey, American religious leaders named Dobson as second only to Billy Graham in influence among theological conservatives. His influence continues to grow worldwide.

Dobson's organization says that it delivers programs to 5,000 radio stations worldwide and that its 900 employees answer 10,000 letters a day from their offices in downtown Colorado Springs. George Bush made a point of sitting for a 45-minute interview on Dobson's radio program during a whistle-stop this August.

Dobson draws his followers not through politicized preaching, but by responding to his listeners' personal anxieties. The spate of magazines, newsletters, radio programs and books produced by Focus on the Family are mostly about child-rearing, marital problems, old age, teen dating.

"Ninety percent of the things he says I agree with. It's mom and apple pie" said Bruce Loeffler, a geology professor at Colorado College in Colorado Springs who works with the Colorado Bisexual, Gay and Lesbian Alliance. "But they are pushing an agenda," be said.

Dave Porter, head of the department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, is more blunt.

"I see Focus on the Family's beliefs as deceptive and insidious," said Porter, who was president of All Souls Unitarian Church from 1988 to 1990.

Porter and eight other prominent Colorado Springs residents recently formed a group called Citizens Project to keep tabs on followers of Dobson and other parachurches. According to Citizens' Project coordinator Amy Devine, local fundamentalists have taken to running for school boards and other local offices without divulging their true proclivities.

The group, now more than 2,000 strong, has also begun monitoring attempts by local Christian conservatives to censor school texts and activities and harass local residents suspected of being homosexuals or being friendly to homosexuals.

Last spring, Colorado Springs School District 11 excluded gay participants from a diversity symposium after receiving 27 complaints, many from self-professed Christians. A local men's group and a downtown boutique recently complained that they received harassing phone calls from men identifying themselves as being from Focus on the Family.

Paul Hetrick, Focus on the Family's vice president, said the harassing calls were not authorized by his organization. Porter counters that the Focus on the Family's right-wing politics embolden its followers to act on their own, but Hetrick denies his organization has any policy agenda.

"Focus on the Family never has had an intention of injecting itself into politics," Hetrick said, but he acknowledged that some of Dobson's teachings have political implications.

"We're talking about a battle of ideas . . . we sometimes refer to it as a third World War between those who defend and respect family and traditional values and those who reject them" he said. "We don't believe those two can coexist, and those who win will control the hearts and minds of our children."

But the group does do some politicking.

Washington Watch, one of Focus on the Familys monthly publications, is distributed to members of Congress, aides and lobbyists as well as Focus on the Family members, according to a Focus representative.

The headline "Liberal Moves Endanger Women, Men, and Family" in the August 1992 edition topped an article that criticized the Pentagon's "zero tolerance for discrimination" policy and urged members to ask the president and members of Congress to veto the Defense Authorization Bill.

Fundamentalists' opposition to homosexuality has made Colorado Springs the focus of an angry national debate since the passage of an anti-gay-rights measure last November. The city is home to Colorado for Family Values, the organization that led the campaign to pass Amendment 2.

Before the election, supporters of the amendment took pains to keep the campaign low key. They kept their criticisms of homosexuals to a minimum before the election, often characterizing their campaign as an effort to preserve civil rights for Hispanics and blacks.

"Gay rights would be the death knell for civil rights," said Tony Marco, a Colorado for Family Values organizer who helped lead a drive to kill a Colorado Springs antiharassment ordinance this spring. "We now know that this is simply a group that is masquerading as an oppressed group," he said.

Marco's stealthy methods are credited with handing the Christian right a victory in a year that seemed bleak in the rest of the country. A similar initiative in Oregon flopped partly because its proponents were openly disparaging of gays.

Marco's measure was couched in the language of civil rights, a notion the people of Colorado were more comfortable with.

But conversing with Marco and his wife, Joyce, who founded Dove Tail Ministries, Inc., an organization dedicated to eradicating "homosexuality, pedophilia, fornication," it became clear that the Marcos' motives mirror those of his Oregon brethren.

"The hope is that the Lord will open the door for people enslaved by sexual sin," said Joyce Marco, who eagerly volunteers that her lesbian daughter by a previous marriage is raising a child with a live-in female lover.

After the November election, Joyce Marco promoted a conference on sexual sin in Colorado Springs at which her husband was a featured speaker at a $65-a-plate dinner.

"We believe the church is called to a prophetic role in the struggle to arrest the effects of societal evil," she wrote, promoting the conference.
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Title Annotation:Colorado Springs; includes related articles on fundamentalist media tactics and Catholic conservatism
Author:Smith, Matt
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Dec 25, 1992
Words:1107
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