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Colorado Springs Evangelicals

 

SAUL GONZALEZ, correspondent: With Pike’s Peak as a backdrop, the citizens of Colorado Springs aren’t shy about telling visitors about what makes their community so special. There’s the U.S. Olympic training center and the United States Air Force Academy, historic neighborhoods with fine old homes, and lots of ways to enjoy a healthy, outdoor lifestyle. However, among many American Christians, Colorado Springs is also known for something else—as an epicenter of evangelical faith and activism. That’s partly because of the high-profile megachurches in the community, but mostly because of the sheer number of national evangelical Christian groups headquartered here. In fact, there are so many Christian groups in this community, Colorado Springs has earned something of a reputation and a nickname: America’s Christian Mecca.

Pastor in church: We are so glad that you came to be a part of the presence of God that is in this house today. Amen?

Kimberly felt a calling to move to Colorado Springs

GONZALEZ: For some people of faith in Colorado Springs, like Kimberly Lieu, the Christian presence is so strong, they stay they felt a spiritual calling to move here. Kimberly came here from Hawaii.

KIMBERLY LIEU: We just came here sight unseen. I know now it was the Lord leading us.

GONZALEZ: The Lord brought you here?

LIEU: I believe that absolutely. I wasn’t pursuing him at the time, he was pursuing me.

GONZALEZ: But what brought the big Christian groups to Colorado Springs? Well, a major factor was an economic development program started by the city’s government more than two decades ago.

GLENN PAAUW (Director, Biblica): The economic development council at the time, this is in the late 1980s, they were looking to attract Christian ministries.

GONZALEZ: Glenn Paauw is the director of Biblica, one of America’s largest Bible publishers. It was lured to Colorado Springs from New York State in the 1980s. The city gave Biblica incentives in return for the jobs the organization brought to the community.

Glenn Paauw, Biblica

Employee in cubicle: The total is going to come to $16.99.

GONZALEZ: It now employs nearly 100 people in Colorado Springs.

PAAUW: They came to us and said there is already a center here in Colorado Springs of other Christian ministries, so your networking possibilities, your ability to find staff who want to work in a Christian organization and contribute to your global ministry, that’s going to be easier for you to do.

GONZALEZ: However, the biggest and most powerful Christian organization that came to Colorado Springs—in this case from California—also became the most controversial group in town. It’s the conservative public policy organization Focus on the Family, which has long been a political lightning rod because of its conservative stance on hot-button social issues, such as abortion and gay rights. Jim Daly is Focus on the Family’s president and CEO. He doesn’t apologize for his organization’s conservative positions, but he acknowledges the fear and anger they often stir.

Jim Daly, President, Focus on the Family

JIM DALY (President, Focus on the Family): Well, you know, the caricature is a problem, and I think…

GONZALEZ: What’s the caricature of Focus on the Family?

DALY: Yeah. I think that caricature can be hard right, ultra right. It’s because those are labels that are used to describe the organization. I don’t care too much about what grade culture gives us. The question is are we on the right side of what the Scripture would require of Christians to live out.

GONZALEZ: That right side is on display at Focus on the Family’s Colorado Springs campus, which includes a multimillion-dollar visitor center. In it, messages about the importance of faith and conservative family values take center stage. However, even as Christian evangelicals continue to organize in this beautiful corner of Colorado to fulfill their vision of America, some within these groups are starting to reassess their activism. They wonder just how deeply they should be involved in American politics and whether they should start building bridges to people who don’t agree with them.

Pastor at church: You have been welcomed into the family of God.

GONZALEZ: And who’s leading this “rethink” in Colorado Springs’ conservative Christian community? Maybe, surprisingly, it’s Focus on the Family.

(to Daly): Do you consider yourself a culture warrior?

DALY: No. I really don’t. I don’t think the label is a healthy one. And I think oftentimes in the Christian conservative community, we are not expressing love of our fellow man.

GONZALEZ: How so?

DALY: We can come across very harsh, too harsh. And I think these are lessons that we’ve already seen written about in the New Testament, when the religious leaders of the day, when Jesus was on the scene, and they had a very condescending views of sinners, people that didn’t measure up. We’ve got to be very careful now not to repeat that same mistake, because from where I sit there are two billboards that come out of the New Testament: salvation through Jesus Christ, and don’t become a Pharisee, a religious bigot.

Focus on the Family video: I can still remember where I was the first time I saw picture of fetal development.

GONZALEZ: Now, Focus on the Family is still squarely against gay marriage and legalized abortion, positions expressed in videos like this one produced by the group. However, Daly says the stern messages and moralizing of many conservative Christians over divisive social issues have turned off too many Americans, especially young people. He also believes Christians have become too involved in bare-knuckle politics, sometimes focusing more on winning elections than cultivating their faith.

Dr. James Dobson

DALY: If Christian leadership has become so much about winning and victory, it turns us into the predator and the world our prey.

GONZALEZ: Focus on the Family has been frequently criticized for its own political activism, particularly under its founder and former leader Dr. James Dobson, who left the group in 2010. While he was in charge, Dobson frequently attacked liberals, feminists, and gay activists. He also endorsed conservative political candidates, like George W. Bush and several members of Congress, while criticizing Barack Obama as a political and social radical.

Sean Hannity Show: And we continue now with Dr. James Dobson. He’s the founder of Focus on the Family. Dr. Dobson…

GONZALEZ: For instance, here’s Dobson in 2009 on Fox News’ Sean Hannity Show. He talked about what he believed was President Obama’s misunderstanding of America’s religious culture.

JAMES DOBSON: It does bother me, and it also bothers me that he doesn’t seem to understand those Judeo-Christian values and roots.

Dobson with President George W. Bush

GONZALEZ: Although Jim Daly doesn’t criticize James Dobson directly, he does say political activism by Christian evangelical leaders has often been a mistake.

DALY: I think for Christians we should have calculated that a little differently, not to be wrapped around the axle of politics. Because the issues we are dealing with, although they are in the arena of politics, when we get to abortion and marriage and other things, I think we let the rhetoric capture our hearts, so we came across as more partisan than I think we should have.

GONZALEZ: How much has Daly changed? Just listen to how he talks about America’s growing acceptance of gay marriage. He doesn’t like it, but he accepts its reality in many states.

DALY: I think in this area of gay marriage, or recognizing gay union, the culture is going to make that decision. Here’s the bottom line, if it happens, will I shriek and run around in circles? No.

GONZALEZ: The leader of Focus on the Family says it’s also important for evangelical Christians to reach out and start talking to groups they’ve usually battled with in the public arena. That ranges from gay rights organizations to the pro-choice group Planned Parenthood.

DALY: If we are just going to build a fortress, hunker down, and try to ride it out, that is not a very good strategy, so I feel certainly one of the clarion calls for the Christian is to engage the culture, to reach out.

Rajeev Shaw meets with one of Colorado Springs’ best known liberals

GONZALEZ: In Colorado Springs, we saw a small example of that reaching out by Focus on the Family.

John Weiss at table: No, you are intolerant, but you are not hateful.

GONZALEZ: Every couple of weeks Focus on the Family’s Rajeev Shaw, who does community outreach for his organization, sits down to discuss city issues with John Weiss. He’s the publisher of the town’s alternative press weekly and one of Colorado Springs’s best known liberals. Weiss says he’s seen a big change in Focus on the Family’s willingness to engage with one-time enemies in the community.

JOHN WEISS (Colorado Springs Independent): Under the prior leadership, we were distant. We did not communicate except through verbal barbs and ad campaigns. There was the gay pride parade in town and there were messages, “God Hates Fags” and stuff like that. There’s a new kinder, more listening, view at Focus.

John Weiss, Colorado Springs Independent

GONZALEZ: Really, you really see the change in tone?

WEISS: It’s a total change in tone, not in ideology, but for us to come together and chat and have dialogue, and say where can we work together?

GONZALEZ: Shaw admits, though, that these conversations have been, well, a process.

RAJEEV SHAW (Focus on the Family): It’s difficult to hear the other side. It’s difficult to hear someone disagree with you. It’s difficult to hear fair-minded, reasonable people making cases against what you believe. And we all by nature, I think we like people to agree with us. But I think the question that we have answer is what is the best possible good for our community? And is the best possible good for us is to come together on an issue or series of issues? Absolutely.

GONZALEZ: In the case of Weiss and Shaw, those issues include finding ways to help foster children in the community. Focus on the Family’s Jim Daly acknowledges that these kinds of overtures to ideological and religious adversaries haven’t endeared him to some on his side of the cultural divide.

DALY: That’s one thing that is occasionally mentioned from people on my side of the debate, that I’ve raised that white flag of surrender simply because I’m saying I can’t control what the world does. And I think that is one of the problems today, that we’ve become so partisan that we don’t spend time with one another, and I think it’s a great weakness.

GONZALEZ: So a question is will Colorado Springs, the community that’s sometimes synonymous with conservative Christianity, also become the place where people with conflicting views can set aside their differences and find a little bit of common ground?

For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, I’m Saul Gonzalez in Colorado Springs.

  • Nance Wabshaw

    Praise God for people like Jim Daly! Christianity is not one of the American political parties and we need to stop acting like we are. No one is brought closer to God by the contentious, partisan spirit that has infected the Faith. We can see this in Jesus’ interactions with the scribes and Pharisees. Can we finally learn, not only from American history, but from Christian history?

  • Tom Maiello

    I’ll reserve opinion to see how this plays out. It sounds positive and, if Daly is sincere, this will go far in helping eachl of us get along with one another. Intrafaith dialogue, like interfaith dialogue, must start with respect for one another as people who may not always agree but need to live together in peace. When we come together to talk, it must be with a true and clear sense that we are equal partners sitting together to learn from one another. Shouldn’t we have learned this in kindergarten? If this is the true intent of FOTF, this could go a long way in honoring each other and honoring the God we all profess to love and follow. “You shall know my people by their love for one another.” Not, I will only love (or at least treat as human) those who agree with me. A good start FOTF.

  • JDE

    “The leader of Focus on the Family says it’s also important for evangelical Christians to reach out and start talking to groups they’ve usually battled with in the public arena.”

    They’re absolutely convinced they’re right and everyone else is wrong. What is the point of dialogue?

    “There’s a new kinder, more listening, view at Focus.”

    Right. They still believe billions of their fellow human beings will be tortured eternally. That is all I need to know about them.

  • Kat Stiles

    Lovely story. It gives me hope that Chrisitians will not continue to spiral down into a us versus them mindset. They are quite welcome to worship and believe as they wish, and to conduct outreach and try to get their message out to others. When they enter the political arena and then attempt through politicians to force their views onto rest of us through laws and legislation, that’s when I have a problem with Chrisitianity. I am a proud None, but support the rights of others to believe as they wish.

  • Tim Bowman

    Nice attack piece on Christianity! Your hatred runneth over. You aren’t very tolerant of others and for you to be involved in anything to do with Ethics and/or Religion must infer a re-definition of both words. What ever happened to ideas of “Open-Minded” and “Accepting”? It’s a foregone conclusion that our culture has developed a definitive anti-Christian Model to follow but I do not believe this is contrary to what the Founding Fathers intended. I would concede that “Focus on the Family” and Dr./Mr. Dobson’s efforts to influence and involve Followers in Politics is and was a horrible mistake but the problem with the reporting-your reporting specifically-is your misunderstanding about what Christians actually believe. I would suggest an alternative approach (Grass Roots) instead of a ‘Monolithic’ approach i.e. selecting the most visible and vocal group (Dobson/Focus on the Family) as THEE example of common Christian Belief Systems and motivations. I know that picking out a very clear and boisterous group (Dobson/Focus on the Family) is much easier for you than asking for opinions/ideas from select individuals. But if presenting the truth about Christian thoughts and ideas so that your audience is informed about Christian Ethics and Thought and using mostly Focus/Dobson as the main example then you have skewed your inevitable conclusions, and your audience’s perceptions, by using a ‘Fringe’ group that, in most Christian’s minds, are more about Republican-ism than Christianity. All you have to do to marginalize Christianity is to continue your reporting as is! Of course, getting to the truth about Christian Ethics/Thoughts is much harder and the easy road, the one it appears you have chosen, leads to your preconceived and prejudiced assumptions about your subject matter and turns your reporting into propaganda. All you have to do is ask! Thanks

  • Kathrryn Roever

    very interesting article, thank you. sounds like Jim Daly has a better way of doing things than DR. Dobson did. i see more about doing what we’re supposed to do than all the politics that were so important before. Before, when i was there for a while, some things were uncomfortable like the politics. I believed christians should behave differently and i tried to always “walk the walk and talk the talk”, through all my own personal and business trials. I lived a life as a single mom, to the glory of GOD as much as i was able. Even in the midst of other “christians” I strove to be the best I could be, and an example to my co-workers,as much as possible. I spent time with GOD every day, and shared with others. not everyone did this. anyway, i think we should be like JESUS as much as we can.HE is our example. the more we strive to be like HIM the more people will see HIM in us. we have a great responsibility to our community and our world, to be the bible someone has never read, and to be light in the darkness to those in bondage in the darkness. GOD BLESS & thank you, kathryn roever.

  • Barbara

    Two questions :
    Should we only dialogue with those who agree with us ? ( the Constitution never would have got written this way)

    To Kate : Should Christians be the only group not to enter the political arena to lobby for legislation that reflects their beliefs.

  • Gary Hopkins

    Daly isn’t doing anything that Christians haven’t been doing for decades, he’s just doing it on steroids. I grew up in one of Colorado Springs’ Christian organizations and I hate to break it to believers, but you are the only ones dialoging. The son of our pastor (the little Evangelical Free Church in 30th Street) dated a girl that worked at Planned Parenthood. We drove by … on a weekly basis without us children ever being told what it was. Just this week, the organization my parents dedicated their lives to is throwing a yearly conference where they extol their own accomplishment, while much of their own progeny went adrift. Daly says, “The stern messages and moralizing of many conservative Christians over divisive social issues have turned off too many Americans, especially young people.” Wrong Daly, Christians are losing their youth because of “leaders” like you.