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A Bible thumping

Locals fear Woodland Park Bible college campus could stir anti-gay sentiment

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When a sign went up in late September announcing Andrew Wommack Ministries had just bought a sprawling ranch near their Woodland Park home, Mary Miklosz and Cindy Horn both felt a jolt of rage.

"What the F is he doing up here?" Miklosz remembers asking.

Fear and curiosity gnawing at her, Miklosz called the Colorado Springs office of Wommack's global TV ministry in mid-October. She says she felt sick to her stomach upon learning Wommack plans to turn 111 acres near the new hospital west of downtown into the campus for a 1,000-student Bible college.

"Excuse me?" Miklosz responded in disbelief.

Come early November, Miklosz has a more pointed question for Wommack: "Why bring your hate and discontent to Woodland Park?"

That's a strong reaction to a Springs-based preacher whose religious empire just reported a yearly take of more than $15 million. But Miklosz and Horn, former postal workers in their 40s who've been together nine years, worry that Wommack's teachings could stir anti-gay sentiment in a community they've known to be welcoming.

In a September newsletter, Wommack writes that homosexuality is not only wrong, but also causes health effects that reduce a "person's life 200 percent more than cigarette smoking."

"When the spiritual effects of homosexuality are factored in, this is one of the most destructive lifestyles possible," he continues. "It's not a hate crime to say homosexuality is wrong any more than it's a hate crime to say smoking is hazardous to one's health."

Miklosz and Horn fear the negativity that such teachings can engender. They believe organizations like Focus on the Family and Andrew Wommack Ministries have soured Colorado Springs, and they worry the same thing could happen in Woodland Park.

"We can go anyplace here," Miklosz says, "and we've never had a bad feeling."

Encounter with God

Wommack declined to speak for this article, but Jim Ertel, the ministry's director of partner relations, says homosexuality makes up less than "one-tenth of 1 percent" of what Wommack writes or teaches. (Indeed, the nearly 100 articles posted on Wommack's Web site generally seem to steer clear of the topic.)

Ertel faults the media for focusing on passages like those in the September newsletter.

"That's just so far from how Andrew thinks," Ertel says. "You ought to read the other 3,000 articles that never mentioned anything about that."

Though Wommack hasn't backed away from his comments, Ertel says, they're not meant to be "condemning and judgmental."

"It's just what the Bible says," Ertel insists.

According to awmi.net, Wommack was born again as an 8-year-old. He claims that 10 years later, he had an encounter with God, after which he was "called" to ministry. He and his wife Jamie started a Christian radio program in Texas in 1976, and brought their ministry to Colorado Springs four years later.

Now 60, Wommack pays more than $5 million each year to broadcast his radio and TV programs on every continent except Antarctica (where programs are available via Internet). His Nov. 2 TV program plays like an infomercial, with Wommack talking about people being called to Charis Bible College, and screenshots advising viewers that they can acquire Wommack's books and DVD sets for suggested "donations" starting around $20.

Charis, which Wommack started in 1994, now has more than 400 students on its Colorado Springs campus, Ertel says, and a similar number of students study at nearly a dozen satellite locations in places such as Chicago, Atlanta, India and Russia, even though the two-year, unaccredited program awards only certificates rather than degrees.

Ertel says the Colorado Springs campus at 850 Elkton Drive is close to its capacity of around 600 students, and expansion there isn't in the cards: "We're kind of landlocked here."

Encounter with Council

The Woodland Park property consists of rolling grasslands and forests, complete with a modern, six-bedroom "lodge" and a few outbuildings. For now, there are no dormitories or classroom buildings.

Though the $4 million purchase concluded Sept. 21, the ministry must get plans and permits approved by Woodland Park's City Council. Miklosz, Horn and other concerned residents will have the chance to speak.

The ministry should benefit from new water and sewer lines installed for Pikes Peak Regional Hospital, and Ertel says a college will give back by boosting Woodland Park's tax base, even if the ministry gets a religious nonprofit exemption from about $11,000 in annual property taxes.

Steve Randolph, Woodland Park's mayor, says he can't talk in detail about a pending development matter. But he expresses surprise after reading Wommack's comments on homosexuality. He points to a recent survey that asked more than 500 Woodland Park residents what they value about their community.

"They like that it's very tolerant," Randolph says. "What I read is exactly the opposite of that."

lane@csindy.com

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