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A wild ride


It's been a wild week for Colorado Springs.

You've undoubtedly seen all the coverage. First, there was the unfortunate culmination of the very public battle between Focus on the Family and Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar, in which the normally sedate Salazar told local TV station KKTV that "Focus is the Antichrist." He later apologized, saying he meant the Colorado Springs-based ministry's political actions over federal judicial nominees is un-Christian and self-serving.

Then there was the recent Harper's magazine piece chronicling the rise of Pastor Ted Haggard and his New Life Church, a megachurch in northeast Colorado Springs. The author, Jeff Sharlet, described Colorado Springs as "unspectacular ... a grid of wide Western avenues lined with squat, gray and beige box buildings." Sharlet's description of our city, with its sprawl and its crime and pollution and a downtown core that "withers into irrelevance," evoked a defensive response in the May 2 Gazette, which devoted considerable space to city boosters rebutting Sharlet's observations, point by point.

Then there was Julie Rifkin, a Colorado Springs resident who, after being laid off of her job at the Navigators, a Christian organization, was taken to the hospital after a worried friend called 911. After she was released, Rifkin bought a gun at a pawnshop, murdered her two sons and then took her own life. Her husband Donald, who had been laid off from MCI here in the Springs, had been forced to take another job out of state. The above-mentioned Pastor Ted of New Life Church, which the Rifkins reportedly attended, immediately took center stage, publicly laying blame at Memorial Hospital. If the hospital had not released Rifkin, Haggard charged, the family would be alive today. Haggard's stance brought an outpouring of public scorn, and the pastor ultimately beat a fast retreat. Sometimes, a tragedy is really just a tragedy.

Last weekend brought us the chilly convergence of Christian ideology in the form of a massive (for Colorado Springs) rally at Focus on the Family. Monitored by at least 140 local cops, an estimated 700 Christian gays and lesbians gathered to denounce James Dobson and his $122 million political machine for their position that gay people can be cured of a malady that scientists and psychologists have agreed is no illness. For the second time in two months, a handful of relatives of Pastor Fred Phelps of the virulently anti-gay (but still Christian) Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, were on hand protesting both Focus on the Family and the Lynchburg, Va.-based Christian organization Soulforce. On Monday, a gay man and his parents were arrested when they trespassed onto the Focus compound, surrounded by photographers hungry for a little action. For its part, Focus closed off its visitors center to visitors, even those of the Christian persuasion, and issued carefully-worded responses maintaining their position that homosexuality is a mental disorder.

And now we hear from the Washington D.C.-based group Americans United for the Separation of Church and State that the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs practices a "pervasive and systemic" bias toward evangelical Christianity that reaches the highest levels of its command structure. No surprise there; but after more than a year of media coverage detailing the same problems, the Air Force this week appointed a special task force to investigate.

It's enough to drive a sane man out of town.

Which brings us to Rocky Scott. For the past 16 years, Scott has served as the CEO of the Greater Colorado Springs Economic Development Corporation. The EDC is devoted to creating jobs and enticing new businesses to the city. Back in the early 1990s, this city was in economic despair after its main industry, defense contracting, went south. At the time, Colorado Springs wore the embarrassing moniker as the "foreclosure capital of the country." Scott became the Rocky Balboa of the Colorado Springs job market, in part by enticing "good clean businesses" like Christian nonprofits and high-tech companies to town. With a $4 million relocation incentive from the influential El Pomar Foundation, Focus on the Family agreed to move here from Southern California. Dozens of other Christian groups followed suit, bringing their national and international headquarters to Colorado Springs.

This week, Scott announced his resignation as EDC chairman; he is moving north to work for Loveland-based McWhinney Enterprises, a real estate investment and development firm.

Goodbye, Rocky, and thanks for the legacy. We'll be sure to pray for you.


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