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Pastor Ted's take on yellow journalism

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Last Sunday, the New York Times ran a fascinating story about the pastor of a Christian evangelical megachurch in Minnesota who refused a multitude of requests to inject conservative politics anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, pro-war, etc. into religion.

Instead, before the last presidential election, Rev. Gregory Boyd preached about how the church "should steer clear of politics, give up moralizing on sexual issues, stop claiming the United States as a "Christian nation' and stop glorifying American military campaigns," according to the Times. One-fifth of his congregation 1,000 people walked out, but Boyd stood strong.

Trying to imagine that happening in Colorado Springs, at least among some of the more prominent conservative establishments, is a stretch.

After all, this is the place where Focus on the Family sent a letter, on ministry letterhead, last month trawling for folks statewide to gather signatures for two initiatives targeting gays and lesbians on the November ballot.

As far as replicating a Rev. Boyd scenario locally, you might as well envision the charismatic leader of New Life Church accusing the Christian Coalition of Colorado of practicing yellow journalism while at the same time defending the Colorado Springs Independent.

Oh, wait. That actually happened.

A few weeks ago, the Christian Coalition of Colorado sent out a glossy mailer accusing candidates Jeff Crank and Lionel Rivera as being in bed with the "homosexual agenda." (The group's president, Chuck Gosnell, supports Doug Lamborn for Congress.)

As detailed in these pages last week, the Christian Coalition flier included pictures of gay and lesbian couples, two grooms atop a wedding cake, and this message: "Poor Choices, Bad Decisions, Political Ambition, Poor Judgment, Compromising ... these are the words some are using to describe Jeff Crank's and Lionel Rivera's public support for members and efforts of the homosexual agenda while campaigning as "pro-family' candidates."

As part of its "proof," the mailer included a portion of a 2003 Independent news story about that year's Colorado Springs City Council race. The story noted that the Chamber of Commerce, whom Crank worked for at the time, had endorsed Richard Skorman, a local business owner and longtime gay-rights advocate.

In the Christian Coalition's version, they stuck a brand-new headline on the Independent story: "Crank endorses Skorman."

Neither Crank nor Rivera got a laugh out of it. And neither did Ted Haggard, the pastor at New Life Church, which, with 14,000 members, is the largest in the state. When he delivered his sermon on Sunday, July 23, Haggard included some fire-and-brimstone opinions about the attack mailer. Specifically, he lambasted the Christian Coalition for misrepresenting the Independent as part of its campaign.

"[Pastor Ted] basically said, "Look, these guys twisted the Indy's reporting to say something they didn't even say,'" says Rob Brendle, associate pastor at New Life. "He's not interested in being the Christian policeman, he's interested in people telling the truth. People who are Christian should be telling the truth, and he was saying the Christian Coalition is not a reliable source of information for Christians."

Thanks for the shout-out, Pastor Ted! That doesn't suggest that Haggard, who regularly chats with George W. Bush and who briefly considered running for Congress this year, is likely to follow Rev. Boyd in backing away from politics and putting the focus on faith.

In fact, some people who were in the congregation that day might have interpreted Haggard's comments as endorsements for Rivera or more likely for Crank, whom Haggard told his congregation he knows personally, as a good man.

Haggard hasn't officially endorsed anyone running in the six-man race, which will be decided Tuesday, Aug. 8. But Brendle has publicly endorsed Crank, as has Kyle Fisk, the associate pastor at Boulder Street Church, which is an affiliate of New Life Church.

And, while individuals can offer endorsements for candidates, the Internal Revenue Service expressly forbids churches from advising their flocks on who to vote for a fact, Brendle says, of which New Life is well aware.

"We know the rules," he says, "and play by the rules."

degette@csindy.com

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