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UW Election Eye 2012

Campaign 2012 through the eyes of UW faculty and students

Topic: Religious faith

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February 7, 2012 at 5:24 AM

With a "purple" faith, evangelical Christians in Colorado defy easy stereotypes

COLORADO SPRINGS — It’s not just the electoral votes that are purple — that is, a mix of conservative and liberal — in this independence-loving mountain state. It’s the religiously minded voters, too, who seem to operate at a shade more subtle than in other places.

With some of its largest churches unaffiliated with distinct denominations, the Christian community here is theologically diverse, composed of a range of hard-to-summarize beliefs. This spectrum includes the fiscally conservative with the socially liberal, or, just as easily, the other way around.

Ted Haggard's congregation meets for service in Colorado Springs on Sunday morning, Feb. 5, 2012. The non-denominational church reflects the independent ethos of the state (Photo by Jason Gilmore / UW Election Eye)

“The rest of the world scoffs at us when we place our belief in a particular political [party] instead of Christ,” said Matt Heard, the head pastor at Woodmen Valley Chapel, one of the more influential “megachurches” in Colorado Springs, at Sunday’s evening service.

Christians ought to operate with a more heavenly focus, he said.

The state’s Republican voters attend caucuses this evening to cast ballots for the party’s presidential nomination.

A former evangelical fortress?

The state’s reputation as a center for modern-day American evangelicalism, based in Colorado Springs, is over-rated, said pastor Doug Olsen, also of Woodmen. It remains the national headquarters for Focus on the Family, Navigators and other evangelical groups, but the city’s religious leanings are more complicated.

“We’re an ordinary city with human people that happens to have Christians living in it,” Olsen said, adding that his church works with the local government on outreach efforts to the large military community in the area, as well as to its homeless population.


Comments | Topics: Caucuses, Colorado, Colorado caucus

February 6, 2012 at 12:00 PM

Ted Haggard, forgiveness, and renewal in Colorado Springs

COLORADO SPRINGS — I didn’t want to go. To Ted Haggard’s new church, that is.

In 1984, Haggard founded New Life, a nondenominational church in Colorado Springs that grew to 14,000 members under his leadership. He gained national stature and became president of the National Association of Evangelicals, an organization of 45,000 churches. But in 2006 he admitted he had an affair with a male prostitute, and resigned his positions as New Life pastor and head of the NAE.

In recent years Haggard has made something of a spiritual comeback, founding St. James, a new church that first met on the Haggard’s property in a barn and now assembles in a local middle school.

As a person of faith, and a scholar, and a journalist, I sometimes find my various roles colliding. Although I was not interested in rehashing Haggard’s history, I was interested in the complicated relationship Protestant Christianity sometimes has with its spiritually wounded.

So I went, albeit reluctantly, to Haggard’s new church Sunday.


Comments | Topics: Colorado, Colorado Springs, conservatives

February 4, 2012 at 6:56 AM

Mitt Romney's Mormon faith helps in Nevada and the West

The LDS Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (Photo Elizabeth Hunter, UW Election Eye)

LAS VEGAS — A couple of undergrads were horsing around in the hallway when I entered the building.

At the Latter Day Saints Institute of Religion Student Center on the campus of University of Nevada-Las Vegas, young Mormons have heated discussions about politics over ping-pong and candy. Lots of candy. Several baskets of candy — in bowls on the front desk, on a coffee table, in the hallway.

I grabbed a piece as I asked the receptionist if I could speak to someone about Mitt Romney and Mormon politics. “LDS,” she kindly corrected me with a smile. I blushed. From that moment on, I’ve used LDS -— not Mormon —- when talking with members of the Church.

She led me to the office of Institute Director Garth Rasmussen, whom she referred to as Brother Rasmussen. The LDS Doctrine and Covenants book, labeled and marked with color-coded tags, lay open on his desk. Within minutes, Brother Rasmussen was openly sharing his gospel with me.

Here’s the thing, though: Rasmussen said he was happy to talk with me about politics, provided I knew that they were his opinions and not those of the LDS Church writ large. I said absolutely, and we started discussing political issues from healthcare to welfare. About the latter, he got particularly passionate, and shared with me a Mormon parable called the “Gullible Gulls.”


Comments | Topics: Demographics, Endorsement, Endorsements

January 22, 2012 at 12:58 PM

The "evangelical vote" diverse, but united on social issues

Evangelical literature at the Personhood USA forum in Greenville, SC, last week, where candidates gathered to establish their credentials on conservative social issues (Alex Stonehill/UW Election Eye)

COLUMBIA — Newt Gingrich’s dramatic come-from-behind victory in South Carolina last night was driven by a lot of factors. But one of the most important was the “evangelical vote,” which went for Gingrich two-for-one over Mitt Romney.

Evangelicals are a still a potent political force in American politics, if Saturday’s primary was any indication. They compose some 65 percent of the electorate in South Carolina, and they seemed to have rallied behind Gingrich following Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s endorsement of him on Thursday.

But just who are this oft-cited chunk of South Carolinians who self-identify as evangelicals?

They’re people like Matthew Saxon, 27, a first-year M.Div. student at Columbia International University, a conservative ecumenical seminary based in Columbia. He attends Shandon Baptist Church, also in Columbia, where he teaches Sunday school.

Saxon’s a general manager at a branch of a local Southwestern-themed-fast-food chain, Moe’s, located near the University of South Carolina’s campus near downtown. He’s married and has two young kids.

And he’s frustrated.


Comments | Topics: Christian Coalition, Christian evangelicals, conservatives

January 22, 2012 at 10:13 AM

Interview: Randy Stonehill on South Carolina's evangelical community

"Uncle Randy" Stonehill on the cover of his 1976 album "Welcome to Paradise"

Come primary season the evangelical community is usually referenced in political terms, with Christians voters in the bellwether South Carolina primary treated as a uniform group, and speculation tossed about over which candidate will secure the “evangelical vote”.

My uncle Randy Stonehill, who was “born again” in the 1970s and since built a prolific career as a Christian folk rock musician, recently relocated from Southern California to Columbia, South Carolina.

I asked him a few questions about his transition from one “SC” to another and the diversity he’s found in South Carolina’s evangelical community:

What’s the biggest difference between living in Southern California and South Carolina?

The pace of things is a bit slow and there is less tension in the air. People tend to be friendlier and more willing to look you in the eye.

As a whole, the Stonehills are pretty die hard Democrats. Has that made it difficult to transition into an evangelical community in South Carolina that is mostly Republican?

Surprisingly not, though there are obvious differences in culture and political perspective. Most people I encounter are aware that the world of politics is an arena of compromise. There’s not really much discussion about politics, and when there is, we try to stay focused on our common denominator as followers of Jesus.


Comments | Topics: christian rock, conservatives, Randy Stonehill

January 19, 2012 at 12:34 PM

Perry: Presidential bid was a "calling"

Perry kisses his wife during the press conference (Photo by Almeera Anwar)

CHARLESTON — Rick Perry stood by his wife, his son and some staff, dark circles under the latter’s eyes. Cameras whirred and clicked among the small sea of reporters sitting, kneeling and standing in the Hyatt’s crowded conference room.

Ending a quest is never easy. But it was time.

“This campaign’s never been about one man,” he said, reading carefully from prepared remarks in a purple-blue tie and gray suit. “I’ve never believed the cause of conservatism is about one individual.”

Comments | Topics: Newt Gingrich, Religious faith, Rick Perry

January 19, 2012 at 12:28 PM

Getting personal in South Carolina

Matthew Saxon

GREENVILLE — I came to South Carolina to learn, see, and hear opinions that I don’t encounter every day in Seattle. What I didn’t expect was to be asked for my own thoughts — and certainly not on abortion.

But that’s what went down Wednesday, more than once.

The day began in a sit-down meeting in Columbia with Matthew Saxon, 27, at the Moe’s Southwest Grill, where he works to pay his way through divinity school at Columbia International University. I’d met up with him hoping to hear the perspective of a young evangelical South Carolinian.

Matthew had plenty of views that defied my stereotype of a southern Christian.


Comments | Topics: abortion, conservatives, Election 2012

January 16, 2012 at 8:08 PM

Abolishing income tax and 'voting for Mickey Mouse'

Fair Tax Volunteers Close Up

From left: Audrey Aldridge, Mickey Lattimore and Joseph Kejr

MYRTLE BEACH — By the time we arrived at the Tea Party Convention, most of its attendees had left to either go home or head over to the debate early. I was lucky enough to catch a few lingering organizers and initiative volunteers when I cornered some of the members of FairTax by their booth.

At first they balked at the mention of my hometown, but Mickey Lattimore, Joseph Kejr and Audrey Aldridge warmed with the chance to talk about their passion — abolishing the income tax and replacing it with a national retail tax of six percent. There would be no business-to-business tax, education would be exempted and citizens below the poverty line would be prorated. All three have worked on making their FairTax initiative a federal and state reality for years. They want the government to treat every American equally, they say. 


Comments | Topics: conservatives, Election 2012, Fair tax

January 15, 2012 at 9:31 PM

Echoes of secession on a Sunday

COLUMBIA, SC — We went to church Sunday, hoping to track down Newt Gingrich’s sisters. They’d been dispatched there to bolster his evangelical following on “Sanctity of Human Life Day.” With the state’s Republican Party primary a week away, every vote is crucial.

First though, we found lingering echoes of another conflict, a far bigger one.

A small, bow-legged marble-topped table stood in the “history hallway” of First Baptist Church of Columbia. But if not for the velvet pedestal and plaque, no one would guess that South Carolina’s secession papers were signed on top of it, 150 years ago. 

Local legend claims that the church’s original inner sanctuary survived the war unscathed thanks to a successful misdirection— Union troops torched the wrong building — and the church itself celebrated its biennium two years ago. The Sunday service that we attended is now next door to the original sanctuary, in an immense, three-story mega church space that’s engulfed the older building and captured a whole block of the city center.


Comments | Topics: conservatives, Newt Gingrich, Religious faith

January 15, 2012 at 2:55 PM

Santorum's got a "Reagan vibe" in South Carolina

FLORENCE, SC — Rick Santorum stood atop a step at Percy and Willie’s Food & Spirit, beside a flag-and-campaign banner. The press at his events outnumbered his supporters for months in 2011, but no longer.

Behind him, even though we were deep in the heart of football country, all of the televisions were switched from the NFL playoff game to CSPAN — which was showing a live feed of the sweater-vested one.

The Santorum campaign has got its groove on.


Comments | Topics: Religious faith, Rick Santorum

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