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Meanwhile, in the movie, Pastor Jerry's two pseudo-macho bodyguards would turn out to be gay! And everybody would start dancing to Cher: Do you believe in life after love ... ?
But this isn't a movie. This is Topeka, Kansas, January 10, 2005. And the ending isn't so happy. A couple of days later, the same week that parents urge the Blue Valley School District to remove books from high school required-reading lists because of their naughty words, the Kansas Senate decides that Kansans should be allowed to vote against gay marriage. They send the matter on to the Kansas House of Representatives, which has until February 11 to put the issue on the April 5 ballot.
No, this isn't Hollywood.
After November 2, I decided to start attending Jerry Johnston's church. After all, Johnston had been one of the biggest winners in the election.
On November 5, for example, he'd joined such estimable company as John McLaughlin, Patrick Buchanan and Eleanor Clift on PBS's The McLaughlin Group.
Noting that 22 percent of all voters had said that their main criterion for choosing a president was "moral values" and that the one value they'd voted for more than any other was "the value of traditional marriage between one woman and one man," McLaughlin introduced Johnston as "an evangelical pastor in Kansas," thereby anointing Johnston as the definitive voice of red-state Christianity.
Technically, Johnston was enjoying a modest victory in Kansas, where he and dozens of other church leaders had campaigned to unseat state legislators -- even pro-life Christian Republicans -- who had voted against the state's gay-marriage amendment the previous spring (Kendrick Blackwood's "Ministers Hate Fags Too," July 22, 2004). Only a few of Johnston's targets were defeated, but the evangelicals gained a few seats. More important, they got a hammer.
"You're talking about, you know, 80 million people. You're talking about a good 350,000 churches," Johnston told TV viewers across America. "And I can tell you, these people did not stop talking about it. We all know this [gay marriage] was a cause. It was a hill worth dying for. And it was that kind of spirit, I believe, that delivered a significant impact on this election. And I think even more than that, it sent a message to the American people that we're going to be able to build on."
He could barely contain himself.
"And now the great glee we have of appointing Supreme Court justices that would share the version of America of a conservative viewpoint, I mean, I can't tell you how happy of a day this is."
Conservatives were having a ball accusing the media of not getting it, so I felt it was my professional obligation to try to understand the values voters. Actually, as a born liberal and a Midwesterner by choice, I understand them all too well. But this was no time to underestimate them. Perhaps they were right. Perhaps the conservatives understood something about the greater good that we liberals had failed to see. So I thought I'd challenge the people at First Family Church to save my soul.
Admittedly, I was skeptical. Though I hate it when people start blabbing about their religion in public, I will disclose that I believe in God. I went to church every Sunday at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Lincoln, Nebraska, where I sang in the choir, until I graduated from high school. Sometimes Saturday night's alcohol was still seeping out of my pores; I was a troubled teen, and things only went downhill during my twenties. These days, every week I attend at least a couple of hourlong gatherings that begin and end with a prayer. Often, I pray all damn day. But when it comes to churches, I subscribe to the theory that religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell, whereas spirituality is for people who've already been there. I once was lost, but now I'm found. So I didn't particularly think I needed saving.