Colorado's New 'Zion' Shows Split In GOP


YOUNG, bright, charismatic, and conservative down to the cuffs of his creased khakis, the Rev. Ted Haggard could be a poster boy for the new Republican Party. But as senior pastor of the 4,800-member New Life Church here, ''Pastor Ted,'' as he likes to be called, is not a typical Republican.

As an evangelical or ''born-again'' Christian, Mr. Haggard is part of a widening slice of the electorate that is more concerned with America's moral standards than tax cuts or foreign aid.

It is a phenomenon that matters more than ever in United States politics -- and one that makes GOP moderates edgy. This moral movement has virtual veto power over the party's 1996 presidential nomination. The Christian right is the fastest-growing, best-organized, and most cohesive voting bloc to enter American politics since organized labor.

Nowhere is the growth of the Christian right, and the rift it could cause in the Republican Party, more evident than in Colorado Springs: a city some conservatives consider the ''Gettysburg'' of an impending ''culture war'' over social issues.

According to a University of Akron, Ohio, study, the number of American voters who identify themselves as evangelicals has risen from 12 to 22 percent in just six years.

But in Colorado Springs, locals estimate that evangelicals make up as much as 40 percent of the city's population. 'The Springs,' a city of 300,000 in the shadow of snow-shod Pike's Peak, is a gleaming Zion, packed with new office buildings, high-skilled jobs, and clean-living Christians.

Ever since the city wooed the 2-million-member conservative Focus on the Family organization from Los Angeles in 1990, hundreds of spin-off groups have sprouted here, from the Fellowship of Christian Cowboys to Christian Camping International.

But, the invasion of the Christian right has not always been warmly welcomed by pro-business conservatives here. Recently, when Focus on the Family launched a protest against a prominent beer company, local bar and restaurant owners printed bumper stickers that read: ''Focus on Your Own Family.''

And when Colorado's Amendment 2 -- a 1992 ballot referendum that forbids laws protecting homosexuals from discrimination -- was spearheaded by conservatives here, some local business leaders blasted it for its deleterious effect on tourism.

Steve Kanatzar, owner of the Bordermine Restaurant, sees an inherent contradiction between the party's social and fiscal conservatism. Mr. Kanatzar, who hosts a noontime ''Rush Room'' where patrons listen to conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh, says his main priority is reducing the tax burden, not attacking social issues such as abortion.

''It's hard to say we want to keep the government out of our lives [on economic issues] when everybody wants the right-to-life to be mandated,'' he says. ''You can't have it some of the time but not all of the time.''

Yet few GOP leaders seem eager to rebuff the moral conservatives. Through its machine-like coalition of churches, the Christian right can raise enormous amounts of money quickly and flood lawmakers with calls and letters.

Already the movement is gearing up its well-oiled machine for the 1996 Republican presidential nomination.

In a letter to Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour earlier this month, Focus on the Family President James Dobson warned the Republican presidential hopefuls not to ''skirt the moral issues'' in 1996.

''More than 43 percent of your votes [last] November came from people who identified themselves as evangelical Christians, most of whom are decidedly pro-life,'' the letter continues. ''You could not have won the House and the Senate without them.''

''Any Republican who's obnoxious to the Christian right won't win the Republican nomination,'' says John Green, professor of political science at the University of Akron. ''The movement doesn't have to get everything it wants, but you can't insult them by taking a [strong] pro-choice position.''

While all of the current GOP front-runners identify themselves as anti-abortion, only Pat Buchanan has vowed to ''fight the battle on social issues,'' including abortion.

The lone supporter of abortion rights is Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, though California's Gov. Pete Wilson, who may join the race, is pro-choice as well. Last month, Mr. Specter told CNN that Republicans will lose if they ''insist on excluding about half the party.''

''The lesson of the 1992 convention is this: When we fight over abortion, we lose,'' says Laura Holmes, executive director of the Washington-based lobbying group Republicans for Choice. ''When we leave out the social issues, like we did in the Contract With America, we win. All the front runners know that if you cater too much to the Christian right, you won't win in the general election.''

Yet inside his tidy office in the 75,000-square-foot New Life Church, Haggard says that while his congregation is adamantly anti-abortion, it is not blind to the importance of backing an electable candidate.

If a candidate advocates discouraging abortion and views it as only tolerable because of its constitutional protection, Haggard concludes, ''that candidate is electable here, big time.''

But any candidate who visits his church with a liberal message on social issues, ''might as well go back to the doughnut shop.''

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