Culture War Heroes

William Bennett and the right make might at a Scottsdale resort

Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate, says the Lord. And do not touch what is unclean.

--2 Corinthians 6:17

I am alone on a stage in the back of a vast, lavish ballroom, overlooking a panorama of modern Christian soldiers, seated in groups of 10 around white-clothed tables, heads bowed in a prayer of war.

The man leading them in this prayer stands behind a dais on a stage across from mine. A hundred tables are between us. Screens in the ballroom's corners project the speaker's likeness as a giant. He is begging Jesus for victory in the struggle to save America from itself, a duel he dubs "The Culture War." He speaks of "forces aligned against us," "battles on the horizon" and "the need to further mobilize our troops."

"Lord," he says, "You have drawn us here together to witness unity in greater strength. We come tonight to see that there are not just a few of us but many who are battling together . . . for the sake of those yet to be born, for the sake of those who are working to keep their families strong, for the sake of those who are battling to keep our country to some kind of important moral standard."

Although I have been invited to the Crystal Ballroom of the Radisson Resort Scottsdale for "an evening with Dr. William J. Bennett," the Center for Arizona Policy's third annual fund-raising banquet, I feel like an infiltrator. I am alone on a platform designated "Media Seating." My head is not bowed. My hair is not short. I am not wearing a suit. I sense glances sliding over me from eyes that snap closed when I find them.

I am, as they say, out of my element, and I'll be damned if I'll spend a whole evening on stage as a Member of the Media in this videodrome of righteousness. As soon as the man (who, according to my program, is Allan Cook of KFLR, Family Life radio) has finished his invocation/call to arms, a thousand forks scrape against salad plates, and I temporarily flee the Crystal Ballroom.

Brief background: The Center for Arizona Policy ("Promoting Family, Faith, Freedom") was founded in 1995 by conservative Christian lawyer/lobbyist, former sportswriter, and third-generation Arizona homeboy Len Munsil, then director of the National Family Legal Foundation, an anti-pornography organization which, like his Center for Arizona Policy, is based in Scottsdale.

"The Center for Arizona Policy is a non-profit research and education organization committed to strengthening the family and restoring traditional moral principles to the public policy and cultural arenas."

So goes the center's mission statement, without defining in detail precisely which traditional moral values it's committed to restoring. Judging by legislation the center has supported and the fiery oration throughout my Evening With William Bennett, I can sketch a partial list of what they're against: gays, gambling, drugs, divorce, abortion, Hustler, Hollywood, "Satan rock" (don't ask me), violent video games, and the theory of evolution as taught in most public schools.

The center's primary strategy for restoring traditional moral values in Arizona is to help socially conservative lawmakers write new laws, shepherd them through the legislative process and get them on the books. Since it was founded, the center has been integrally involved--via lobbying, legal and technical support, testimony at public hearings, and maelstroms of phone calls and letters from concerned citizens--in the passage of 17 new Arizona laws steeped in conservative Christian ideology.

That's 17 victories in the Arizona theater of the Culture War, ranging from a law passed this year ensuring that home-schooled students are eligible for state-funded college scholarships to laws passed in 1996 that ban same-sex marriage and require parental consent for an abortion. Munsil helped write both statutes. Currently in play are center-supported bills to raise the minimum gambling age in Arizona to 21 and to impose a 24-hour cooling-off period on women seeking abortions. Among the center's outspoken supporters in state government are Senate President Brenda Burns and Speaker of the House Jeff Groscost.

Burns is here tonight. Groscost and Governor Jane Dee Hull are represented by staffers. Also in the house are U.S. Representative John Shadegg, state senators Mark Spitzer, Tom Smith, Ken Bennett, Darden Hamilton and David Petersen, state representatives Jeff Hatch-Miller, Jean McGrath, Karen Johnson, Mark Anderson, Barbara Blewster, Debra Brimhall and Michael Gardner, and Hall of Fame baseball player Robin Yount.

In the corridor outside the Crystal Ballroom is a table with a placard inviting everyone to "influence and persuade your elected representative." It is stacked with copies of a 12-page 1999 Citizen's Action Pack, which begins with a warning: "For too long, Christians have voluntarily removed themselves from the political arena . . . leaving the debate over our nation's values to those who reject Biblical truths.

"As the moral fabric of our society unravels, it is increasingly clear that each of us needs to recommit ourselves to the fight for family values. While that fight begins in our own lives and homes, it must extend to the rules by which we govern our society."

Once the Action Pack has the reader by his fears, though, it quickly stops thumping the Bible and starts dispensing practical, strategic advice for citizen activists, such as how to research their elected representatives' religious beliefs and tailor their pitches accordingly.

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