Culture War Heroes

William Bennett and the right make might at a Scottsdale resort

"Is the goal to convert nonbelievers, or to get a specific piece of legislation approved? We don't want to get sidetracked debating theological issues or the role of religious values in setting government policy."

In other words, don't confuse missionary ideals with political reality. Push the agenda, not the ideology behind it. That's smart. I respect that. And, longhaired liberal paranoia aside, I respect the Center for Arizona Policy, if only because it encourages citizens to educate themselves on how government works and then participate in their democracy. There's no sin there. I loathe apathy far more than Christian conservatism.

I have a problem with this $500-a-table banquet, though. It's too opulent. There's an attendant in the men's room outside the Crystal Ballroom who has a silver tooth, smiles a lot and speaks no English. He's wearing an electroplated crucifix on a chain. I watch center supporters--devout Christians, presumably--wash their hands after taking a leak, then accept a towel from their brother, wipe their hands and walk away without thanking, tipping or in most cases even looking at him.

Back in the hall, I find some trippy WWJD? ("What Would Jesus Do?") hologram bookmarks and a bouquet of brochures for Women of Virtue conferences this summer in such tongue-speaking, faith-healing burgs as Lubbock, Texas; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Modesto, California; and Albuquerque, New Mexico. The conferences are titled "Completely His," which sets me wondering--completely whose? The Lord's or The Husband's?

From a table marked "In-depth research on Family cultural issues," I scoop a copy of the Denver-based Focus on the Family's monthly magazine, Citizen, flip through, and stop cold at a color photo of Hulk Hogan pinning an opponent to the mat by his throat. Hogan's visage is a delighted leer. The photo has a caption: "Raw 'wrestling' by the numbers." It's sort of a Harper's Index breakdown of a report by Indiana University researchers who watched 50 pay-per-view World Wrestling Federation episodes:

"1,658: instances of WWF characters grabbing or pointing to their own crotch (not counting slow-motion replays).

"434: times participants uttered a sexually charged slogan or fans displayed one on a sign.

"157: obscene gestures.
"128: episodes of simulated sexual activity.
"47: references to satanic activity."

There are 180 pieces of chocolate cake on each of the service carts being rolled toward the Crystal Ballroom. I follow, eschew the Media Seating, and take a place with white-jacketed waiters along a rear wall. Dinner plates are cleared, the lights are dimmed and a video presentation ("The Center for Arizona Policy mission") begins on the two projection screens.

It begins with shots of white kids at carefree play. Children are the spoils of the Culture War. I quote the Center banquet's keynote speaker, William Bennett, from his 1993 tome The De-Valuing of America: "Those whose beliefs govern our institutions will, in large measure, win the battle for the culture. And whoever wins the battle for the culture gets to teach the children."

Once the video reminds everyone what they're fighting for, it moves to the steps of Arizona's Capitol, where state lawmakers sing the center's praises. Along with Burns and Groscost, there are pro-center sound bites from senators Ken Bennett and David Petersen, and state representative Laura Knaperek, who allows how elected officials might be lost in a sea of responsibilities were it not for the center's guiding light. "We'd really be on our own without the Center for Arizona Policy," she says.

Next, center founder and president Len Munsil testifies to the dire need for "family-friendly policy" in Arizona. The video lingers on the center's successful efforts to make Arizona the second state (after Louisiana) to pass a Covenant Marriage Act. Under that bill (drafted by the center, introduced by Senator Petersen and signed into law last year), a couple that opts for a covenant marriage and mandatory premarital counseling is prohibited from obtaining a no-fault divorce. One partner who wants to leave the marriage must have the other's permission, or prove a just cause--adultery, physical or emotional abuse or drug addiction--before they can legally divorce.

That sounds good to me. I was born in 1971--Generation X, dead center--and of the dozens of good friends I've made who are my age, only one has parents who, like mine, are still together. I had a college roommate who could not listen to the Jane's Addiction song "Had a Dad" without weeping. I think he would agree that if you make a vow of permanence, it should have more weight behind it than a lover's whisper in the night.

But unlike the center, I believe it's fine for two people of any gender to live together without being married. After all, state Representative Karen Johnson, a real Old Testament kind of lawmaker, is on her fifth marriage.

The video presentation closes with a campaign-commercial pan of Munsil, his wife, and their--holy begat!--eight children, walking toward the camera, happily hand-in-hand (Munsil, 35, has been married 14 years). The lights go up, the cake hits the tables, and Munsil takes the stage.

I have met with Munsil one-on-one, and came away thinking he is not a power monger, but a compassionate man who genuinely believes he is doing God's work.

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