I'm opposed to this ordinance," Godzich admits.
He begins to roll, the timbre of his voice rising and ebbing with the elastic, jazzy rhythms of preacherspeak. And I'd like to clarify something. A radio disc jockey recently called me a `homophobic' person and I just want to let people know that those who know me know I'm anything but. Some years ago, when AIDS first appeared on the scene, I started the first Christian spirit-filled ministry to people with AIDS in the United States. ... One could hardly call me homophobic when I've carried people to an ambulance when ambulance workers have refused to do so. I've taken people in homosexuality, dying of AIDS, whose families have rejected them, into my personal home."
Though he loves those who are wrestling with their homosexuality, Leo Godzich insists their homosexuality is a moral cancer.
ON THE MONDAY before Easter, a little before 6:30 p.m., the parking lots of Phoenix First Assembly of God are teeming with the bright, modest cars and sensible minivans of the faithful. More than 6,000 people, in familial clumps of three, four or five, thread their way toward the sixth-largest church in America's coliseum-size sanctuary, toward a production of the Celebration of Easter" passion play. One debarks and dips into the current, trusting the herd and the men in the orange vests controlling traffic with flashlights.
Almost immediately Pastor Leo" appears, threading through a clumpy flow of families looking for their pews. His eyes are clear of the small, mad fires of zealotry. As the trousers of his pinstriped blue suit break sweetly over the tops of his black cowboy boots, his white shirt and dark tie semaphore conventional respectability. Pastor Godzich's manner is professional, collegial, falling somewhere between that of a capable concierge and a good-government" candidate for insurance commissioner.
Here, in this spiritual theme park, Godzich is a man in control, accustomed to deferential nods and quick attentions. He navigates the auditorium within a bubble of competence, whispering instructions in ears and touching shoulders, subtly steering the evening into place.
More than 500 church members, along with several horses, a camel, a tiger and a few other assorted beasts, will play roles in tonight's production. A 60-piece orchestra-including eight hired musicians-will provide music. Angels, their faces glazed with a sparkly dust, will dangle from the 65-foot-high ceilings, and two large television boards will afford the back rows with close-ups of the action. Tonight's electric bill will top $2,000, and many of the people who see tonight's show will come back to see one of the eight remaining performances later in the week.
No wonder Godzich sees such splendid potential in these pews. In an era when most churches have backed off overt political activity, Phoenix First Assembly has become more activist.
Godzich is one of a dozen full-time pastors on the church's staff, and he handles the church's public relations and special projects as well as his AIDS ministry. He sees the church as an instrument for molding the social and political agenda of the country.
As an Assemblies of God affiliate, Phoenix First Assembly retains local control over its doctrine, giving its pastors the flexibility to move the flock in whatever direction theyÏnot some national council-deem necessary. And as members of an evangelical church, they see the largest part of their mission as bringing people into communion with Jesus Christ, the Son of Man. The more they save, the more the church grows. Bigger and richer-and more politically potentÏare not necessarily things to be avoided.
As the orchestra honks and booms its way into tune, Godzich slips noiselessly into his seat, the lightest tremor of childlike excitement visible on his lips.
Wait 'til you see this," he whispers.
Bedecked in biblical costume, 500 singers and dancers begin to reenact the final weeks in the life of Christ. At Phoenix First Assembly, the show is a cross between Peter Greenaway and Walt Disney.
A stunt man dives off a balcony. Fountains blast water 30 feet in the air. A blood-covered Jesus drags his cross through the sanctuary as hundreds taunt and jeer him. An hour and 50 minutes later, after a crucifixion and the passing of many velvet collection bags, the Christ character is hoisted nearly seven stories high and disappears into the church's ceiling.
Along with 6,000 others, Godzich stands and applauds.
Every year, every performance, we try to do a little bit more," he confides.
WHEN THE Celebration of Easter" is over, Leo Godzich breaks bread. Retiring to the Pointe Hilton at Tapatio Cliffs, the pastor offers insights into his cosmic agenda while sipping coffee and feasting on white-chocolate mousse cake drenched with raspberry sauce.
He is 33, the age at which Christ was crucified, and he was trained as a journalist. He graduated from City University of New York, interned at Newsweek magazine, where he contributed to some Abscam stories in 1979, then settled in as the editor of a business weekly in New Jersey. For a while he was a travel writer. That was unsatisfying, he says, so he became a computer consultant, moving west about six years ago.