"Like all great satire, the book is cerebral, irreverent and hilarious, while also edifying" Publisher's Weekly
"This book is hilarious... [Lanham] didn't skimp on his research. The book provides a telling overview of the religious right's leadership, the beliefs they espouse, and just how incredibly absurd and hypocritical they are." The Campaign to Defend the Constitution
Editor's Pick: "From the author of The Hipster Handbook comes this irreverent navigation of all things Evangelical. Learn enough slang to fit in at a church picnic or why SpongeBob SquarePants is an agent of the Devil" Chicago Sun-Times
"This guy has written quite a funny book." Alan Colmes, Fox News
"A funny book with some funny cartoons on everyone from Rick Warren as the evangelical Jimmy Buffett to a guide for Christian haircuts that is hilarious... I was chuckling until I saw that I am the postscript" Mark Driscoll, pastor of the largest megachurch in Washington State
"Every good little liberal will have this book on order as a stocking stuffer come Jesus' birthday." Time Out
"A handbook for coping with bible thumpers.... When considering the power and influence evangelical Christians wield in this country, you have to laugh to keep from crying. Robert Lanham... understands this well and offers much needed, totally biased comic relief." Village Voice
"Not only is this an important book, it's a funny book." Marc Maron, Air America Radio
"Author Robert Lanham is an observer... but with his latest, The Sinner's Guide to the Evangelical Right, Lanham's keen eye has hit perhaps his most entertaining target." Metro Paper
"It’s hard to remember a more pointed and scathing attack… Lanham launches a focused, sustained barrage on the Pat Robertsons and James Dobsons of the world… He’s done his homework. The book is thoroughly researched and packed with quotes and analysis of the famous and not-so-famous leaders of the evangelical right… the research is truly impressive. " The Reader
"An utterly biased, humorous one-stop guide to the major evangelical players." Details
"Check out Robert Lanham's (author of the fabled Hipster Handbook and former Bible Belt resident) Sinner's Guide to the Evangelical Right. It's funny because it's true." Elizabeth Spiers, founding Editor of Gawker
"Like the Daily Show or The Colbert Report, it's humor reveals the basic truth. Which is to say that the "sinners" of the world may be closer to Jesus and the divine than those who use God's name for personal enrichment, power building, and political gain." Buzzflash
"The book does for religion what Jon Stewart does for politics." CanWest News Service
"Informative, laugh-out-loud funny and horrifying at times, check out this snide, leftie-geared guide to the major evangelical players... Robert Lanham has a writing style that resembles... McSweeney's, and the irony-stacked humor of TV programs such as "The Daily Show" Style Weekly, Richmond VA
"Hilarious... go out and buy this book now." Sam Seder, The Majority Report
"This book should lay at the lifeless feet of your corpse as a silent, yet
powerful and all encompassing explanation as to why you took your own life."
David Cross, Arrested Development
After 30 years of political organizing within the Republican Party, the anti-abortion movement has won a series of victories in legislatures and courts and stands tantalizingly close to winning even more. But these are anxious days for the movement.
Six months before the Iowa caucuses, abortion opponents are trying to adjust to a strikingly different political landscape. For the first time in a generation, they face in Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, a front-runner for the Republican nomination who supports abortion rights.
Abortion opponents are dividing their support among several other candidates, including Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and a relatively recent convert to the cause, and Fred D. Thompson, the former senator from Tennessee.
And some strategists and outside analysts are voicing a theory that was once unthinkable in the Republican Party: that a convergence of forces, including the early primaries in moderate states like California, may have diminished the influence of the anti-abortion movement on the Republican nominating process.
Anti-abortion leaders are increasingly moving to defend the seminal victory they won in 1980, the definition of the Republican Party as the “Pro-Life Party” in a plank in its platform and its choice of presidential nominees. Key leaders are signing on with the anti-abortion candidates they see as best able to go the distance. And some of those leaders are warning, bluntly, that the abortion issue is fundamental -- not something to be finessed.
At the Republican straw poll in Iowa next month, abortion opponents will circulate a petition calling on the party to reassert its values, honor its platform and choose an anti-abortion nominee. “We have our eye on the goal,” said Kim Lehman, president of the Iowa Right to Life Committee, who said that the overwhelming majority of Iowa caucus-goers oppose abortion. “Our goal is to get a pro-life president, so we can be confident of his position on legislation and confident of his judges.”
James Bopp Jr., an influential conservative lawyer and general counsel to the National Right to Life Committee, said, “For the Republican Party to nominate a pro-choice candidate would be very destructive of the party.” Mr. Bopp, who has signed on as an adviser to the Romney campaign, said that a Republican nominee who supported abortion rights “would essentially be at war with the base, and that would manifest itself in a lot of different ways.”
Richard Land, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, has been touting Mr. Thompson as a compelling combination of electability and social conservatism (although Dr. Land said he does not make endorsements). He is also warning that the party cannot assume it will hold the anti-abortion vote in a general election if it nominates a supporter of abortion rights.
“If there is no difference on that issue, then all of a sudden a lot of other issues start getting oxygen,” Dr. Land said.
Most of the Republican candidates are scrambling to demonstrate both their anti-abortion credentials and their ability to win. Phyllis Schlafly, the conservative stalwart, said she sensed “concerns” at the grass roots about all the candidates at the front of the pack.
“Every day somebody asks me who we’re going to support,” said Mrs. Schlafly, who has attended every Republican convention since 1952 and has been a longtime defender of the party platform’s anti-abortion plank. “I tell them I don’t know. I can’t predict. I just tell them to go out and get elected as delegates to the convention.”
Mr. Romney, who campaigned for years as a supporter of abortion rights in Massachusetts, reversed his stand a little more than two years ago and has worked hard to ease any doubts about his commitment to the anti-abortion cause.
At the National Right to Life Committee’s convention last month in Kansas City, Mr. Romney declared, “I proudly follow a long line of converts — George Herbert Walker Bush, Henry Hyde and Ronald Reagan, to name a few.”
But his commitment is challenged by some, including Senator Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, a longtime anti-abortion champion and rival for the nomination who argued, “He’s flipped on a number of the pro-life issues.”
Mr. Thompson has had to deal with questions in recent weeks about his lobbying work on behalf of a group seeking to ease federal rules on abortion counseling in the early 1990s. Even so, as he said in a video appearance at the Kansas City convention, “on abortion-related votes, I’ve always been 100 percent.”
What many abortion opponents say they crave these days is certainty. Analysts say the Supreme Court could now be just a vote or two away from a major rollback of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision declaring a constitutional right to abortion. But the next president will be crucial. And while President Bush has been given high marks by conservatives for his nominees, the anti-abortion movement has been “disappointed a number of times” in the past, Mrs. Schlafly said.
The stakes are historically high, which explains why Republican candidates including Mr. Giuliani have been promising to appoint to the court “strict constructionists,” widely considered political code for judges with a conservative agenda.
In fact, the anti-abortion movement has so much at stake that some of Mr. Giuliani’s allies make a strikingly counterintuitive case: that abortion opponents should cast their lot with Mr. Giuliani, despite his long support for legalized abortion.
Mr. Giuliani’s allies argue that their candidate is sensitive to the need to reduce abortions, increase adoptions and empower the states to regulate abortion. And the Democrats will inevitably nominate a candidate “who will not be a moderate on those issues, but intensely hostile,” said Representative Pete Sessions, Republican of Texas, who describes himself as both “pro-life” and a Giuliani supporter. Moreover, Mr. Sessions and others argued, Mr. Giuliani can beat the Democrats.
Hadley Arkes, a professor at Amherst College and a leading social conservative legal thinker, said he had recently gotten “feelers” from some in the Giuliani camp. But Mr. Arkes, an opponent of abortion, said he could not fathom a way the party could nominate Mr. Giuliani and remain the same “pro-life” party it has been for 25 years.
“You change the constituency of the party,” Mr. Arkes said — either by showing that anti-abortion voters are not necessary to win, or by showing that anti-abortion voters are willing to subsume their cause to other issues.
Even so, Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, said recent poll analysis suggested that some anti-abortion voters may be willing to consider that possibility.
Jennifer Stockman, co-chairwoman of the Republican Majority for Choice, said she found it “heartening” that “a moderate is doing so well and that so many conservatives believe in him as well.” Her counterparts in the anti-abortion movement said they were confident the party’s anti-abortion tradition would hold and were beginning to mobilize to ensure they were right.
The Reverend John Hagee, who founded Christians United for Israel, was informed of the letter and read most of it. He responded: "Bible-believing evangelicals will scoff at that message."
"Christians United for Israel is opposed to America pressuring Israel to give up more land to anyone for any reason," Hagee said.
"What has the policy of appeasement ever produced for Israel that was beneficial?" he added.
"God gave to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob a covenant in the Book of Genesis for the land of Israel that is eternal and unbreakable, and that covenant is still intact," he said. "The Palestinian people have never owned the land of Israel, never existed as an autonomous society. There is no Palestinian language. There is no Palestinian currency. And to say that Palestinians have a right to that land historically is an historical fraud."
Christians United for Israel held a conference with 4,500 attendees in Washington this month, and Hagee sends e-mail action alerts on Israel every Monday to 55,000 pastors and leaders.
On July 16, I attended Christians United for Israel's annual Washington-Israel Summit. Founded by San Antonio-based megachurch pastor John Hagee, CUFI has added the grassroots muscle of the Christian right to the already potent Israel lobby. Hagee and his minions have forged close ties with the Bush White House and members of Congress from Sen. Joseph Lieberman to Sen. John McCain. In its call for a unilateral military attack on Iran and the expansion of Israeli territory, CUFI has found unwavering encouragement from traditional pro-Israel groups like AIPAC and elements of the Israeli government.
But CUFI has an ulterior agenda: its support for Israel derives from the belief of Hagee and his flock that Jesus will return to Jerusalem after the battle of Armageddon and cleanse the earth of evil. In the end, all the non-believers - Jews, Muslims, Hindus, mainline Christians, etc. - must convert or suffer the torture of eternal damnation. Over a dozen CUFI members eagerly revealed to me their excitement at the prospect of Armageddon occurring tomorrow. Among the rapture ready was Republican Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. None of this seemed to matter to Lieberman, who delivered a long sermon hailing Hagee as nothing less than a modern-day Moses. Lieberman went on to describe Hagee's flock as "even greater than the multitude Moses commanded."
Throughout CUFI's Israel Summit, videographer Thomas Shomaker and I were hounded by PR agents seeking to prevent us from interviewing attendees about the End Times. The conference, we were told, was about "one message" - evangelical Christians supporting Israel. We were instructed to only interview CUFI leaders capable of sticking to the talking point that their support for Israel has, as Hagee declared, "nothing to do with the End Times." But I was forbidden from asking Hagee about statements he made in his book, "Jerusalem Countdown," that appeared to blame Jews for their own persecution. After doing just that during a press conference, I was removed from the conference by off-duty DC cops summoned by members of Hagee's family.
I have covered the Christian right intensely for over four years. During this time, I attended dozens of Christian right conferences, regularly monitored movement publications and radio shows, and interviewed scores of its key leaders. I have never witnessed any spectacle as politically extreme, outrageous, or bizarre as the one Christians United for Israel produced last week in Washington. See for yourself.
In response to media speculation, Focus on the Family (FOTF) posted a statement on its website this weekend titled “Dr. Dobson: 'What I Think About Harry Potter.'”
In the statement, the conservative pro-family ministry explained that FOTF founder Dr. James Dobson has never endorsed books or films from the megahit fantasy series, and that many papers mistakenly reported that he had given them an OK for Christian families.
The posting directly confronts the Washington Post, which published an article about what Christians think of the craze, and how the reporter had incorrectly assumed that Dobson favored the boy wizard.
“In a story about Christians' views on the Harry Potter books and films, reporter Jacqueline Salmon wrote that ‘Christian parenting guru James Dobson has praised the Potter books,’” the statement read. “This is the exact opposite of Dr. Dobson's opinion – in fact, he said a few years ago on his daily radio broadcast that ‘We have spoken out strongly against all of the Harry Potter products.’”
The reason the ministry leader is against the material is obvious given the presence of magical characters (witches, wizards, ghosts, goblins, werewolves, poltergeists and so on) in the Harry Potter stories.
“[A]nd given the trend toward witchcraft and New Age ideology in the larger culture,” FOTF added, “it's difficult to ignore the effects such stories (albeit imaginary) might have on young, impressionable minds.”
Dobson’s sentiments echo those of other conservative leaders including Dr. Ted Baehr, founder of MovieGuide.org, and Linda Harvey, president of Mission America.
“[T]he world of Harry Potter is still an elite occult world where secret knowledge is the way to power and success,” noted Baehr in a review of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," the fifth installment of the ”Potter” film series.
“‘Order of the Phoenix’ tries to mitigate that by saying that anyone can become a great wizard, but once again, that involves learning the secret occult knowledge of how to do witchcraft and how to wave a magic wand properly,” he added.
While notably, the series is fictional and presented for the purpose of entertainment, Harvey posed in a recent column: “Is a little entertainment worth imbedding some very unfaithful ideas in the heads of children?”
“Sorcery is named specifically in Scripture as a violation of God’s law (Deuteronomy 18: 10-12; Galatians 5:20 and elsewhere), and it’s not a joke,” she wrote. “Besides, Harry does not think like a Christian in many other ways. He nurses and feeds grudges against his relatives and his rivals at school, and revenge is portrayed as justifiable.”
In addition to Dobson, another conservative Christian leader whose stance on “Harry Potter” had become muddled through media is Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship Ministries. Although several publications have reported that Colson endorses “Potter,” the ministry founder recently stated that he doesn’t personally recommend it.
“I’d rather Christian kids not read them,” he expressed in a commentary last week.
“But,” he added, “with some 325 million of them in print, your kids will probably see them and hear others talk about them, and they’re probably going to read them anyway.”
Knowing this, Colson urged parents to use the occasion to teach them to be discerning – like the prophet Daniel in the Bible who studied at a school that trained Babylon’s magicians, astrologers and sorcerers but did not defile himself because of his deep devotion to God.
“Dare them to have Daniel as their role model, not Harry Potter,” Colson stated.
Instead of “Harry Potter,” Colson recommends parents to introduce other fantasy books such as “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “The Lord of the Rings,” because they have more of a Christian framework.
Since their release, both the newly released movie and book have been drawing in record numbers. “Deathly Hallows,” the newest and final volume of the “Harry Potter” series, released on Saturday and had a print run of 12 million in the United States alone. The “Order of the Phoenix” film, meanwhile, took in $44.8 million in its first day, the best single-day gross ever for a movie on a Wednesday.
The title of Abie Philbin Bowman's act is brilliant in its simplicity: "Jesus: The Guantanamo Years." And the young Irish comedian is quick to acknowledge that the title probably had a lot to do with his unexpected success at last summer's Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
"There are 1,800 shows there," he says. "If you can't sell your idea in 10 seconds, you might as well not go."
But the title sold it, and his one-man show became a surprise hit in Edinburgh, then went on to sold-out success in London's West End. Now "Jesus: The Guantanamo Years" has arrived at Jimmy Tingle's Off Broadway Theater in Somerville. Through Aug. 12, Philbin Bowman spins his tale of the Son of God who returns to Earth as a stand-up comic and runs into a spot of trouble at US Immigration -- he's a bearded Palestinian, after all, who's willing to die as a religious martyr.
Ironically enough, the show's original opening here had to be delayed by a week, when Philbin Bowman had a bit of immigration trouble himself. But he insists the truth is less dramatic than that sounds.
"I would love to tell you that it was this huge conspiracy in the State Department, and Bush and Cheney got involved, and then the Supreme Court intervened and overruled them," Philbin Bowman says over lunch in Cambridge. "But no, it was just bureaucracy -- not ticking all the right boxes on all the right forms, and we didn't plan enough time to get it all done."
In fact, he says, the officer he met at US Immigration was amused, not appalled, when he asked what the show was about and Philbin Bowman told him. "He said, 'He should have come to me -- he would've gone straight through!' "
In the show, however, Jesus has a rougher time of it. After walking across the Atlantic to spread Dad's message that "humor is a gift from God," he ends up in Guantanamo, being interrogated as a suspected terrorist. And it's the prison, of course, that's the true subject of the show.
"The real target is Guantanamo, something that is deeply un-Christian," Philbin Bowman says. Many Christians have seen the show, he says, and almost no one has objected to it as blasphemy. KEEP READING
IT’S not just the resurgence of Al Qaeda that is taking us back full circle to the fateful first summer of the Bush presidency. It’s the hot sweat emanating from Washington. Once again the capital is titillated by a scandal featuring a member of Congress, a woman who is not his wife and a rumor of crime. Gary Condit, the former Democratic congressman from California, has passed the torch of below-the-Beltway sleaziness to David Vitter, an incumbent (as of Friday) Republican senator from Louisiana.
Mr. Vitter briefly faced the press to explain his “very serious sin,” accompanied by a wife who might double for the former Mrs. Jim McGreevey. He had no choice once snoops hired by the avenging pornographer Larry Flynt unearthed his number in the voluminous phone records of the so-called D.C. Madam, now the subject of a still-young criminal investigation. Newspapers back home also linked the senator to a defunct New Orleans brothel, a charge Mr. Vitter denies. That brothel’s former madam, while insisting he had been a client, was one of his few defenders last week. “Just because people visit a whorehouse doesn’t make them a bad person,” she helpfully told the Baton Rouge paper, The Advocate.
Mr. Vitter is not known for being so forgiving a soul when it comes to others’ transgressions. Even more than Mr. Condit, who once co-sponsored a bill calling for the display of the Ten Commandments in public buildings, Mr. Vitter is a holier-than-thou family-values panderer. He recruited his preteen children for speaking roles in his campaign ads and, terrorism notwithstanding, declared that there is no “more important” issue facing America than altering the Constitution to defend marriage.
But hypocrisy is a hardy bipartisan perennial on Capitol Hill, and hardly news. This scandal may leave a more enduring imprint. It comes with a momentous pedigree. Mr. Vitter first went to Washington as a young congressman in 1999, to replace Robert Livingston, the Republican leader who had been anointed to succeed Newt Gingrich as speaker of the House. Mr. Livingston’s seat had abruptly become vacant after none other than Mr. Flynt outed him for committing adultery. Since we now know that Mr. Gingrich was also practicing infidelity back then — while leading the Clinton impeachment crusade, no less — the Vitter scandal can be seen as the culmination of an inexorable sea change in his party.
And it is President Bush who will be left holding the bag in history. As the new National Intelligence Estimate confirms the failure of the war against Al Qaeda and each day of quagmire signals the failure of the war in Iraq, so the case of the fallen senator from the Big Easy can stand as an epitaph for a third lost war in our 43rd president’s legacy: the war against sex.
During the 2000 campaign, Mr. Bush and his running mate made a point of promising to “set an example for our children” and to “uphold the honor and the dignity of the office.” They didn’t just mean that there would be no more extramarital sex in the White House. As a matter of public policy, abstinence was in; abortion rights, family planning and homosexuality were out. Mr. Bush’s Federal Communications Commission stood ready to punish the networks for four-letter words and wardrobe malfunctions. The surgeon general was forbidden to mention condoms or the morning-after pill.
To say that this ambitious program has fared no better than the creation of an Iraqi unity government is an understatement. The sole lasting benchmark to be met in the Bush White House’s antisex agenda was the elevation of anti-Roe judges to the federal bench. Otherwise, Sodom and Gomorrah are thrashing the Family Research Council and the Traditional Values Coalition day and night.
The one federal official caught on the D.C. Madam’s phone logs ahead of Mr. Vitter, Randall Tobias, was a Bush State Department official whose tasks had included enforcing a prostitution ban on countries receiving AIDS aid. Last month Rupert Murdoch’s Fox network succeeded in getting a federal court to throw out the F.C.C.’s “indecency” fines. Polls show unchanging majority support for abortion rights and growing support for legal recognition of same-sex unions exemplified by Mary Cheney’s.
Most amazing is the cultural makeover of Mr. Bush’s own party. The G.O.P. that began the century in the thrall of Rick Santorum, Bill Frist and George Allen has become the brand of Mark Foley and Mr. Vitter. Not a single Republican heavyweight showed up at Jerry Falwell’s funeral. Younger evangelical Christians, who may care more about protecting the environment than policing gay people, are up for political grabs.
Nowhere is this cultural revolution more visible -- or more fun to watch -- than in the G.O.P. campaign for the White House. Forty years late, the party establishment is finally having its own middle-aged version of the summer of love, and it’s a trip. The co-chairman of John McCain’s campaign in Florida has been charged with trying to solicit gay sex from a plainclothes police officer. Over at YouTube, viewers are flocking to a popular new mock-music video in which “Obama Girl” taunts her rival: “Giuliani Girl, you stop your fussin’/ At least Obama didn’t marry his cousin.”
As Margery Eagan, a columnist at The Boston Herald, has observed, even the front-runners’ wives are getting into the act, trying to one-up one another with displays of what she described as their “ample and aging” cleavage. The décolletage primary was kicked off early this year by the irrepressible Judith Giuliani, who posed for Harper’s Bazaar giving her husband a passionate kiss. “I’ve always liked strong, macho men,” she said. This was before we learned she had married two such men, not one, before catching the eye of America’s Mayor at Club Macanudo, an Upper East Side cigar bar, while he was still married to someone else.
Whatever the ultimate fate of Rudy Giuliani’s campaign, it is the straw that stirs the bubbling brew that is the post-Bush Republican Party. The idea that a thrice-married, pro-abortion rights, pro-gay rights candidate is holding on as front-runner is understandably driving the G.O.P.’s increasingly marginalized cultural warriors insane. Not without reason do they fear that he is in the vanguard of a new Republican age of Addams-family values and moral relativism. Once a truculent law-and-order absolutist, Mr. Giuliani has even shrugged off the cocaine charges leveled against his departed South Carolina campaign chairman, the state treasurer Thomas Ravenel, as a “highly personal” matter.
The religious right’s own favorite sons, Sam Brownback and Mike Huckabee, are no more likely to get the nomination than Ron Paul or, for that matter, RuPaul. The party’s faith-based oligarchs are getting frantic. Disregarding a warning from James Dobson of Focus on the Family, who said in March that he didn’t consider Fred Thompson a Christian, they desperately started fixating on the former Tennessee senator as their savior. When it was reported this month that Mr. Thompson had worked as a lobbyist for an abortion rights organization in the 1990s, they credulously bought his denials and his spokesman’s reassurance that “there’s no documents to prove it, no billing records.” Last week The New York Times found the billing records.
No one is stepping more boldly into this values vacuum than Mitt Romney. In contrast to Mr. Giuliani, the former Massachusetts governor has not only disowned his past as a social liberal but is also running as a paragon of moral rectitude. He is even embracing one of the more costly failed Bush sex initiatives, abstinence education, just as states are abandoning it for being ineffective. He never stops reminding voters that he is the only top-tier candidate still married to his first wife.
In a Web video strikingly reminiscent of the Vitter campaign ads, the entire multigenerational Romney brood gathers round to enact their wholesome Christmas festivities. Last week Mr. Romney unveiled a new commercial decrying American culture as “a cesspool of violence, and sex, and drugs, and indolence, and perversions.” Unlike Mr. Giuliani, you see, he gets along with his children, and unlike Mr. Thompson, he has never been in bed with the perverted Hollywood responsible for the likes of “Law & Order.”
There are those who argue Mr. Romney’s campaign is doomed because he is a Mormon, a religion some voters regard almost as suspiciously as Scientology, but two other problems may prove more threatening to his candidacy. The first is that in American public life piety always goeth before a fall. There had better not be any skeletons in his closet. Already Senator Brownback has accused Mr. Romney of pushing hard-core pornography because of his close association with (and large campaign contributions from) the Marriott family, whose hotel chain has prospered mightily from its X-rated video menu.
The other problem is more profound: Mr. Romney is swimming against a swift tide of history in both culture and politics. Just as the neocons had their moment in power in the Bush era and squandered it in Iraq, so the values crowd was handed its moment of ascendancy and imploded in debacles ranging from Terri Schiavo to Ted Haggard to David Vitter. By this point it’s safe to say that even some Republican primary voters are sick enough of their party’s preacher politicians that they’d consider hitting a cigar bar or two with Judith Giuliani.
When Jami Waite graduated from high school this year in this northeastern Texas town, her parents sat damp-eyed in the metal bleachers of Bobcat Stadium, proud in every way possible. Their youngest daughter was leaving childhood an honor graduate, a band member, a true friend, a head cheerleader -- and a steadfast virgin.
“People can be abstinent, and it’s not weird,” she declared. With her face on billboards and on TV, Ms. Waite has been an emblem of sexual abstinence for Virginity Rules, which has risen from a single operation in nearby Longview to become an eight-county abstinence franchise.
For the first time, however, Virginity Rules and 700 kindred abstinence education programs are fighting serious threats to their future. Eleven state health departments rejected abstinence education this year, while legislatures in Colorado, Iowa and Washington passed laws that could kill, or at least wound, its presence in public schools.
Opponents received high-caliber ammunition this spring when the most comprehensive study of abstinence education found no sign that it delayed a teenager’s sexual debut. And, after enjoying a fivefold increase in their main federal appropriations, the abstinence programs in June received their first cut in financing from the Senate appropriations committee since 2001.
But the final outcome is in question. Some $176 million in federal support has survived several early maneuvers in the House, and the full House plans to debate the issue July 18 as part of the proposed Health and Human Services budget.
Lost in the political rancor, however, is that teenagers throughout the country are both abstaining more, and, especially among older ones, more likely to use contraception when they do not abstain.
While the reasons are not all understood, government data show the trend began years before abstinence education became the multimillion-dollar enterprise it is today. Through a combination of less sex and more contraception, pregnancy and birth rates among American teenagers as a whole have been falling since about 1991. Texas, however, has seen the smallest decline despite receiving almost $17 million in the name of virginity.
No state has more to lose in this battle than Texas, which draws more abstinence money than any other. Drive through the piney woods of northeastern Texas, and the earnest faces of adolescents appear on billboards with slogans like “No is where I stand until I have a wedding band.”
The Longview Wellness Center, which sponsors Virginity Rules, collects almost $1 million annually in abstinence financing, and serves 33 area school districts.
Even in this state, where President Bush acquired his loyalty to the policy, abstinence cannot be typecast. Megan Randolph of Dallas, who like Jami Waite just finished high school, believes in the abstinence message. But she is bothered by courses that try to scare teenagers with harrowing talk of ruined lives. “In those classes, there are going to be kids who have had sex and that hasn’t happened,” Ms. Randolph said. “So they’re going to think that doesn’t apply to them.”
Teenagers, she said, crave unfettered information — the kind restricted under federal abstinence education law, which discourages intimacy outside marriage but provides no instruction for safer sex.
At her school, Ms. Randolph, 19, was the “sexpert,” the one girls often called late at night, asking questions. And this year, before leaving Dallas to attend the Air Force Academy, Ms. Randolph was hailed as volunteer of the year by the area’s Planned Parenthood — part of abstinence education’s axis of evil.
In northeastern Texas, advocates of abstinence education vow to fight for their mission because to them, it is not just a matter of sexuality or even public health. Getting a teenager to the other side of high school without viruses or babies is a bonus, but not the real goal. They see casual sex as toxic to future marriage, family and even, in an oblique way, opposition to abortion.
“You have to look at why sex was created,” Eric Love, the director of the East Texas Abstinence Program, which runs Virginity Rules, said one day, the sounds of Christian contemporary music humming faintly in his Longview office. “Sex was designed to bond two people together.”
To make the point, Mr. Love grabbed a tape dispenser and snapped off two fresh pieces. He slapped them to his filing cabinet and the floor; they trapped dirt, lint, a small metal bolt. “Now when it comes time for them to get married, the marriage pulls apart so easily,” he said, trying to unite the grimy strips. “Why? Because they gave the stickiness away.”
Shoring up marriage was Robert Rector’s vision a decade ago. A fellow at the Heritage Foundation, Mr. Rector wrote the first bill that legally defined abstinence education, and got it attached as a stowaway to the 1996 welfare overhaul, backed with $50 million for the states. A later Congress, irked at states’ finding loopholes in the original intent, designated a second pool of abstinence money in 2001, now the lifeblood of the movement.
Mr. Rector says viewing abstinence primarily through the lens of public health distracted the focus from marriage. “Once you understand that that’s the principal issue,” he said, “you understand that handing out condoms to a 17-year-old is utterly irrelevant.”
Strengthening marriage this way may resonate with teenagers like Ms. Waite, whose conviction is planted in a deeply held marital value, but not necessarily with Ms. Randolph, who says she is more preoccupied with succeeding in the Air Force than with marriage.
In abandoning abstinence education, states have largely said that comprehensive sex education programs, which discuss contraception beyond the failure rates, have a better scientific grounding. New laws in Colorado, Iowa and Washington state that sex education must be based on “research” or “science” — which is often interpreted as code for programs that include discussions of safer sex.
Much of the data cited in support of the efficacy of abstinence programs are from surveys taken immediately before and after a program. These commonly find an increase in intentions to stay abstinent, but do not necessarily mean that a year later, high on emotion, teenagers will follow the script.
Most studies so far have found no significant impact on behavior, and the few that do see only modest changes. In April, Mathematica Policy Research released a report that was nine years and $8 million in the making. Scientists followed middle school children enrolled in four separate abstinence programs for about five years, and found no difference in the age of first intercourse between them and their peers.
Opinions vary on whether the absence of evidence -- to borrow from Carl Sagan -- is evidence of absence. One of the leading experts on sex education programs, Dr. John Jemmott of the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, says some abstinence education programs in the future might show promise. He is hopeful about an abstinence curriculum that he has designed which, unlike many, tries to get teenagers to think long-term about their behavior and its consequences, questioning, for example, whether a boyfriend would really love you if you had sex with him. Many programs dwell on the risks of sex, not the reasons.
Dr. Jemmott knows many colleagues view abstinence education as a failed experiment. “I think that is unfair,” he said. “I think what they should say is there is not enough evidence to state whether it is efficacious.” On the other hand, he said, it is also unfair to say that sex education that discusses -- without maligning -- condoms encourages sex. Data from many programs, in fact, find the opposite.
[Those who thought abstinence education financing would decline swiftly under a Democratic watch were wrong: On July 11, the full House extended state grants through September -- a reprieve at the edge of expiration. That same day, the House Appropriations Committee increased spending, a political move to make the proposed Health and Human Services budget more appealing to Republicans, said Representative David R. Obey, Democrat of Wisconsin, the committee chairman.]
While the future of abstinence education is unclear, Mr. Love, back in Longview, believes “the message will go on, whether the government decides to fund it or not.”
Just ask Jami Waite. The former cheerleader is carrying her resolve to college, where she is on her way to becoming a nurse. One day she plans to wed. Until then, she says, virginity will rule.
Some people have their midlife crisis in reverse, like Ronald Boyer, who for most of his professional life has been better known as a star of pornographic films, Rod Fontana.
After 30 years of sowing the wildest of oats, Mr. Boyer, 54, has searched his soul and chosen, to the surprise of family and colleagues, to seek a priesthood in the Episcopal Church.
From his work in the rented villas of the San Fernando Valley, where hard-core sex films are shot, he has moved just a short distance west, to the Church of the Epiphany, which is guiding his transformation from pornography star to preacher.
The psychic distance, however, has been vast. In January, the lumbering 6-foot-3 performer was greeting fans on the red carpet of the Adult Video News Awards in Las Vegas, along with the superstars of pornography like Jenna Jameson and Ron Jeremy.
In June, he was carrying the Holy Bible and a text titled “Gospel Light” to a live Internet show where he preached on the relative evils of pornography. “Is pornography a sin?” he asked on the show, which is aimed at people in the sex industry. “Probably. Definitely,” he answered, a response that reflected his own ambivalence as much as a desire not to alienate his audience. “So is eating carrot cake until you’re sick to your stomach,” he continued. “And so is punching somebody in the face. That’s a sin.”
Mr. Boyer’s embryonic ministry, devoted to bringing spiritual comfort to those marginalized by the sex industry, is driven by his deep faith and by a medical crisis that threatened the life of his child. But it is a work in progress, fraught with the contradictions and internal struggles of a man leaving behind a livelihood that was central to his identity.
He has tired of performing in sex movies, but even now doesn’t condemn it. “Not one time did Jesus refer to pornography, or homosexuality,” he observed on the Internet show, which he began as a co-host in May. “Jesus could have commented. He didn’t.”
Still, to pursue a new path as a religious leader, he had to make a clear choice. At the end of January, Mr. Boyer, who is married to a recently retired adult-film star, Liza Harper, announced his own retirement and gave up directing and performing in hard-core movies, he said, for good. “I don’t enjoy it anymore,” he said at the time.
Mr. Boyer’s embrace of Christianity was not a result of a bolt-from-the-blue conversion. It was a gradual awakening to spirituality, in part stirred by unsettling changes in the multibillion-dollar pornography industry, which has veered into extreme territory in search of new ways of selling sex.
His journey from one private corner of American society to another has, by chance, traced the contours of America’s experiment with sexual liberation to a return to more traditional values.
For Mr. Boyer, his path completes a circle. He grew up in a conservative Southern Baptist community in South Carolina, where he was baptized and pursued a penchant for preaching as a teenager. He studied history and religion at Southern Wesleyan University, but dropped out to join the Army and serve in Vietnam, where he was wounded.
Back home, he became a police officer and was offered a job in New York City in 1975, he said. But before he could start, the city went to the verge of bankruptcy and Mr. Boyer found himself unemployed. At that crucial moment an actor friend confided that he was making a living by appearing in pornographic films, and offered to get him involved.
“I did my first job,” Mr. Boyer recalled of that summer, 1976. The set was at 23rd Street and Eighth Avenue, and there were tall ships on the Hudson River for the Bicentennial. “After that, I was hooked,” he said.
He liked the easy money, the sex, the camaraderie. He would not get rich performing in pornography, but he made a steady living.
Then, in the 1980s, he re-enlisted in the Army, he said, and served about a decade on active duty in what he called military intelligence.
A spokeswoman for the Army said Mr. Boyer was listed as having a rank of E-4 specialist, but she could not confirm any dates.
After the Army, Mr. Boyer returned to pornography, where he became known as “the colonel” for his military bearing. He had a reputation for sexual adventurousness. “Rod was one of the kinkiest guys I ever met,” said Urbano Martin, a director who has made many films with him. “I find it hard to believe he’s going to give this up. Rod is very addicted to the sex part of it.”
Asked about this, Mr. Boyer acknowledged, “When it comes to sexual acts, I’ll do anything.” But in recent years, he said, “my view of morality in this business has changed.”
He was speaking on the floor of the sex industry convention in Las Vegas last January, where he was interviewing people for a documentary about spirituality, and where, in a sign of the contradictions in his life, his wife had been nominated for best supporting actress in a sex film for 2006.
“When I got into porn,” Mr. Boyer said, “everyone in the business was kind to each other, loved each other, came together in crisis. It wasn’t some 1970s kumbaya, but people generally cared. Now you see devil signs, Satanism and horns everywhere.” He gestured at a passer-by with “Hail Satan” on his T-shirt. “That’s disturbing me a lot,” he said. “I see more of an evil influence in the business.”
He told anecdotes of being asked by directors to defile the flag or the Koran in sex scenes; he has resisted what he sees as a trend to choke or hit women during intercourse, or use what he considers degrading language.
Neil Malamuth, a psychology and communications professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies the effects of pornography, said a niche of the sex industry has become more extreme and even violent, though that was not true for the entire business.
“There are younger people who represent these extreme videos, who are trying to break in, find a niche, and they can’t make their money by just following what the older guys have done,” he said.
With no pension forthcoming after his career as a performer, Mr. Boyer is feeling economic pressure above all. He has renewed a private investigator’s license to make money while he pursues his religious avocation. And as recently as January, on the same day that he was making his documentary about spirituality, he still performed in a sex film.
At a shoot in a luxury suite at the hotel where the adult video convention was held, he watched a football game while a first-time performer, Gianna Ferrari, had sex with him. “My mind’s not there,” he said afterward.
The contradiction between giving up pornography and feeling its attraction was still apparent in June, four months after retiring. “I love sex,” he said. “I love performing. I love the combination of the two. I could go back and do it again, but I don’t think I would. I had a passion for that. I put it there. Now I’ve channeled my passion to a different place.”
Giving up pornography is only one step on a long, difficult road to becoming a priest. In February and March, Mr. Boyer studied at a religious retreat in Big Sur, then prayed at a cathedral in San Francisco. He returned to meet with his priest and with the second-ranking official of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, Bishop Suffragan Chester L. Talton, to gain approval to establish a ministry among sex workers.
The process to priesthood will take several years. Mr. Boyer began by being confirmed in the Episcopal Church this year. He is undergoing training to become a deacon, which will allow him to conduct most aspects of ministering short of the sacraments. To become a priest, he must study in a seminary for approximately two years and his candidacy must be approved by the diocesan bishop.
J. Jon Bruno, bishop for the Los Angeles Diocese, said Mr. Boyer’s path to the priesthood would not be precluded by who he was. “I wouldn’t put up an immediate impediment because of someone’s past life,” he said. “There’s no exclusion in the gospel for anybody.”
The diocese is integrating Mr. Boyer at a time when the national leadership of the Episcopal Church has come to near schism with the global Anglican Communion over the decision to accept homosexuals in the clergy and to consecrate same-sex unions. In Los Angeles three congregations have left the diocese over the issue.
Now the diocese faces the challenge of welcoming an ex-performer with more than 300 hard-core movies to his credit, most of them with unprintable titles. (“Foot Hustle” is one exception, a tribute to Mr. Boyer’s foot fetish.) His embrace of Jesus is hardly the stuff of a tidy Sunday homily. Fellow parishioners at the Church of the Epiphany in Oak Park do not know about Mr. Boyer’s life in pornography, and the church leaders who do seem uncomfortable discussing it in depth.
“I am hoping he can bring hopefulness and a love of Christ to people who desperately need it,” said the Rev. Hank Mitchel, vicar of the church, on a recent Sunday after services.
There is one other element of Mr. Boyer’s story. He and his wife have a daughter, Diana, who at 11 months old came down with a deadly staph infection from an insect bite on her bicep. Doctors prepared to amputate the baby’s arm when she did not respond to several antibiotics. But at the last moment they found a new drug to which the baby responded.
The experience convinced both Mr. Boyer and Ms. Harper, who was raised Roman Catholic, that they wanted to be part of a church. It was a personal crisis that cemented Mr. Boyer’s decision to pursue a spiritual path.
He was rejected by several congregations before coming to Oak Park, he said. When Mr. Mitchel heard the story of their daughter, now a delicate 4-year-old, the vicar recalled, “I broke down in tears and said, ‘You are welcome here.’ ”
Senator David Vitter of Louisiana said he had sinned and was sorry, hours after Hustler magazine told him his phone number was among those disclosed by the "D.C. Madam." The first-term Republican senator declined interview requests yesterday, and he made no public appearances in the Capitol. The night before, he'd made a startling confession in an e-mail to the Associated Press:
"This was a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible. Several years ago, I asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife in confession and marriage counseling."
Vitter, 46, and his wife, Wendy, live in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie with their four children. He recently played a prominent role in derailing an immigration bill backed by President Bush. He also is a key supporter of former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani's presidential bid, serving as regional campaign chairman for the South.
Vitter's statement said his number was on phone records of Pamela Martin and Associates before he ran for the Senate in 2004. Federal prosecutors have accused Deborah Jeane Palfrey of racketeering by running a prostitution ring that netted more than $2 million over 13 years, beginning in 1993. She contends that her escort service was a legitimate business offering sexual fantasies. Palfrey's lawyer, Montgomery Blair Sibley, said in an interview that the call from Vitter's number to the escort service was made Feb. 27, 2001.
Vitter spent six years in the House before being elected to the Senate.
Dell Collins teaches an adult Sunday school class at his evangelical church in central Iowa, and he recently took his students through a series of lessons on the Book of James and its repeated exhortations to put faith into action.
But Mr. Collins is grappling with just how to apply his beliefs when it comes to picking a favorite from a Republican field in which the leading contenders each face serious obstacles to winning over Christian conservatives.
“Do you go with your heart or with your head?” he said. “My first choice is with my heart, but you also have to be realistic.”
Unlike in the 2000 presidential campaign, when George W. Bush was able to overcome early doubts among religious conservatives by speaking the language of personal faith, the three most prominent Republican candidates, Rudolph W. Giuliani, Senator John McCain and Mitt Romney, are continuing to have difficulty winning over this crucial constituency in the Republican base.
The calculus at this point for social conservative voters, who represent more than 60 percent of Republican caucus goers here in Iowa, is replete with tradeoffs over who best adheres to their values and who is ultimately electable next year. Interviews with more than 40 evangelicals recently across Iowa at campaign events, churches and over the telephone found that many feared Mr. Giuliani might win the nomination even though he supported abortion rights. But they are wrestling with whether Mr. Romney’s recent conversion to opposing abortion is genuine, and they wonder how much to trust Mr. McCain, who has harshly criticized the religious right in the past.
“You want to support a candidate that has your values, but you also need to support somebody who has the ability to win,” said Nancy Hedegaard, who volunteers as a bookkeeper at her Lutheran church and attended a house party here for Mr. Romney on Monday. “The question is, ‘Are they going to be the same person?’ ”
Partly because of their qualms about the candidates already in the race, some evangelicals are hoping that they might find a better match in a Republican who has yet to formally announce his candidacy, former Senator Fred D. Thompson of Tennessee. But for now many Christian conservatives interviewed, at least here in Iowa, appear to have settled tentatively on Mr. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, who has been advertising and campaigning aggressively in the state and has been leading in recent polls.
Robin Nichols, 49, a mother of two who attends a Baptist church in Ames, disagrees theologically with Mr. Romney’s Mormon faith but she said it would not stop her from voting for him because she believed he was the most conservative of the top three candidates.
His religion actually bolsters his credibility in her mind, Ms. Nichols said, as someone with strong family values. His wholesome family image — he and his wife are high school sweethearts, with 5 children and 10 grandchildren — also helps reinforce that impression.
“I felt like morally and ethically, because of his Mormon values, that he would be trustworthy,” she said.
But she began to question her allegiance Saturday, after listening to Mr. Romney speak at a Republican candidate forum in Des Moines sponsored by the Iowa Christian Alliance and Iowans for Tax Relief. There, Mr. Romney said he opposed federal financing for embryonic stem cell research but would not outlaw it. The response confused Mrs. Nichols.
“That really bothered me,” she said. “At that point, I questioned, had he really changed his viewpoint, or was he just trying to appeal to the conservative vote?”
Mr. Romney’s Mormonism clearly continues to trouble some evangelicals. “I like his stand on families, I really do,” said Mary Van Steenis, a teacher at a Christian school from Pella, Iowa. “But if he’s going to put the leader of the Mormons before his God there’s a problem.”
Norm Pawlewski, 73, a retired Iowa state official and part-time Christian lobbyist, said he quickly crossed Mr. Romney off his list: “Too many flip-flops.”
Mr. Giuliani’s candidacy was similarly a nonstarter with him, he said, because of the former New York City mayor’s support for abortion rights.
“Abortion is still number one with me and every social conservative I know,” Mr. Pawlewski said.
But Michael Canady, a board member for the Iowa Christian Alliance, said he was at least open to voting for Mr. Giuliani, arguing his strong stance on terrorism could trump other concerns.
“He’s definitely more liberal on the social issues than most evangelicals like,” he said, but he added that he considered Mr. Giuliani “a leader and somebody who could be strong on defense.”
With many Christian conservatives intent on preventing a Democrat from being elected, perhaps the biggest quandary for many is whether electability should be paramount, or whether to stick to a candidate who most shares their faith and worldview.
In an informal survey taken by this reporter at an adult Sunday school class of about 30 students at First Assembly of God in Des Moines, former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, a former Baptist minister, finished ahead of Mr. Romney, eight to five, with none of the other candidates getting more than one or two votes. But the largest segment of the class, nine students in all, said they remained undecided.
“The Bible says to be as innocent as doves and as sly as serpents,” said John Phillips, 48, a member of the class. “You have to weigh things with your intellect but put it through the filter of your faith. That’s what I’m trying to do right now.”
Most of the 40 evangelicals interviewed for this article, however, said they were not interested in throwing away their vote, saying Mr. Giuliani would be preferable to any Democrat.
Mr. Pawlewski professed to being tempted to back one of the second-tier candidates, but, in 2000, he supported Alan Keyes, a firebrand from the right who secured a surprising 14 percent of the vote in the Iowa caucus, only to see his campaign sputter afterward. Mr. Pawlewski said he vowed to never again pour himself into a long-shot campaign, and is now volunteering for Mr. McCain.
“If you look at his record as a senator, he’s pretty conservative,” he said. “He’s always been on the conservative side fiscally and on a number of issues he’s been conservative socially.”
But many remain deeply skeptical of Mr. McCain because they view him as too much of a maverick. His support of the recent immigration bill is also unpopular among Republicans here, who saw the legislation as amnesty for illegal immigrants.
The search for that elusive combination of conservative bona fides and electability has fueled a yearning among some for Mr. Thompson to enter the race.
“Fred Thompson has a 100 percent voting record with the National Right to Life Committee” said Tim Morgan, 51, a jewelry store owner who is active in his Methodist church in Newton, Iowa, and ran unsuccessfully for State Senate last year. “For me, that’s a badge of honor.”
Mr. Morgan said he also liked Mr. Thompson’s consistency in voting in favor of traditional marriage and that he “appears to be a candidate that can raise the money, get the votes and win the nomination.”
Most interviewed here in Iowa, however, said they knew little about Mr. Thompson, aside from his acting in “Law and Order.” Others predicted his record, including his role in the passage of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill, which he has since disavowed, would pose its own dilemmas for conservatives.
“I think there may be a certain fascination with him simply because of his name recognition,” said Tamara Scott, Iowa state director of Concerned Women for America, a conservative Christian group. “But it seems to fade quickly when people begin to analyze his political viewpoint and find it’s not so enchanting after all.”
For many Christian conservatives, following their true convictions means bucking the conventional wisdom and turning to one of the lesser-knowns in the field, such as Mr. Huckabee or Senator Sam Brownback, a leading social conservative from Kansas, or even Representative Tom Tancredo of Colorado, who has made illegal immigration his signature issue. Many of those interviewed said Mr. Huckabee’s past life in Christian ministry lent him immediate credibility.
Recent polls have shown Mr. Huckabee running fourth in Iowa. He drew an enthusiastic ovation at the recent candidate forum in Des Moines, attended by nearly a thousand conservatives, which Mr. Giuliani and Mr. McCain did not attend.
Ms. Nichols, who had been leaning toward Mr. Romney, came away from the forum impressed by Mr. Huckabee but remained unsure of his chances. The Iowa straw poll, an early test for the Republican field, is fast approaching in August. “I’m sitting on the fence,” she said. “I have to make a decision.”
The following is a five minute dramatization of the climate of aggressive evangelical Christianity encountered at the USAF Academy by Mikey Weinstein's son and which led Weinstein, a USAF honor graduate during the 1970's, to form the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. The short includes appearances from Bernard M. Kauderer, Vice Admiral ( USN, Ret.), Former commander of all US Naval submarine forces, Richard Lamm, three term governor of California, Richard T. Schlosberg lll, former publisher and CEO, LA Times and Denver Post, Bobby Muller, Nobel Peace Prize winner, co-founder of international campaign to ban land mines, Joseph C. Wilson, lV, former US Ambassador, Robert T. Herres, General ( USAF, Ret.), Former Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Ed Asner.