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Some Ministers Remain Wary : Political Clout Escapes Christian Voter Group

November 28, 1986|BARRY M. HORSTMAN | Times Staff Writer

ESCONDIDO — During the 15 1/2 years that he served as a pastoral minister, the Rev. Billy Falling became intimately familiar with the need for faith and patience.

However, the lofty aspirations that Falling has for the Christian Voters League, a 2-year-old organization that he hopes will transform American politics by refocusing attention on "traditional values," may put his ministerial confidence to a more severe test than it ever faced during his days in the pulpit.

Professing faith that the Escondido-based religious-political group is poised to "take off like wildfire" amid planning for a weekly television program next year promoting it, Falling hopes to see the league's membership swell to 1 million families by 1990. To do so, the group's track record will have to make a meteoric rise, because since Falling officially launched the CVL in the fall of 1984, only about 800 individuals and families have enlisted in his crusade to restore his conservative vision of decency and morality to government.

Within 10 years, Falling expects to see CVL chapters established in 8,765 major communities throughout the nation. To date, however, there are only three chapters in North San Diego County--in Escondido, Vista and San Marcos--and one in Hemet, in Riverside County.

Under another major goal established by Falling, CVL members or politicians sympathetic to the group's concerns would dominate literally thousands of city councils and school boards across the nation by the end of the century. However, most local politicians currently view the group with either indifference or suspicion, while nearly two-thirds of the North County candidates asked to respond this fall to the CVL's "Biblical Scoreboard" questionnaire on issues such as abortion and pornography simply ignored the survey with impunity, demonstrating how political clout remains more a dream than reality for the organization.

Yet, like a fervent true believer, Falling scoffs at any suggestion that his goals may be a bit unrealistic or that his conservative, fundamentalist message may find a considerably more limited audience than he envisions.

"We as Christian leaders do live by faith, and that's certainly the case here," Falling said. "I do feel this is the biggest test of my faith that I've ever experienced in the ministry.

"We're at the starting line, we know that. We recognize that we're not going to change everything in 20 minutes or 20 days or even 20 months. It may take 20 years. . . . But I believe it is going to happen and that, someday, we will prevail."

From the outset, Falling, a 47-year-old Oklahoma native who moved here 12 years ago, decided that the CVL should focus on local government--city councils and school boards. That decision was based partly on Falling's realization that his still-small group's effectiveness could be maximized, at least for the foreseeable future, at the local level, but also from a basic philosophic assumption.

"Washington, D.C., and Sacramento are like outer space to a lot of us," said Falling, who was born on a Cherokee Indian reservation--he is five-sixteenths Cherokee--and grew up in the Los Angeles area. "Besides, people spend their money, educate their kids, live their lives right here. We decided to concentrate right here in River City where we've got big problems."

Intending to pursue a law career, Falling attended Los Angeles City College, but, after a two-year stint in the Army, "realized my calling" and enrolled in L.I.F.E. Bible College in Los Angeles, graduating in 1968.

After preaching at a church in Manhattan Beach for three years, Falling became the pastor of the Assemblies of God Church in Escondido in 1972. About a year later, when he was ousted by that church's congregation as a result of what he termed "personality problems," Falling and 24 followers formed the Faith Center of Escondido. At its peak, the Faith Center had about 200 members, Falling said, but had dwindled back down to about two dozen by the time it closed in the early 1980s.

An imposing, husky 6-footer with thick dark hair and a pulpit-honed verbal intensity, Falling has been at the forefront of the movement through which conservative religious leaders and church officials have become increasingly active in local politics and government in recent years.

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