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Some Ministers Remain Wary : Political Clout Escapes Christian Voter Group

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

While many of Falling's fellow ministers say they concur in general with his lament, they vigorously disagree with the way he is going about trying to do something about it. In addition, the CVL's crusades against abortion, pornography and homosexuality have persuaded other church leaders to keep their distance--again, not necessarily because they personally disagree with the CVL's stands on those and other issues, but because they see the group, contrary to its leaders' protestations, as too far to the political right and too narrowly focused in its mission.

"I don't see anything very Christian or biblical about what they're doing," said the Rev. Steve Gilbertson, pastor of House of Prayer Lutheran Church of Escondido. "To me, they fail to take into consideration Christian precepts such as compassion, forgiveness and grace. They view the world from a rather black-and-white perspective."

"I don't appreciate groups that try to tell everybody else what they ought to do," added the Rev. Bob Brashares, pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Escondido. "I'm troubled by movements that claim the support of all right-minded people, because that implies that if you don't agree with them, then you're not right-minded or moralistic. That's an effort that borders on blackmail."

In the name of denominational unity, Falling has sounded the rallying cry that the battles that his group is waging "are not ones that Catholics or Protestants or Baptists . . . can win by themselves." Even Falling acknowledges, however, that his appeal has met with only limited success.

While generally conservative churches such as the Catholic, Pentecostal and Evangelical have responded warmly to Falling's plans, he notes that Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians and "other liberal churches . . . haven't come running."

Seeking to avoid the "one-issue" fringe group label that many of the CVL's critics would place on it, Falling contends that his organization deals with a diversity of topics that encompass "the social issues of the '80s--abortion, pornography, AIDS, public education, teaching homosexuality, health clinics." Beyond querying political candidates on those topics, CVL members also frequently picket abortion clinics and pornography stores, and have lobbied local governments to take action relating to those issues.

However, one skeptic, the Rev. Charles Rines of Trinity Episcopal Church in Escondido, noted: "This may be triple-issue voting, but it's the same principle."

For example, the "Candidates Biblical Scoreboard" that the CVL prepared in rating candidates in the Nov. 4 election dealt with a fairly narrow range of issues such as abortion, contraceptives' availability to minors, homosexuality, pornography, prayer in schools and the teaching of creationism.

Of the 85 candidates surveyed, only 29 responded, with most of the others arguing that the questions dealt with issues unrelated to their official duties or were too complex to be answered with a simple yes or no.

While Falling railed that the non-respondees "spat in the face of our form of representative government," none of them suffered negative repercussions at the polls, despite the fact that about 71,000 of the questionnaires were distributed throughout North County, mostly through churches.

Indeed, in most cases, those candidates who ignored the group's "Biblical Scoreboard" and "Biblical Scorecard"--the former covering all local and statewide races, and the latter tailored to particular communities--generally ran far ahead of those contenders whose responses were ideologically compatible with the CVL.

"I'm proof that they weren't very important--I got elected and I didn't respond," chuckled Jeannette Smith, one of two victors in the 10-candidate Vista City Council race. The other victor, Eugene Asmus, did respond, but noted: "It probably didn't have that much impact. Growth and redevelopment were the key in that election."

However, Gloria McClellan, the newly elected mayor of Vista and a CVL member herself, said that she regards CVL backing as one of several important ingredients in her victory, and differs with those candidates who characterized the group's questionnaire as an improper intrusion into personal moral matters of no relevance to the jobs they were seeking.

"You're constantly dealing with moral issues in local government," McClellan said. "When you're looking at whether to allow a bar next to a school, is that a moral issue? You bet it is. These questions are very appropriate to ask, because this tells people whether you have a strong religious background and strong moral fiber."

By virtue of its tax-exempt status, the CVL's national headquarters in Escondido is barred from endorsing or directly assisting political candidates. The local chapters, however, have that right and intend to exercise it in future elections, according to Virgil Ford, president of the Vista chapter.

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