Who Are Those Guys?

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If the antiabortion ads were a major (if tasteful) foray into hot-button advocacy, the Power for Living campaign is closer to pure tract evangelism. Viewers who dial the 800 number receive the 134-page booklet, which employs simple metaphors like a country road or a broken golf club in support of the classic invitation. "All you do is, by an act of your will, say, 'I want You, Jesus, to take over my life.'" Participants in an earlier Power drive in 1983 have claimed that several million people ordered the book.

Such numbers make some people nervous. "If they say they're just trying to win hearts for Jesus, fine," says Chip Berlet of the left-of-center group Political Research Associates. "But given their history, I'm looking for the other shoe to drop." He cites The Rebirth of America, a 1986 book published by the foundation and edited by DeMoss daughter Nancy Leigh DeMoss that lists the gay-rights movement, abortion and "our humanistic, secular public school system" as proof that "Americans have lost their way in part because they do not know their own Christian heritage." Given that philosophy, critics look with skepticism on the foundation's promise not to pass along the Power mailing list. Moreover, says Alfred Ross, head of the Institute for Democracy Studies, "they don't need to pass it on. They are the religious right."

Evangelical leaders find this overdrawn. Says minister Campolo, whose moderate credentials won him a job counseling Bill Clinton, post-Monica: "Their purpose is to propagate the evangelical commitments, and that includes the social values associated with those commitments. But what they are really about is old-time religion, endeavoring to see that every person in the world comes to know Jesus."

The foundation's 1997 tax filings show both sides of the group's character. Of $25 million in expenditures, some $9 million paid for foreign evangelism. Domestically, roughly the same amount was put into a TV campaign for youth abstinence ("You're worth waiting for"). Thus three-fourths of DeMoss's giving qualifies as relatively noncontroversial. However, $1.6 million went to the American Center for Law and Justice, a nonprofit law firm founded by Pat Robertson that opposes gay marriage, defends abortion protesters and promotes various types of school prayer.

Not that this fact would influence Torri Walters, the New York hair stylist. Her copy of Power for Living arrived promptly. As advertised, she received no solicitation afterward. A member of a nondenominational church who stopped attending services three years ago because she works on Sundays, she says the book has provided enlightenment. "You slip," she says, "and it puts you back on track." That the foundation's work against abortion may not be in accord with her own "mixed views" is immaterial. "What they gave me is good," she says. "It stands on its own right."

Already, two people who have seen her reading Power--a woman in the subway and the stylist who works the chair next to hers--have decided to order their own. "You know," Walters says, "it's a domino."

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