Front Row Seat

Remarks made by Warren Epstein at the Citizens Project Creating Community Breakfast on June 7, 2012

My wife, Jane Turnis, and I were there at the birth of Citizens Project. It was the early ‘90s, and Focus on the Family had just moved to downtown Colorado Springs. In a few months, other parachurch organizations  followed, and it felt that there had been some kind of hostile takeover of our town. It felt like we were living in some weird reality show: “Fundamentalists Gone Wild.” We talked about some of the horror stories over drinks with Amy Divine and Doug Triggs, and we did what we usually do about this kind of thing: We whined about it.

Then, Amy and Doug did something about it, forming Citizens Project to counter the voices of extremism that were growing ever louder in the Pikes Peak region.

As a reporter for The Gazette, I got a front-row seat to this growing chorus of ultra conservative Christians.  Don’t get me wrong. There many of these organizations were and are doing great work. But what they did was empower people on the fringe who saw this as an opportunity to gleefully tear down the walls between church and state.

We saw it with our son’s public school teacher who ranted to the children about evils abortion, refused to teach evolution and gave extra credit assignments about Jesus. Sadly, he needed the extra credit.

Even worse was a local cop who gave out Bible tracts during service calls. One ended with a mentally handicapped young man, who’d been the subject of a noise complaint, frantically calling his sister to tell her “This policeman came to my apartment and told me I’m going to hell because my music was too loud.”

Now, I’m sure the cop didn’t say that. He probably said something about going to hell. But this is the problem when the boundaries between church and state crumble. I had an editor at The Gazette who didn’t understand what was so wrong about what the cop did. But when I shared this story with folks at Citizens Project and they were rightly horrified. A government representative carrying a gun and spreading the gospel? Not a good idea.

A couple of decades later, the fall-out from that cultural shift continues.  A few months ago, I left The Gazette and went to work for the ad agency Vladimir Jones, which has offices in Denver and Colorado Springs. When we hire people from out of town, particularly larger markets, do you think they want to work at our offices in Denver or Colorado Springs?

I believe in Colorado Springs. I still love Colorado Springs, which is why I’m so, so grateful that we have Citizens Project. We are a community with many voices. We are not one voice. We are not one voice! And we need Citizens Project to help get those voices out there.

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