The Ministry of Half-Truth

Broward's Coral Ridge Ministries says it's merely running an educational outreach. So why is it using politics to campaign against gay rights?

When asked why a nonpolitical center would take a stance on specific legislation, Folger challenges: "Can you point to anything like that?"

When the alert bulletins are mentioned -- specifically the appeal for people to write letters to Chiles to urge him not to support same-sex marriage -- Folger changes course.

"Do we want to defend marriage? Yes," she says.
Folger again repeats that the center is nonpolitical, but this time says it's a matter of semantics.

"We speak on issues, and those issues can be addressed in different ways," she says. "There are semantics involved here. We speak on issues."

That the issues happen to regard restricting gays and lesbians from marrying and their partners from getting health and insurance benefits casts a cynical cloud over the "Truth in Love Campaign," say detractors.

A Broward County group called Gays United Against Repression and Discrimination (GUARD) has been battling the Center For Reclaiming America since the center was formed two years ago. GUARD's president, Tony Ramos, says Coral Ridge Ministries has a history of divisiveness, rather than compassion. He says he's viewed it on the Coral Ridge TV show.

"Until this recent campaign, they've always promoted hate and bigotry towards gays and lesbians," says Ramos. "It was always 'gays are destroying our communities, they've got to be stopped, they're eating our children.' Then they got so much flak from the public about their hatred that now they've changed it to, 'We love them and want to change them.'"

Folger says Ramos is wrong, but in Broward County the fact that Coral Ridge is a hotbed of political activity -- whether by design or not -- has never been a secret.

Former Broward Republican Party leaders like Barbara Collier and Michael Curran were both affiliated with the church. Curran, who was also once a Wilton Manors city commissioner, was convicted of fraud in 1995, prompting Kennedy to write a letter recommending leniency in sentencing, according to media accounts at the time.

A former Fort Lauderdale vice mayor, Doug Danziger, was a devout member of Kennedy's church and was well-known for his fight against nude dance clubs. In 1991 he resigned from office in disgrace after a videotape surfaced of him having sex with a prostitute.

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle isn't a member of Coral Ridge but considers Kennedy an asset to the city. He says members of Kennedy's church are scattered throughout various city advisory boards and that he sometimes hears from them in regard to city hall issues.

"If someone is a pillar of the church, they should also be a pillar of their community," says Naugle. "[Kennedy] teaches family values and a lot of good things."

Currently, three of the five city commissioners in Oakland Park are members of Kennedy's church. One of them, Robert Joynt, says he has nothing to do with the Center For Reclaiming America and wasn't even aware it had sponsored the ad campaign. He agrees that the center is political and says he's sympathetic to its stance on issues.

Joynt, who also teaches at Westminster, says he was first encouraged to run for office by fellow church-member and commissioner Robert Sproc. He concedes that his affiliation with the church may have helped him get votes among Christian citizens but says that any suggestion by the media that the church controls him or any other candidate is ridiculous.

Ramos and others say it's all politics at Coral Ridge, and that's where he'll hold a protest August 22 against the "Truth in Love Campaign." He says 30 organizations, including some local religious leaders, have agreed to take part.

The protest, by all accounts, is political. Says Ramos: "I think it's time the public at large comes to realize that this is all a political joke.

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