Channeling Jesus

Bring together a TV-production mogul and the charismatic leader of Calvary Chapel, and you get Cross TV all religion, all the time

"If you believe that homosexuals need more rights, I want you to vote your conscience," Coy says he told his congregation before the election. "But if, on the other hand, you believe that homosexuals right now have plenty of rights, and that right now they've got the strongest lobby in Washington, well then vote your conscience there. I'm not here to tell you how to vote. I'm simply telling you that these amendments aren't as they appear to be."

Coy claims that homosexuality is a sin like any other, as evidenced in the Bible from Genesis to Revelations, and is treated as such at Calvary Chapel. It is no different, he says, than someone cheating on their spouse. "The only difference is the object. It's all sin."

The political views of worshipers at Calvary Chapel are influenced in other ways. Posted on the wall at the church is a faxed copy of Citizen Issues Alert, a newsletter put out by Focus on the Family, the conservative Colorado Springs group headed by Christian guru Dr. James Dobson. The missive warns that sodomy laws are under attack in several states and that efforts to pass legislation ensuring equal rights for gays and lesbians are widespread. And among the choices in Calvary Chapel's tape library are conspiratorial right-wing titles such as Taking Liberties: The Legacy of the ACLU and The Sixty Minutes Deception: An Expose of Media Corruption. The latter was produced by Citizens For Honest Government, the same organization that created The Clinton Chronicles, which detailed the President's purported crimes, including abetting drug-dealing and murder.

Before arriving in South Florida 13 years ago, Bob Coy knew more than a little bit about criminal behavior himself. He grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, where his uncle was a Lutheran minister and churchgoing was a regular part of life. But Coy remembers the church of his childhood as more ceremony and social function than actual Bible study. "After 20 years of going every Sunday, I didn't know Matthew from Romans; I didn't know Hosea from Revelations," he says.

Most boys in Eastern Michigan in the '50s dreamed of getting a union job with one of the big-three automakers and living a comfortable middle-class life. Not Coy. "Screw on headlights every day?" he recalled asking himself during a testimony he gave to his congregants two years ago. "Make sure taillights are fit in their position, day after day for 30 years, so I can retire at 45? I'm not gonna do that.... Now what will I do? Well, I want to make money."

Coy went into the music business, and he was a natural from the start. He began as a salesman in a record store in Southfield, Michigan, and was soon promoted to buyer, picking out albums that would, he hoped, become tomorrow's hits. He was so successful that he was soon selling records for United Artists. At the age of 21, he was hired by Capitol Records in Los Angeles, where he shepherded rock stars around in a company car, charging food and drink on the corporate expense account -- and snorting cocaine, according to his testimony.

The meteoric rise didn't last long. Addled by drugs and alcohol, Coy was fired by Capitol after just three years. He moved to Las Vegas, where he landed a gig looking after the properties of wealthy owners. But the entertainment business continued to beckon, so Coy went to work for a casino, which at the time offered an "urban cowboy" motif. When that trend fizzled, Coy came up with a new form of entertainment for the casino: the topless revue.

But he was miserable. "Even after I had the opportunity to taste all that the world has to offer -- whether it be drugs or alcohol or then women -- I found myself saying, man, this does not satisfy," Coy recalled in his testimony.

He had a few false starts with religion. He prayed occasionally, and he married, in an "act of carnality," a born-again Christian woman he'd known for less than a week. By the time Coy traveled across the country to meet her parents in Pittsburgh a few weeks later, they were already headed for splitsville. Coy continued to snort -- and even deal -- cocaine.

Then he found God. After a debauchery-filled Christmas Eve party featuring plenty of alcohol and cocaine, Coy showed up at his brother and sister-in-law's house in Las Vegas the next day with a bottle of booze and a look of desperation. The young couple, who'd recently "gotten religion," had been praying for him. That night, before Coy went to bed, his brother tossed him a Bible. In the early morning hours of December 26, 1980, Coy read the Book of John, chapter 3, verse 16: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." And he got religion himself.

Through his brother, Coy found his way to a Calvary Chapel in Las Vegas and began to study the Word of God. The Calvary Chapel movement began in the '60s in Costa Mesa, California, under the tutelage of Chuck Smith. In the early days, it was closely linked with the hippie movement known as the Jesus People, or Jesus Freaks. Smith's philosophy combined intensive study of the Bible with a casual atmosphere that eschewed ritualistic ceremonies like those of Catholicism and mainline Protestant denominations. Today more than 800 such churches exist in the United States, with additional congregations in at least 34 other countries. Florida alone has 25 Calvary Chapels, including five in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

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