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June 29th, 2012
03:47 PM ET

In responses to Colorado Springs fire, a distinctly evangelical tone

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) – When it’s not in the news for historic wildfires that have devoured hundreds of homes on its outskirts, Colorado Springs, Colorado, is nationally known as the home of the Air Force Academy and as the unofficial capital of evangelical Christianity.

The Springs, as it's called locally, plays host to lots of global evangelical organizations, including Focus on the Family, Compassion International and the International Bible Society. The concentration has earned the city the nickname “Vatican West” among some evangelicals.

The city is also home to Ted Haggard, who once headed the National Association of Evangelicals and who presided over the biggest church in the state, until he was felled by a gay sex and drugs scandal in 2006. Two years ago, Haggard started a new church in town.

That city’s evangelical flavor has made for some distinctly religious responses to the flames, which by Friday had destroyed 346 homes and had forced more than 36,000 people to evacuate. The fire has charred 16,700 acres, with 20,000 homes and scores of businesses still at risk.

In the face of the flames, religion writer Patton Dodd, who lives in Colorado Springs, said he has witnessed “a reflexive ‘my house and things don't matter in the long run anyway’ spirituality,” among some evangelical neighbors and friends.

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He has also seen doctored pictures of firefighters with Jesus on Facebook and “lots of ‘Jesus bring rain’ talk.”

When the temperature dropped in the area Thursday and Friday, helping firefighters contain 15% of the fire after 100-plus degree temperatures earlier this week, many evangelicals in the area chalked the better weather up to answered prayers.

“I saw so many Christians saying, ‘Please pray for rain, we need a miracle, and only God can provide it,' ” said Esther Fleece, director of millennial relations for Focus on the Family. “Even people who are not Christians were saying, ‘This is out of our control and I’m going to try to pray. Why not?’ ”

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Earlier in the week, Fleece was packing up her two-bedroom condo in preparation of evacuation and faced the difficult choice of what to leave and what to take.

“I was packing and I realized that none of this matters,” Fleece said. “I just had to pause and say, ‘All of this could be replaced.’ What matters most is I have my family and my community and my faith, and we’re going to go through trials. They’re momentary.

“My heart goes out to those who don’t have faith and don’t have a larger narrative of why tragedies happen,” she continued. “The grief is so huge that it’s difficult to get through this without faith.”

Fleece did not wind up evacuating because her home was not deemed to be at risk. Now she has five other evacuees staying with her.

Around Colorado Springs, evangelical churches and ministries are partnering with local government on relief efforts and are taking advantage of their own Christian networks to help each other.

The city’s enormous New Life Church was expecting four semitrailers of food, water and other supplies to arrive Friday and Saturday, thanks to a Christian group Gleaning for World, led by Jonathan Falwell, son of the late Jerry Falwell.

“We have a huge opportunity to bless our city and region,” New Life pastor Brady Boyd wrote on New Life’s website. “We need help on Friday unloading these semi-trailers.”

Focus on the Family is housing dozens of staffers from Navigators, a global Christian ministry that evacuated its headquarters this week because of the fires.

According to a post on Navigators' site, the group’s U.S. president was sharing Psalm 91 with other workers in the temporary Focus space:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

Dodd, the Christian writer, said he’s seen some ugly political posturing around the fires, with some conservatives alleging President Barack Obama is to blame for an insufficient response because he allegedly cut money for the federal fleet of air tankers.

The allegation “Isn't so much evangelical as Republican, but you know how those lines can be blurred,” he said.

Obama visited Colorado Springs on Friday to take stock of the fires and the response.

Some recent messages on Twitter, meanwhile, are using the fires to take aim at Focus on the Family, known for its conservative stances on issues such as gay marriage.

“If this Colorado fire takes out the Focus on the Family campus, then God really exists,” read one such message, which was highlighted by conservative pundit Michelle Malkin, who lives in Colorado Springs.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Christianity • Evangelical

soundoff (415 Responses)
  1. Darrell Brown

    Really important information you've got here ! You do have magnificent writing skills, many thankx for this note, it was splendid to read it!

    September 7, 2012 at 2:40 am |
  2. louboutins

    I always emailed this website post page to all my associates, because if like to read it afterward my contacts will too. louboutins

    August 17, 2012 at 2:46 am |
  3. Mark

    I am sorry but christians must be from another planet.

    July 24, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
  4. Jesus is the most powerful figure known to mankind (Fact)

    Belief is based off of opinion, it can either be true or false. Atheist and some scientist believe there is no Creator (God), but creation created itself. Christians know that there is a God due to the evidence all around us. There is a difference between believing and knowing. Scientist cannot give solid physical evidence proving that love exists. Yet doesnt pretty much everyone know it exist? There is less evidence that love exist then there is evidence that God exist. There are physical things all around us proving God's existence. What evidence can anyone prove that love exist? Scientist have never seen black holes nor can they prove that they exist yet they say they know it exist. Is this not faith? They say gravity exist as well as wind is this not faith? So who is really blind Christians or atheist? The answer is crystal clear. Just a reminder John 8:47-"He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God." John 15:19-"If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you."

    July 15, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • brunettiii

      Belief is NOT based off an opinion, genius. typical wing-nut, no education EvangelicanT

      October 18, 2012 at 8:36 am |
  5. Keith

    No wonder God is trying to burn it down with all the Evangelicals living there.

    July 13, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
  6. outlet

    This website can be a stroll-by way of for all of the data you needed about this and didn't know who to ask. Glimpse right here, and you'l definitely uncover it. outlet

    July 11, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
  7. Mark

    I'm a proud 50 year old thinking atheist, who was raised in Colorado Springs. It's nauseating that we are now known as an "evangelical center." These nuts have destroyed our city, and our city's image. (We used to be famous for the Olympic training center.) There is hope for the country though, I can still log onto ffrf.org (although their billboards are vandalized when put up in this town) and can still log onto atheist dating websites. Evangelical influence here is just SICKENING, as are other forms of MENTAL ILLNESS. (See Focus on the Family.) At least Tebow is gone from CO!!!!

    July 9, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • brunettiii

      Thank God tebow is gone. u can guarentee the wing-nuts will trying to run him for Prez in about 8 years

      October 18, 2012 at 8:38 am |
  8. RationalDiscourse

    So the fire since last Friday destroyed 346 homes and forced the evacuation of 36,000 people, and some people of faith would think, quite reasonably to them, that this is their god testing them.

    Sound like a cruel, arrogant, selfish god to play with people's live to see who does and doesn't believe in it. It sounds like this god has a problem with self confidence if it feels the need to get confirmation of faith from a group of people on one planets circling one-of-billions of suns in one-of-billions of galaxies in our universe.

    Really? Some god is interested in your human condition, is willing and interested in knowing about some calamity in your life, and is willing to devote some infinitesimal fraction of its time to answering your pray of forgiveness and relief? Really?

    July 3, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
  9. cyg

    If your prayers had truly been answered – it would have rained. It did a little – but not enough to save you, or your homes – guess you aren't worthy. Next time respect your planet more – maybe she'll make an effort to save you.

    July 3, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
  10. Who invited me?

    I am always surprised when disasters happen, the survivors always say "God protected us," or God saved us.

    Why don't they realize that god tried to kill them and missed!!!

    July 3, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • RationalDiscourse

      My goodness! Did you say that God missed? This god who created the heavens and earth, the prime mover and shaker of our universe missed? What an imperfect and bumbling god! Or maybe, just maybe the homes that were spared and the lives saved were those fortunate to be in the right place, at the right time. No god, just he toss of the dice, happenstance, chance, luck, etc., etc.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
  11. Omar

    A fool has said in their heart that there is no God. With that being said. Why would you argue with an atheist? Don't defend God. He'll do a find job on His own. Soon there knees will smite one against the other without control. All, yes ALL, will bow down when the records of life are displayed and the same God they reject will they glorify right prior to their destruction. Again, don't bother arguing with a fool.

    July 3, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      Ooooo like we haven't heard that one before. Your condescending cra.p only serves a self-righteous piousness in your own mind, and only shows others your complete lack of depth of thought.

      July 3, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • Mark

      Omar, I think you meant to write "their" knees. Put down your bible and learn some grammar and spelling. I may be just a "fool" in your pious eyes, but I write correctly. Education is better than religion, try it.

      July 9, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • Jesus is the most powerful figure known to mankind (Fact)

      Very well said brother. At the end of the day a fool is a fool and GOD is GOD Almighty.

      July 15, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
  12. SuZieCoyote

    If the fires had hit a blue state city, the evangelists would be on about how this was G*d's judgement against them. But it hit an X'tian bastion of conservatism. So, ummmm, how does that pan out in the judgment scenario? (

    July 3, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      It's testing their faith.

      July 3, 2012 at 9:50 am |
  13. derp

    Dear Jeebus, thanks for burning down my home.

    Signed,

    Dum das s christard.

    July 3, 2012 at 9:05 am |
    • Omar

      and Jesus replied: depart from me worker of iniquity. I never knew you.

      July 3, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
  14. truth be told

    I think Tom Tom is responsible for all the evil posts in the world. Frustrated pig (and name) thief

    July 2, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
  15. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    July 2, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • SuZieCoyote

      Glad to know the idiot is still with us. Do you have absolutely NO capabilities for original thought? Poor dear.

      July 3, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • Jesus

      Prayer doesn’t not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!!! .

      July 3, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • just sayin

      Prayer is the original thought. God bless

      July 3, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
  16. just sayin

    President George H W Bush WW 2 fighter pilot, patriot, president has said an atheist is not a patriot and should not be a citizen of America, We are one nation under God and as always President Bush is right. God bless

    July 2, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Blah, blah, blah.

      Blather, rinse, repeat.

      Meaningless drivel.

      July 2, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
    • truth be told

      Point well taken as illustrated by the foolish Godless reply.

      July 2, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Bonehead. Anyone can see you're just posting to yourself, you toothless old bat.

      July 2, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
    • truth be told

      atheists do not have far to turn to turn ugly

      July 2, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
    • Making up lies to "prove" you are right is not logical

      Tom Tom is a mad troll

      Ignore this troll.

      July 2, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      How come you don't take your own advice, clown/yep/nope?

      July 2, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
    • sam stone

      just sayin':

      F george h.w. bush

      F you

      July 3, 2012 at 5:29 am |
    • truth be told

      atheists do not have far to turn to turn vulgar

      July 3, 2012 at 6:35 am |
    • derp

      Thomas Jefferson would have called him a traitor.

      July 3, 2012 at 9:04 am |
    • sam stone

      tbt: You too.

      July 3, 2012 at 9:05 am |
    • truth be told

      Jefferson was a Christian. His correspondence with Adams in later years confirms it.

      July 3, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.