David Crowe, executive director of Restore America—one of a handful of groups united as Concerned Oregonians, an organization seeking to overturn two recently passed gay rights laws—went on local Christian talk radio on Thursday evening, August 16, to rally the troops. He urged people to email Concerned Oregonians immediately to request petitions, and implored them to collect signatures in church on Sunday to send the new laws to a statewide referendum vote.
"We have a phenomenal opportunity to trust God again," Crowe counseled. "Be faithful, keep on believing, go to work."
Defense of Marriage and Family Again (DOMFA)—the chief petitioners—need to turn in at least 55,179 valid signatures by September 26 to qualify for next year's ballot. Concerned Oregonians, which is collecting signatures independently, has set an even higher bar for themselves: They hope to collect 75,000 signatures by September 1.
But on August 14—six weeks shy of the official deadline, and less than three before Concerned Oregonians' self-imposed one—the Oregonian reported that the campaign had only collected 5,000-10,000 signatures. Compare that to 2004, when proponents of Measure 36—the law defining marriage in Oregon as between one man and one woman—nabbed nearly a quarter of a million signatures in just five weeks.
On August 15, however, Basic Rights Oregon (BRO) cautioned that reports of slow signature gathering could just be a ruse to fire up the anti-gay base. "We absolutely must not underestimate our opponents," BRO Executive Director John Hummel wrote to supporters.
Which brings us to August 19—or "Marriage and Morality Sunday," as Concerned Oregonians dubbed it. The group's theory? If 800 of the 2,500 evangelical churches in Oregon collected just 80 signatures, they'd nab 64,000 in one day—possibly enough to land on the ballot.
So the Mercury dispatched writers to check out five Portland-area evangelical churches—churches whose pastors helped organize the "Pastors and Religious Leaders Day at the Capitol" against these same gay rights bills on April 5—to see how the campaign is going. Would hundreds of Christians be lined up to sign against equality, or is the campaign truly faltering?
ROLLING HILLS COMMUNITY CHURCH
The driveway leading up to Rolling Hills' massive headquarters is lined with engraved boulders noting the church's purpose: Teach, Reach, Equip, Exalt, Support. I pull into a parking space in the "Revelations" section of the lot, and join the flow of people climbing the stairs to the church's main floor.
A rotund man hands me a program as I walk into the main worship center and contemplate where to sit. Near an aisle, so I can escape if the Jesus-talk gets unbearable? Or in the middle of a row, so passersby are less likely to strike up conversation with the obvious visitor? I opt for a low-traffic aisle far from the main door, and break open the program as the music begins.
Score! A Concerned Oregonians leaflet flutters out, alerting me to the "two homosexual rights bills," and asking me to "multiply your influence" by getting "friends, neighbors, and coworkers" to sign the petitions. "Thank you for your commitment to the traditional family and your Christian faith."
But I have yet to see a petition. The leaflet is the only mention of Marriage and Morality Sunday during the hour-long service.
On my way out, however, I glimpse a sign on the information kiosk at the center of Rolling Hills' lodge-like lobby. "Marriage and Morality Petitions," the diminutive sign beckons. I sidle over, and see a dozen petition sheets spread out on the counter, organized by county. No sheet holds more than a half dozen signatures. An older couple is signing one, but their fellow parishioners streaming out of the sanctuary don't seem to notice the campaign. AMY J. RUIZ
The lobby of this deceptively large church in SW Portland (Beaverton in all but address) is filled with sign-up tables. "Register for the music program!" "Register for the Marriage Advance: Timeless Principles Retreat!" "Drop off your Friendship Card!"
But missing from the circus of opportunities to put your name on a sheet of paper: anything having to do with the referenda efforts. Concerned Oregonians may have called for a widespread petition effort with their Marriage and Morality Sunday, but Portland Christian Center apparently didn't get the memo.
The church bulletin features numerous inserts: An announcement of a "singles' conference," an opportunity to volunteer at Robert Gray Middle School, a message from the Board of Deacons about staff changes, etc. But not a word about fighting the gay agenda or "saving marriage."
That's not to say the gays don't make an appearance. During the introduction to Pastor Joel Slater's sermon on "Joy Under Pressure," he plays a video clip featuring the Queen/Bowie song "Under Pressure." Freddie Mercury and David Bowie singing, together, in church. "I like that song," Pastor Slater notes.
After the service, I mill around in the lobby for a bit, expecting to see some of the "grassroots" petitioning I'd heard about from Concerned Oregonians. Instead, I see families emerging from service, meeting friends, making plans for their day, and leaving.
In nearly every way, PCC is an archetypical—if low-rent—evangelical church. They've got a well-dressed light rock band instead of a choir, video screens behind the pulpit, and pastors who are more comedians/motivational speakers/free market theologians than spiritual leaders. That they've skipped out on Marriage and Morality Sunday—risking the scorn of leaders like David Crowe—should speak volumes about the waning popularity of the anti-gay agenda. SCOTT MOORE
Around a hundred people, dressed in their Sunday best, fill the pews. The chapel has an amphitheater design, with a pulpit where the stage would be. A chorus of eight stands at center stage, wailing ferociously over the thudding rhythms of the four-piece band to its left. Congregants seep in throughout the song, calmly taking their seats before joining in.
For a moment, I think I'm in the wrong church. I don't see any tables set up to sign petitions, or congregants angrily fuming about the "immorality" of domestic partnerships. But then I take a look at the church bulletin and see under Our 10 Core Values:
And it becomes clear that I'm in the right place. Even if no petitions are being circulated, the pastor's sermon decisively outlines where his church stands on homosexuality.
"It's not Cupid that shoots the arrow—it's God," he says.
He argues that all relationships should be about love for God. And love for God means consummation of that love—that means children. He implies that any relationship that doesn't involve childbirth is automatically a relationship based on selfishness.
He goes on to say the Kingdom of God cannot be entered until there's respect, opportunity, and the potential for unconditional love (which, once again, means having a baby). And then he just goes ahead and says what he means outright:
"These three things have to be in any relationship between a husband and wife—or two people."
Which sounds deceptively accepting. But since unassisted reproductive sex is impossible in a same-sex relationship, the pastor has basically said (via legalese) that God does not condone same-sex relationships. He obliquely sends the message to his congregation that homosexuality is immature and selfish. He does not, however, pass around a petition. THOMAS LUNDBY
CITY BIBLE CHURCH
Reaching City Bible Church off I-205 via public transit and foot is hard. I end up climbing a vertiginous, slippery, and condom-strewn trail up the side of 612-foot-high Rocky Butte, clambering through blackberry vines in my black Donna Karan suit and shiny high-steppin' cowboy boots. I am the best dressed of 400 or so worshipers—healthy, happy-looking families, all—under the stucco dome at the center of the CBC's bluff-top campus, where greeters (but no signature gatherers) welcome guests, blasted by live synth-combo extended mixes of sheeny, contemporary hymns.
Pastor Frank Damazio pits this congregation against remote-linked Tigard and Vancouver congregations in a fundraising contest for CBC's summer camp, before delivering a sermon on divisiveness and a ritual overcoming of past wounds.
Afterward, I wander the huge lobby, snooping for campaign lit. I say I am up from LA and heard good things about CBC. "We try to go for the right mixture of the spirit and the word," a young woman tells me. My subterfuge mistaken for flirtation, she introduces me to an intense young pastor who I can tell knows immediately I am lying. Another awkward silence ensues, in which I sense that if I ask about gay marriage I will be shown the door.
By 1:30 pm, the last parishioners are leaving, and still no sign of a referendum campaign. But I leave impressed by CBC's good fellowship—the warmest welcomes are given to the sketchiest-looking—but wondering about what went unsaid in this church that lobbies against gay rights. GRANT COGSWELL
NEW HOPE COMMUNITY CHURCH
I slip past a guy hawking a tower of Sunday Oregonian newspapers on my way into New Hope Community Church, a multi-winged building perched overlooking I-205, not far from Sunnyside Boulevard. Inside, crowds of churchgoers jockey for slices of cake and orange punch, part of a bon voyage celebration for one of their pastors.
Just past the cake, I see it: A narrow folding table covered with blue and green petition sheets, divided into stacks for voters' counties. There is a single elderly man hunched over the table, scribbling his name.
I decide to visit the table after the 11 am service, which is about to start. A pack of teenagers jostles into the sanctuary ahead of me, passing a black can of Monster Energy drink back and forth.
After a few Christian rock numbers, a pastor hops up onstage to make announcements: There's a petition about the "sanctity of marriage" out in the lobby, he says nonchalantly. "Just wanted to let you know that they're out there."
I duck out before the service ends—I don't think the pastor is going to slip in any anti-gay preaching as he blesses their departing pastor. On the way out, I strike up a conversation with "Drifter," the man staffing the petition table. "They're trying to create homosexual marriage," he tells me, and he's collecting signatures to stop it. How's it going? I ask. "Very well," he says, as I notice that there are only a few signatures on each of his six or so sheets. "It's our first day collecting here."
I ask if the campaign is going to collect enough to get on the ballot. "I believe we will," Drifter says with a smile, shaking my hand as I depart.
On Monday, I contact Crowe and Concerned Oregonians, asking if what my colleagues and I witnessed—tepid signature gathering at only two out of five churches—is representative of Marriage and Morality Sunday's success statewide. As of press time, there has been no response. AMY J. RUIZ
Amateurs Do It Better
The 2007 Adult Soapbox Derby: Where the Only Professionals You'll See Are EMTs
by Thomas Lundby • Photo by Kelly Ladelfa
During their first soapbox derby race, Aaron Abrams and Pete West's car ended up in a bramble of blackberry bushes.
"The Muddy River Nightmare Band racer knocked us off the road the first year," Abrams claims. "The nails on their car tore my jumpsuit—they mangled our ride."
Welcome to the annual Portland Adult Soapbox Derby.
For the past 11 years, bold gearheads have paid for the privilege of racing their gravity-powered deathtraps down a curvy mile-long track. They've suffered abrasions, lacerations, concussions, and contusions due to the perilous twists and turns of Mt. Tabor. But this Saturday, they will gladly risk injury again. For what? Money. Fame. Shiny trophies. The jealousy, envy, and hatred of one's peers. The usual.
The event, run by (Mercury Marketing Director) Zach Hull and Patrick Leyshock, will start at 10 am on Saturday, August 25. The races will be followed by an afterparty at Plan B (1305 SE 8th), where awards will be distributed with the help of music and beverages. (During the race however, it's BYOB.)
Soapbox cars must rely on gravity for propulsion rather than engines. Because entries are strictly DIY, some cars fall apart before reaching the finish line, but that's half the fun of the derby—it's a test of engineering know-how as much as racing prowess.
Cars fall into one of two categories: "Art" for the pretty ones and "science" for the fast ones. That's not to say an "art" car can't be fast or a "science" car can't be pretty—it's really up to the contestants to figure out what's best for their babies. Awards are not only given for winning, but for more esoteric goals: best art car, engineering, crowd pleaser, costumes, and the ever-dubious lame duck award.
Abrams and West are a prime example of the DIY ethos of the Adult Soapbox Derby.
"We pretty much wing it," West says. "Think on the fly. Make it up as we go."
He says they had no idea how to make a soapbox car when they started racing five years ago. Their first car was a tricycle-like vehicle made out of steel plumbing pipes. They christened it Landshark I, after a recurring character from Saturday Night Live.
Even after being run off the road in their first year, Abrams and West weren't discouraged. The desire for revenge strengthened their resolve, and they went to work improving Landshark so they could beat the team who mangled their ride.
Despite having zero knowledge of the basics of designing and building an effective racing vehicle, they kept at it. They learned welding from West's father. They created a workspace in West's garage and filled it with the necessary tools. They redesigned Landshark from scratch for last year's race, ditching the tricycle look of Landsharks I-III in favor of a 1940s-style Indy racecar influence. Out went the plumbing pipes; in went the sheet metal.
The new design gave them a much-needed boost last year. In each of the three time trials, Landshark IV finished in less than 1.5 minutes—a barrier they could never crack with the original design.
"As the day went on, we thought—yeah, we could actually win this," West says.
The two just barely missed finals after falling a single second behind last year's first-place winner, Fix Diesel Teaser V, during the semi-finals. They achieved a respectable third-place finish, which was a welcome surprise to both racers. It was their first time winning an award; they didn't even remember to go to the afterparty to pick up their trophy. This year, they've set their expectations higher—they want first.
With only a short amount of time before this year's derby, Abrams and West are hurrying to make as many changes to last year's model as possible. They're trying to get a recently installed steering box from an old Mercedes-Benz to work. And if there's time, they hope to extend the back cab and lengthen the brake bars.
But they'll have to hurry. Both Fix Diesel Teaser and last year's second-place winners, Team F.A.N.G., are returning for another go at the coveted first-place spot. And who knows—a new design may come out of nowhere to smoke the competition.
Suspense—that's the other half of the fun.
Adult Soapbox Derby: Mt. Tabor Park, SE Salmon & 60th, Sat Aug 25, 10 am, free, all ages; Afterparty: Plan B (formerly Acme), 1305 SE 8th, w/Muddy River Nightmare Band & Motorama, 6 pm, $3, 21+