Cedar Valley Church in Bloomington
A few weeks after sitting in with the Wollers’s study group, I returned to Cedar Valley for a typical Sunday service, my first in a mega-church. The worshippers here, I figured, would be exactly the kind of lukewarm born-agains who are the supposed targets of the Truth Project.
A stone’s throw from the Mall of America, Cedar Valley is a blond brick edifice that resembles a junior high school more than a place where people are saved from the raging fires of hell. The interior is done up in a palette of tan, beige, and eggshell, and features a two-thousand-seat auditorium with upper and lower tiers labeled with section letters. There’s a nice coffee bar on the second level, and a notable lack of religious symbols throughout.
At the late-morning “contemporary” service, the abbreviated, guilt-free sermon is like a little pep talk wrapped in nice thoughts about God. The pastor implores the congregation to think about what special talents they could offer to the Lord. A cheerful woman near me, sporting gorgeously coiffed blonde hair, a tailored pink jacket, and a huge diamond ring, writes “Hospitality” on her church bulletin and underlines it twice. During the hymns—upbeat songs led by a singer with a sweet boy-band voice and a trendy haircut—the congregation dutifully follows along on the huge multimedia screen. A few people close their eyes and stretch their arms toward the stage, but no one speaks in tongues. There are no evocations of the Rapture, no prayers for the unborn. Just a lot of nice chit-chat lunch plans and the children’s Christmas program.
Dave Eaton says the power and popularity of the Truth Project is only going to grow. At the Harbor Church in Hastings, Pastor Jim Anderson expects three hundred to four hundred people for a Truth Project training session this month. But a second Corner Church study group that formed after my visit had to disband because people weren’t showing up, and now Scott Woller is thinking about taking just one group through the whole DVD series rather than trying to have continuous groups. Cedar Valley Church convened a Truth Project group last winter, but it, too, has since disbanded.
Nevertheless, Prichard, the media-savvy Minnesota Family Council president, is entirely on board with the Truth Project. He plans to help start a small group at his home church, Hope Lutheran, on Emerson Avenue in North Minneapolis. But he doesn’t see the project as the answer to evangelicalism’s big problem. His approach is softer and far more cultural in nature. He calls it “going back to first principles.” “It’s the relationship dynamic that’s so important,” he tells me. For him, that means creating a safe, Christian incubator for children, including his own four kids, who range from ten to fifteen years old. The three youngest are home-schooled by their mom (who worked as a registered nurse until she married Tom), and the oldest attends a private Christian school. Attending Sunday school at Hope Lutheran, where the walls are decorated with photos of newborn babies and stacks of Pro-Family News sit by the door, they learn about creationism, God’s sacrifices for humanity—and the kind of staunch opposition they will face as true believers.
Prichard also thinks evangelical adults should go out in the world as much as they can tolerate, serving on school and library boards and county commissions and running for office. “It’s the only thing that’s going to keep us from what Chuck Colson calls ‘the age of moral decay,’ ” he says, quoting the Watergate felon-turned-born-again. That’s a big charge for people who make up such a small slice of the population.
I’m sitting with Prichard’s kids at Hope Lutheran when the pastor bows his head and prays for the end of abortion. Softly and sweetly, the choir begins to sing “Rescue Me” by the Desperation Band: “You are the source of life / I can’t be left behind / No one else will do / I will take hold of you.” When I get home, I immediately go buy the song at iTunes and listen to it four times in a row. What can I say? I’m no longer a true believer, but the religion is in my blood. Whether that’s the case for millions of other centrists out there remains to be seen.