- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 23, 2007

BRANDON, Fla. (AP) — Christian conservatives are weary. Their movement has lost iconic leaders, and some say the 2008 Republican presidential field is uninspiring. But they may have found hope in a trailer on the campus of Bell Shoals Baptist Church.

There, in Annex Room No. 3, Ruth Klingman nods as a leader in Florida’s pro-family movement describes how same-sex “marriage” would open the door to other “aberrant forms of marriage.”

Yes, Miss Klingman says afterward, she will do her part to pass a constitutional amendment cementing marriage as a union between one man and one woman in this presidential swing state.

The first Family Impact Summit had minted a new activist — tangible results from three days of talks and workshops meant to replenish the roots of the Christian right.

“I just feel the opposition is growing so strong, I need to grow stronger,” said Miss Klingman, 34.

Organized by a scarcely known Tampa-area Christian group and ending yesterday, the summit sounded a back-to-basics theme: that evangelicals are called to be active citizens to combat threats from the left, that the work must involve not just national advocacy groups but local people and pastors, and the fight requires patience and persistence.

That last sentiment is a reminder of the challenges facing the Christian right.

Activists lost key allies in Congress when the Democrats retook Congress in 2006; movement pioneers Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy died this year; and there’s apathy over the current crop of Republican presidential candidates.

Even the weekend summit had its disappointments. Organizers hoped up to 350 persons would attend, laying the groundwork for a new Florida activist network. But only 104, nearly all from Florida, had registered by Friday.

The summit did draw some of the movement’s heavyweights, including former Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer, Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council.

However, the organizing group was a Tampa-area shoestring operation — the Community Issues Council, previously known for fighting a local bikini bar. The group’s sole full-time employee is former state Christian Coalition operative Terry Kemple.

Such national-local partnerships are the way to go right now, Mr. Kemple said: “It means more troops on the ground and more feet on the streets.”

Mark Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University, said state and local groups can have a powerful effect on elections.

“Even if these local groups merely exist for one election cycle and go out of existence, they can still have a real impact turning people out to vote,” Mr. Rozell said.

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