In the 1981 cult movie The Gods Must Be Crazy, a Kalahari Desert bushman stumbles onto a Coca-Cola bottle tossed from an airplane. As the bottle passes from person to person, each interprets it as something different and finds a way to use it for his purposes. In Colorado Springs, the same thing is happening to a viciously racist piece of propaganda.
According to police, more than 100 copies of the racist fliers were mailed, stuffed into postboxes and inserted into copies of the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph. The professional-looking flier advertises "Prophecy Time With Dr. Dean Miller," pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in the Springs.
Under a picture of Miller, it continues: "With over fifteen years of experience in the ministry, I have come to the conclusion Niggers are the problem." A Bible passage is quoted, and Cornerstone's service times are advertised.
This is not the first time the church, which vigorously denies having anything to do with the flier, has been in the headlines. Last spring several parents accused Cornerstone of conning children into being baptized. Several months later they sued the church. Police spokesman Lieutenant Rich Resling says there is a good chance the flier and the lawsuit are very much connected, although he concedes there's little hope of discovering the flier's author.
That doesn't mean that everyone's ready to drop the matter. To the contrary, the hate piece has become a tool in the religious and moral disputes that still consume Colorado Springs in the wake of Amendment 2.
One of the first groups to latch on to the flier was the Colorado Springs Minority Coalition. Formed to "foster mutual understanding," the group is trying to oust an outspoken member of the city's Human Relations Commission, Vince D'Acchioli, whom it claims is anti-gay.
Within hours of receiving a copy of the flier last week, the Minority Coalition whipped up a press release addressing it. The statement noted that Cornerstone "denied authorship" and added, "We accept that, believing that the nature of the text is so scurrilous that no organization in its right mind would issue this type of thing except the likes of the KKK and other Aryan groups."
Yet, it continued, "Whoever was responsible, there is a point to be made. Actions and statements that inflame anger, inflame anger on different levels. The statements by Vince D'Acchioli...have the effect of inflaming extreme reaction on the fringe of both sides of the issue of equality and tolerance." The press release, ostensibly about the flier, concluded by calling for D'Acchioli's removal.
Perhaps the biggest users of the flier, however, are the parties in the emotional lawsuit against Cornerstone, which stems from the church's carnival one year ago this month. The event actually was a Pied Piper-like "con to get kids there to be baptized," says Paulette Buckner, whose daughter Melissa attended. "The minister told them if they didn't get submerged in the water, and if they were stung by a bee, they'd go to hell." The plaintiffs, the number of whom has grown to 21 kids and 18 families since the suit was filed in August, claim false imprisonment of the children and emotional distress suffered by them and their families.
Cornerstone admits baptizing a number of children who attended the carnival. But the church's Denver attorney, William Ritter, says it was all done with permission: "These kids were asked, `If anybody wants to be saved, come with us.'" He adds, "The decision to accept Christ is an individual one not made by parents."
Anyway, adds Ritter, the parents' suit has no precedent. "I have yet to find one case involving a case of unwanted baptism," he says.
Although the case is only now wending its way through court, it already has inspired strong passions. Strong enough, at least, for the police to believe that the racist fliers--which appeared the same day that lawyers began a new round of depositions in the church case--are closely connected to the lawsuit.
"We think this is an attempt to use the media against the church," says Resling. "It's awfully coincidental that the fliers came out the day of the depositions. I'm sure it's tied to the lawsuit."
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Edward Farry, who represents parents and children in the suit, scoffs at the idea that his clients would stoop so low. "All I can say is we have no idea who put out that flier," he says. "What do we know? All of my clients have acted appropriately and within the confines of the law. I would be shocked and amazed if it were any of the plaintiffs."
That hasn't stopped Farry from grabbing on to a piece of the flier for his own purposes. Two days after it appeared he brought it up as he questioned church officials during depositions. The point, he explains, was to discover if the racist remarks were the work of disgruntled Cornerstone employees--people who might come in handy as potential witnesses against the church.
Meanwhile, Cornerstone itself apparently hasn't been above reserving a corner of the racist missive to gain public sympathy. Cornerstone spokesman John Eade (who did not return phone calls from Westword) revealed to the Gazette Telegraph that, as if the flier weren't bad enough, the church also had been the target of several incidents of vandalism recently--something that the church didn't tell the police. Worse, Eade said Cornerstone had been the target of a shooting.
But, says Resling, the police have no report of a gun fired around the church. "When our policemen were out there to investigate the flier," he adds, "they didn't find any bullet holes or anything.