Preach for the Stars

From their sanctuary high on a hill in Gunbarrel, members of the Boulder Valley Vineyard Christian Fellowship can gaze at the Rocky Mountains through a huge wall of glass.

On October 4, however, all eyes turn upward to twelve huge TV screens hanging from the church ceiling. At high noon, the Boulder Vineyard takes over Washington, D.C. Now, that is a religious experience.

Fellow church member Bill McCartney, their beloved "Coach Mac," has packed the Capitol Mall with nearly a million men at the Promise Keepers' "Stand in the Gap" rally.

The scores of speakers at the PK rally come from churches all over the country. But who warns the crowd to "stand righteous in a sea of apostasy"? PK president Randy Phillips, a Vineyard member. Who leads the nation's largest-ever religious gathering in song? The church's worship director, Milton Carroll. What do they sing? The church's favorite song, "Holy Is the Lord." Of course, Coach Mac himself gives the main speech. And the man who delivers the all-important main evangelistic message--"Jesus is the only way to God!"--is the church's pastor, James Ryle.

Pastor James steps up to the mike and declares, "Joshua in his nation's capital said he would serve the Lord!" The rest of the story, the part Ryle neglects to mention, is that Joshua and his men called upon God to make the walls of the "cursed" Jericho crumble, and then they rushed into the capital and killed every living thing--men, women, cattle, sheep and donkeys--except for one prostitute.

As Ryle appears on the TV screens, the hundreds of people gathered at the Vineyard--most of them women, since so many of their men have gone off to war--whoop and holler.

And these Vineyardites seemed like such nice people.

James Ryle, born in October 1950 to a convict and an overburdened mom, was placed in a huge Southern Baptist orphanage in Dallas when he was seven and didn't emerge until he was eighteen--except for the times he says he escaped, got caught and was beaten. According to a "personal testimony" tape on sale for $5 at his church (Ryle refused to talk to Westword), he promised God he wouldn't run away, but he did anyway, and God said to him, "You promised!" It was the start of a lifelong dialogue between the two.

At seventeen, as Ryle told it, "I'm really kicking into the hippie scene, sniffing my tennis shoes to get high and doing every other thing I can get my hands on." Then, upon release from the orphanage, he went to Grand Prairie, Texas, for his senior year of high school.

Just another stoner. Once, on the way to a rock concert in Lewisville, Texas, Ryle fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into a bridge embankment. He survived, but his passenger, a pal, was killed. So the cops in Fort Worth County charged Ryle with negligent homicide.

Trying to raise money to pay for a lawyer, he started selling dope and got busted for that, too. He now faced serious drug charges in Texas, where they were locking people up for possession of a joint. And he got evicted from his apartment. Some friends found him a place to stay, with a guy named Mike.

Oh, woe was James Ryle. The lawyer he hired with the dope money bailed out on him, and he wound up jailed. He cried out to God, "Why are you doing this to me?" But while he was in jail, the cops raided Mike's place and busted him for major dope-dealing. If Ryle hadn't been in jail, he would have been busted at Mike's. And God again spoke to James Ryle: "That's why!"

Things started looking up. His new, state-appointed attorney got him a deal: two years in prison on the drug charges, and the negligent-homicide charge was dropped. "I've seen God work phenomenal wonders in my life through his faithfulness," Ryle said. Of course, the parents of the boy who was killed may not have agreed.

Ryle was paroled from prison after eleven months of reading the Bible. He got out on December 22, 1970, bursting with the Good News of Christ--and burst right into the Jesus Movement, which was filled with hippies turning from drugs to religion. "I stepped out with a big Bible," he recalled, "and all my friends are wearing crosses and carrying Bibles and saying, 'Jesus is Lord,' and I'm thinking, 'This is too much.'"

Burning with zeal, Ryle became a Bible teacher. "I just had a knack for knowin' stuff," he said on his tape. "I'd look at something, and it would just make sense to me. And it made enough sense to me that I could make it make sense to someone else."