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Preach for the Stars

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He wandered up to Denver, tried to start a street ministry on East Colfax, got "burned out" and returned to Texas. In the meantime he'd met Belinda, and they married and started having babies. In the mid-Seventies they returned to the Denver area, where Ryle became associate pastor of Windemere Baptist Church in Littleton. When he started, the church had a hundred members. When he left about five years later, he said, there were fifteen. He was a fire-breathing, holier-than-thou preacher, he recalled, and was not very good at it. After taking a year off from preaching, in December 1982 Ryle took over as pastor of the Boulder Valley Vineyard.

In the type of coincidence that Ryle loves to point out, that was the same month Bill McCartney took over as the University of Colorado football coach.

McCartney's early years at CU were rugged. By the late Eighties he'd turned the football program around, but his players were getting a reputation as outlaws. It seemed they were always getting into trouble. And so was his daughter, Kristyn, who was impregnated by star quarterback Sal Aunese before the athlete was struck down by cancer in 1989.

That was the year McCartney joined Ryle's church. Coach Mac had already been exposed to evangelical Christianity, Catholic style, through the Word of God sect, which emphasized mentoring and accountability with small groups of men. And Ryle was not only a golfing buddy and confidant of Coach Mac, he was the team chaplain as well. "Pastor Ryle was touching my heart in a special way," McCartney later wrote.

In 1990 McCartney founded Promise Keepers. By now Coach Mac had become a combination of Knute Rockne and turn-of-the-century evangelist Billy Sunday, mixing sports jargon with Jesus talk in stadium rallies. And Ryle was in on the ground floor; the Vineyard "spawned" the PK movement, he acknowledged in a 1996 GQ article.

As Promise Keepers grew, Ryle would explain to out-of-town reporters that God was responsible for the success of both the Buffs and the religious movement. "God looks for a man like that, and he will bless his socks off," Ryle said of McCartney to the Washington Post. "If you live your life for the glory of God, God will bless what you do. That's the theological grid for how this thing played out."

But God's squad faced hostility from the heathens right from the start. Every time McCartney spoke out on religious matters on university property, demonstrators protested and the American Civil Liberties Union sought to muzzle him on grounds of separation of church and state.

Gays picketed the 1991 Promise Keepers rally at Folsom Field, and Ryle later told the Sporting News that protesters stood at the stadium's front gates, kissing one another and reaching for PK crotches. "It was disgusting," Ryle said at the time. "But TV didn't show that part."

In early 1992 the skirmishes broke into full-fledged war. McCartney called a press conference in a university building to explain his involvement with Colorado for Family Values, which was pushing the anti-gay-rights Amendment 2.

McCartney denounced homosexuality as "an abomination of almighty God." Two days later, at an anti-abortion rally, the coach declared, "I did nothing more than call a sin a sin," adding that gays have "internal upheavals that literally drive a person stark raving mad. That torment makes them the most miserable of all people."

Kristyn McCartney, single mother of a toddler, was feeling pretty miserable herself. Once again, Ryle to the rescue. In September 1992, she later recalled for a reporter, on the way home from Colorado's game with Baylor, Ryle counseled her, unveiling a four-step plan: Win, woo, wow and wed. He took Kristyn through the steps of winning back her self-esteem, realizing that she was attractive to men, feeling that "wow" when she met the right guy, and then getting married. (In 1993 Kristyn had a child out of wedlock fathered by player Shannon Clavelle.)

After Amendment 2 passed in November 1992, reporters flocked to Colorado. There to defend Coach Mac was his pastor.

"The people of [Boulder] are tolerant so long as you agree with their viewpoint," Ryle told a Kansas City Star reporter. "If it's okay for a guy to stand up and promote gay behavior, why is it wrong for Bill McCartney to say a man's man is a Godly man? He's attacked, and the others aren't. It's an absurd imbalance."

In January 1993 Ryle himself spoke out on homosexuality in a series of sermons to his flock.

"It is with great deliberation and much forethought," he said, "that I raise the trumpet to my lips this day, at the sight of seeming dramatic, to sound an alarm on God's holy hill. And I pray that the sustaining note will pierce through the fog of confusion and cause the troops of the Lord to rally as one man, clothed in the armour of light, prepared for spiritual warfare in a day of increasing darkness.

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Ward Harkavy
Contact: Ward Harkavy