Lancaster Bible Church in Pennsylvania was founded in 1986 in a three car garage with about 40 people. It quickly grew and by 1991 moved to its current complex on Lancaster's suburban fringe. It's a classic mega-church, with 4,000 attending weekly services. Members come in casual dress and worship with contemporary music. There are numerous volunteer opportunities, and everyone has the opportunity to join a small "care group" to stay connected to the church.

Following are excerpts of a two-hour conversation that occurred Aug. 27 between Beliefnet's Deborah Caldwell and five members of LCBC.


Jim Whiteman, 45, spiritual formation pastor: The thing that has driven most of my votes in recent years is the pro-life issue. It's sort of along the same lines as the compassion theme. That baby is a living being and that's sort of the ultimate in non-compassionate response is to put that child to death. But I get annoyed sometimes that I'm sympathetic to the views of candidates that might be pro-choice but because of my strong feelings about abortion I sort of feel like I get pulled in a direction I'm not always comfortable with. There are secondary issues and I'm not totally comfortable with the candidate I'm voting for so I sort of end up voting for someone I'm not real thrilled with.

There is no question there are many cases that are very difficult when it comes to abortion: rape and incest and the life of the mother. But that isn't what usually happens. Since 1973 there have been something like 44 million abortions in this country. That's a travesty. That's where I come from on it. I'm not an extremist who's going to say in all cases it's wrong. I do recognize there are difficult situations that require thought. But that's not the majority.

Ben Donahower, 20, government major: I am a pro-life Democrat. I have felt that, for one, if you want to make real progress on that issue you have to elect Democrats, like [the late Pennsylvania governor] Bob Casey. I think that it's such a politically sensitive issue and whenever an elected official tries to effect some sort of incredible change in that area it involves so much political capital, you need someone who can reach people on the other side. I think someone more moderate can do that.

Brenda Coffin, 45, life coach and stay-at-home mother: I'm pro-life but I would make an exception for incest, rape, the condition of the mother. So I qualify it.. It's not a black and white thing in certain cases.

Mary Steffy, 57, mental health advocacy director: Whichever side you take there is incendiary language and even within the bounds of scripture the answer is very often "it depends." There are people who are pregnant who were raped, sometimes by their own husbands. And generally speaking men are making decisions about women when women had no choice in the pregnancy.. As a blanket statement I am in favor of life.

Don Hershey, 44, systems analyst: I would have to say I'm most concerned about issues like abortion and gay marriage. Those are issues that are confronting our culture today and we're struggling as a community. As a Christian I'm trying to work in the pro-life area, issues that I think are clearly defined in the Bible in terms of a biblical basis. That would include every aspect of that debate. {That means] pro-life, but also other cultural issues that would have a biblical basis in terms of right or wrong. What is laid out in the Bible, which would include homosexual marriage.

Gay Marriage

Hershey: Gay marriage is the issue in the forefront. I think a lot of progress has been made in the pro-life arena and where major decisions will be made in coming months is probably in the gay marriage arena.

Donahower: I disagree with the term marriage because holy matrimony has very distinct religious qualities to it. And I think churches should be opposed to homosexual relationships, but I also think there are some values you have to give to people as people and when it comes down to it they're going to live their lives how they want. We should be trying to effect change in their lives. And then they'll change their behaviors. But on the other end, I support civil unions because they are people and they deserve some sort of benefits extended to them. Such as, if they have children from a past heterosexual relationship, and they need visitation rights, that's something we as people should have respect enough for other people to give to them. But as far as giving them the whole kit and caboodle and calling it gay marriage I think that goes too far. I think we need to draw a line between what is moral for them as people and what is entitled exclusively to heterosexuals.

Mary Steffy: I can't say I am always and forever against gay people having the right to a life in which they have legal rights. My father was very strongly anti-gay and I said to him, "Dad, what if someone told you that you had to stop being attracted to Mom and you had to be attracted to a man?" He said, "I could never do that." And I said, "Well, I have gay friends. I don't believe generally speaking gay people choose to be gay. Why would they choose that, given the price it's going to cost them? I don't like ot call it marriage either but I think they have a right to civil liberties.

Brenda Coffin: Marriage and family values are my core. Traditional value system. Not that it has to be a mother and father. There are single parents out there. As a former social worker I see all kinds of family systems that work. But I'm really against the homosexual relationship and calling that family.

President Bush and the War

Mary Steffy: I am anti-Bush. But I don't know that I'm pro-Kerry at this point. I'm a registered Republican. But I am overwhelmingly appalled at the war. By now America is responsible for killing far more people than were killed on 9/11. And my grandchildren and great-grandchildren are going to pay for this war. So the issues are much braoder to me. If you talk about the compassion and accountability-it's a preemptive war. This is a whole shift for this country. Just this week there was an article in the paper that Bush has gone around Congress to get his faith-based initiatives. Now, where you stand on faith-based initiatives, and I have mixed feelings about that, it's this whole sense of getting what I want because I think it's right no matter what the rest of the world thinks. It doesn't matter what Congress thinks. I mean, we started the war based on erroneous information. And all of the abuse and the scandal about what has happened to prisoners-I think if Bush were being compassionate he would in the strongest possible terms speak out against that.

Brenda Coffin: [The terrorists] are getting closer and closer to our border and our homeland, and I think he did the right thing in protecting us.. I think he's a great leader. I like his value system. I think the war went a little out of control. But I still think we needed to go there.

Jim Whiteman: There's no question in my mind the invasion of Afghanistan was necessary. Clearly they were sponsoring terrorism and clearly it was a repressive regime that needed to be put under control. I don't know if Bush knew then what he knows now whether he'd choose to do what he did on Iraq. I mean, he's not going to say that. There are certain things he says that are sort of like that. It's easy in hindsight to say see we shouldn't have done that. I wasn't an enthusiastic supporter of the invasion of Iraq when it was done but I wasn't against it. I didn't see enough evidence to be conclusive about it. I figured they had evidence I didn't know about, but I didn't see it.

The current political election isn't giving us an alternative. I mean, the Democrats lined up in favor of this thing. They all voted to fund it, and sure there were more Democrats that voted against than Republicans that voted against it. But you can't say a vote for Kerry is a vote against the war in Iraq.

Don Hershey: I think Bush is a very strong leader. He has a strong idea of where he wants to lead the country. And I know that sometimes creates conflict because sometimes people don't respond to that type of leadership. In terms of the war, you can look at it from a macro level and look at what has happened across the war in the last 25-30 years, you've seen a rise of these kinds of activities that led up to 9/11. And I think he's taking a stand to say "enough is enough." We lost 3,000 people at the WTC and the other plane crashes, but if you look back at the Iran hostage-taking, the influence Libya had in the early 1980s, the Khobar towers bombing-there's a whole pattern of aggression toward the United States and U.S. citizens aboard. It just so happens it didn't impact us because that was over there and we're over here. But now all of a sudden it's over here. And I think he is recognizing the need to deal with the problem and I think he's doing it over there. He's moved the front lines from the United States to the Middle East. And although I would say there are things that have happened such as the prison abuse which was a terrible thing-and there were no doubt miscalculations made along the way, if we look back and say should we have done this instead? Would we be in a better position? In general terms I would say it was totally necessary.

We also have to remember that Saddam was in charge for more than 30 years and 30,000 people were executed. You've got to look at the Taliban situation in Afghanistan where women and children were prevented from going to school. To me, it's almost unthinkable that you could present the arguments people make against Bush but you don't hear about these other atrocities that were committed. Where's the outrage toward that?

Ben Donahower: There's a difference between him being a strong leader and a stubborn leader who won't listen to other people. I think he is so driven by ideology that he isn't willing to look at different sides. He isn't looking at the subtleties we're looking at. Why weren't we going after Sudan, where we let things spiral out of control in the last month? The justification for the war isn't there.

Bush and Christianity

Brenda Coffin: It's great to see a Christian who isn't afraid to say that. It's awesome. And after Clinton, I think it's refreshing. I was just sick about some of the things that went on when he was in office, that he couldn't uphold the highest office in the land morally. I think Bush does that. How he carries himself in office, the things he stands for, the actions that follow. He's consistent. I don't think he's afraid to stand up for what he believes. That shows character and leadership.

It's great to have someone who isn't afraid to include God in his speech, to show that in his issues and the way he conducts himself and what he stands for. I think all the way around he exudes that. He's genuine and authentic.

Don Hershey: There are some issues that have come up in his first term that I've been less enthusiastic about-campaign finance reform and No Child Left Behind, which I think federalized education and I don't think it should have been. There are areas I wish he'd pulled back on, because those are areas where I think the government is going in a direction opposite the way I'd like to see it go. Which is less bureaucratic, more state and local driven. I don't look at government ever really solving problems. I think they tend to create problems or make existing problems worse. But having said that, it does come back to leadership. He is a man of principle. I believe that if this war in Iraq ends up costing him the election, he will still believe he did it because he thought it was the right thing to do. I don't think this is something that defines who he is. He's not out seeking to create a legacy. I think Bush throws the chips down and lets them fall where they fall. It's an indication of someone who is a strong leader.

Ben Donahower: I consider myself a conservative Christian. I think you need to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior to make it to the `nice place.' And I believe in an afterlife. I believe the Bible is the inspired word of God and we need to follow it as it's written. But I find George Bush-and it saddens me, as a Christian-hypocritical. Because he's pro-life--but you have to have a consistent life ethic. Here's a governor who [when he ran Texas] put people to death right and left. Everybody has the opportunity to see the light of truth in God, no matter if they're a hideous criminal. I think people can be reformed. And the war in Iraq isn't pro-life.

I think it's great that he talks about Christianity, and I wish John Kerry would do that more. And I think if you're not working in and through your faith and your core beliefs somewhere along the line you're denying yourself. If things don't spring out of some sort of Christian ethic in some way shape or form, and that isn't how you lead your political, social, religious, and family life, that gets a little scary.

Jim Whiteman: I like the fact that he's a Christian, but it's not hugely important to me. I think it's more important the person be competent than that they're a Christian. Now, there is a character element to competency. No matter how effective Bill Clinton was, I did not think much of his character and so therefore I didn't think he was competent. He seems to be a man of character. He seems to be true to his ideology whether you agree with him or not. My only misgiving with him-and history is only going to tell us if this is true-it's not clear to me he's been as effective as I would want him to be. I think he's an inspirational leader but he hasn't accomplished as much as I'd like to see--getting himself embroiled in Iraq and not having a good exit strategy or at least not one that worked. The economy hasn't really turned around to the extent that we would like, and maybe that's not his fault.

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