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First Family Church's Jerry Johnston has his orders for Kansas City.


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It feels like I'm living in the sequel to Footloose.

At the Kansas Capitol in Topeka, preachers from all over the state are holding a rally in the rotunda. They're crusading against the evils not of dancing but of gay people getting married.

Carloads of Christians have slid across the state's highways in an icy drizzle. A couple hundred of them are now amassed in the marble mezzanine under the dome, beneath cattle-and-tornado murals and across from the statue of a very masculine-looking Amelia Earhart in jodhpurs.

A busybody from Concerned Women for America works the crowd, introducing herself and gossiping about how she worked for Sen. Sam Brownback over the summer, sending out packets regarding the role of churches in government. On an upper floor, a sign holder leans over a railing with a placard admonishing state legislators, who are starting their session today, to "Keep our laws like God's laws."

The Rev. Jerry Johnston appears, TV lights go on and the rally's master of ceremonies proclaims that God has brought this man to help. Johnston, from Overland Park's First Family Church, has returned to Topeka, he tells the crowd, because -- to his utter shock back on May 4, 2004 -- he watched as lawmakers refused to let Kansans vote on a constitutional amendment to "protect" marriage.

A heckler tries to drown him out, yelling, "Don't vote discrimination!" But the congregation just cheers louder for the man they know affectionately as Pastor Jerry. The CWA busybody escorts the heckler away from the crowd. Meanwhile, Johnston thunders, "We're not going away! For too long, the pulpits in Kansas have been silent!"

The preachers want lawmakers to let the people of Kansas vote on a marriage amendment, and they want it to happen now.

Meanwhile, downstairs, another couple of hundred Kansans are counterdemonstrating, and their applause floats up through the round, open space in the rotunda. These are the gays and the preachers from the liberal churches. Their rally was supposed to be on the Capitol's south steps, but they've come in from the ice storm, claiming equal access to the halls of power. They cheer as Joshua Svaty, a Democratic state rep from Ellsworth, talks about how his own religious beliefs don't include discrimination. The young Svaty has long, dark, wet-look hair. (If he had a beard, he'd look like You Know Who.) And even though he's been elected from out in the middle of nowhere, he's fearlessly urging his fellow legislators not to discriminate against gay people.

Back upstairs, the rally ends when a preacher instructs everyone to walk the Capitol halls and pray, and the crowd responds with an eerie, deep-toned "Amen."

Pastor Jerry's heckler, who turns out to be Michael Henry from the Kansas City office of the gay-rights organization Human Rights Campaign, shoves his way over to Johnston. If he could prove that the marriage amendment was discriminatory, Henry says, would Johnston still support it? Johnston says he can guarantee it's not discriminatory. Then, in a display of God knows what, the two adversaries -- along with Johnston's son and a few other hangers-on -- embrace in a group prayer.

All the while, two guys in leather jackets and earpieces stand back, scanning the crowd like low-rent Secret Service agents. Apparently, they're Johnston's bodyguards.

If this really were the sequel to Footloose, Kansas legislators would convene a couple of days later to consider the marriage amendment and realize that gay people aren't doing any harm and that, in fact, it wasn't like one of those preachers said. Marriage isn't being attacked, and God isn't being attacked. So they would refuse to send the constitutional amendment to Kansans for a vote.


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