Voices

Go Northwest, young man

Christian conservatives have the opportunity to do big things in Alaska

Issue: "The Road to Damascus," Sept. 21, 2002

BLACKSTONE GLACIER, ALASKA-NEW YORK NEWSpaper editors penned during the 19th century famous lines such as William Randolph Hearst's "You furnish the pictures, I'll furnish the war." (He was telling artist Frederic Remington to sketch propagandistic drawings that Hearst then used to push the United States into war with Spain.) But the century's most famous newspaper declaration was probably that of New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley. "Go west, young man," he advised those looking for maximum opportunity: Head to the frontier where you can fill a big hole in a big land.

The past decade has witnessed a proliferation of conservative think tanks and Christian publications. Much remains to be done, but a good foundation is now laid in many states. Alaska, however, has no Christian newspaper and no conservative think tank-and yet, it could be a path-breaking state. That's because the legislature-with Republican majorities in the 40-member House of Representatives and 20-member Senate-has a Christian core of 20-25 members.

Some are members of the Clapham Fellowship, named after William Wilberforce's advocacy group two centuries ago in London. During their January-May session Alaska's legislators live in close proximity in Juneau, the tiny state capital, and often develop close bonds. Christian and secular conservatives have been stymied in recent years, though, by a Democratic governor. (He was elected when the GOP foolishly nominated a soft-on-abortion candidate and a pro-lifer ran as an independent, splitting the normal Republican vote.) This year the Republican candidate is popular U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski, tired of D.C. life and hoping to return home as governor.

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If that works out, Clapham member Fred Dyson-currently a state representative, but cruising to election to the Alaskan Senate-will move from the margins to the center. He's already one of the most colorful legislators I know; here at the Blackstone Glacier near Anchorage, he drove his boat, The Dawntreader, amid the little icebergs that had "calved" off the glacier, laughing when some banged into the hull. He's more delicate in his legislative lobbying; he talks extensively with opponents so he understands their position well and knows when to accommodate concerns and when to ram them like errant ice.

Mr. Dyson as a college student four decades ago was, by his own account, "a very skeptical, militant agnostic, ready to lie, cheat, and steal to get things the easy way. In '61 I was chasing a Christian gal in Houston. I saw her faith keeping her out of my bed, and wanted to sway her. She took me to hear Bill Bright, who spoke of God's love being unconditional. That interested me, because I had thought that God only loved good little boys, and I sure wasn't one.... But the next night I stayed up reading through the New Testament, and passed from unbelief to belief." Mr. Dyson's college roommate "spent the next 18 months trying to destroy my faith. Once he told me to close my eyes, and then he dropped a naked girl in my lap and went out. I sat her on the couch and said, 'This won't work, honey. It's nothing about you.'"

Now, Mr. Dyson's alliance building has resulted in passage of some good legislation. One successful bill he introduced removes from sexual predators the easy defense that many have used: saying they did not know that the victim was under age, or that the victim said she or he was of age. The new act requires perpetrators to show that they took some action to verify the victim's age. Another act requires people to report any attempted murder, kidnapping, or sexual penetration of a minor, and any assault that causes serious physical injury. The hope is that onlookers will come to the aid of a child under attack, or a teen suffering a gang rape. The new legislation means that they are not allowed to ignore cries for help, or even cheer evil from the sidelines.

Mr. Dyson's style extends to telemarketers, a group to which I have strived to be courteous, and often failed. He goes far beyond the line of duty, often asking importuning callers whether they would like to have a personal relationship with Christ. Unless they say NO, he typically reads them a passage from Scripture, explains that God has helped him, and asks if they would like help. If that answer is not NO, he invites them to call him back when they get off work, or asks for an address where he can send information.

Any rugged Christian individualists out there looking not for gold but Alaskan adventure? Take a ride with Captain Dyson.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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