It was a gathering of Christian leaders notable for what they wouldn't talk about.
Oddly, the forbidden topic was the hottest news item of the month. Major media were covering it around the clock. And some folks ducked in and out of the meeting in Washington, D.C., for media interviews on the very subject they wouldn't discuss with each other.
The shushed issue was the controversy over Justice Roy Moore and his insistence on keeping a monument to the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the Alabama Supreme Court building. Never mind that the day before, James Dobson of Focus on the Family had devoted his daily national radio broadcast to a defense of Justice Moore. Hours after the meeting, he appeared as a guest on Fox News Channel's Hannity & Colmes.
Mr. Dobson said the present controversy "started in 1962, removing prayer from the schools. The next year, Bible reading from the schools. Most recently the Pledge of Allegiance because it says 'under God.' The court is determined to shove this down our throats and I think it's time to say enough is enough."
Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention had also appeared on Fox as a guest on the network's O'Reilly Factor, to take exception to Justice Moore's tactics.
Mr. Land wrote an opinion piece in which he said Christians should be reformers, not rebels: "Do evangelical Christians really want to say that this United States government is no longer a legitimate government and that we are no longer obligated to obey its courts when we disagree with their rulings? If so, let us understand it for what it is. It is insurrection."
Nationally, the two men had disagreed with each other pretty vigorously. At the meeting here, they were more than cordial.
So were Sandy Rios of Concerned Women for America, who supports Justice Moore's position, and Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation, who thought the judge had gone too far. Also cordial were Gary Bauer, Tony Perkins (new head of the Family Research Council), broadcaster Marlin Maddoux, Mike Farris of the Home School Legal Defense Association, and Don Wildmon of the American Family Association-all of whom had slightly different takes on what was happening in Alabama.
What unites the diverse group, even against the backdrop of a few minor disagreements on other issues, is the threat of homosexual marriage. Tiptoeing around the Ten Commandments controversy was for these folks a small price to pay if they could at the same time build a national coalition in support of a "Federal Marriage Amendment."
Language of such an amendment is still to be perfected. But momentum is gathering for some sort of definition that will, at the least, limit marriage to heterosexual couples, and perhaps even exclude some of the extremes of so-called "civil unions."
For marriage amendment backers here, the disagreements over the Ten Commandments issue in Alabama provided fair notice: Fragmentation of the forces can be costly.
-by Joel Belz in Washington