Abstract: Making Jesus Springs: Colorado Springs and the New Geography of Evangelicalism
My paper, “Making Jesus Springs: Colorado Springs and the New Geography of Evangelicalism,” explores the movement of evangelical Christian ministries to Sunbelt cities after the 1970s, focusing on the case of Colorado Springs, Colorado. More than fifty evangelical ministries relocated to Colorado Springs after 1970; they ranged from one-person operations to multi-million dollar enterprises like Compassion International and Focus on the Family. This great migration, which earned the city nicknames like “Jesus Springs,” was part of a larger movement of evangelical ministries from southern California and the Northeast to the Sunbelt. Colorado Springs benefited the most from this shift, but so did cities like Dallas, Orlando, and Charlotte. I will explain this migration by considering Christian ministries not only as religious institutions but also as businesses, ones that could remain solvent only by seeking out areas with low taxes, cheap property, and a low-wage labor pool—areas like Colorado Springs. I will also examine the other side of the equation: the economic boosters who targeted nonprofits, and evangelical ministries in particular, as a means of developing the local economy. The impact of this migration extended beyond the economic realm. Though most of these ministries were apolitical, some, most notably the media empire Focus on the Family, involved themselves in local politics—with explosive results. Economic change thus made possible the “culture wars” that wracked Colorado Springs in the 1990s, as the city became ground zero in the national struggle over gay rights. The great migration of ministries thus reveals the complex interplay between religion, capitalism, and the state in the past decades.