Supporters of Arlington's Christian Embassy called on God, several congressmen and a senator this week, but they could not win over the wealthy and skeptical community of McLean.
The Embassy, an evangelical organization that attempts to lead top government officials into "a personal relationship with Christ," wanted to leave its Rosslyn high-rise for a conference center, with swimming pool and tennis court. The complex would have been on a five-acre, $400,000 wooded lot near the Evans Farm Inn in McLean, which zealously guards its reputation as a residential communty.
After almost three hours of debate Wednesday night that ranged from land use to theology, a special meeting of the McLean Citizens Association--one of the oldest and most powerful civic groups in the Washington area--voted 99-to-96 against the center.
Embassy Director R.H. (Swede) Anderson said the organization would respect the wishes of the narrow majority and look elswhere. "No voice from heaven said, 'This is your place,' "he said with a smile.
Embassy opponents said their only concern was maintaining McLean's residential character, and Anderson said he was satisfied that he had demonstrated the integrity of his six-year-old evangelical organization.
Suspicions of darker motives occasionally poked through the land-use debate. Embassy supporters wondered aloud whether the long-time leaders of McLean were applying a stricter standard to their project than they would to a more established church organization, and McLean veterans accused the Embassy of trying to stack the 68-year-old association with born-again members.
"Any time you get a religious group that ministers to people in power, that goes after the powerful, there's an element of mistrust," said Kaye Sloan Burke, president of the McLean association. "There's the specter of the Moral Majority . . . That shouldn't be an issue, but people are human."
"There's something that's just not right," Rep. Dan Coats (R-Ill.), who testified for the Embassy at two association meetings, said before the Wednesday session. "If they would take the time to investigate who they are and what they're about, I don't see how they could have any objection."
Sen. William L. Armstrong, another McLean resident and Embassy supporter, left Capitol Hill after a long budget debate, changed into jeans, running shoes and a windbreaker and stood quietly at the back of the cafeteria of the James Fenimore Cooper Intermediate School.
"I personally know of a large number of people whose lives have been changed because of the ministries of this group--people who have accepted Christ as a savior and whose family and personal lives have been healed," Armstrong said. The Colorado Republican said he, too, "accepted" Jesus because of the Embassy's efforts.
The Embassy was formed in 1976 as an offshoot of the Campus Crusade for Christ International, the 31-year-old "I Found It" organization that claims more than 15,000 staffers in 150 countries. With 25 staffers, the Embassy ministers to members of Congress, their aides and families, Pentagon officers and diplomats here and at the United Nations, according to Embassy director Anderson.
The Campus Crusade teaches that Jesus is "the unique personality of all time," and that only a personal relationship with Him can bring peace and forgiveness of sins. The Embassy offers spiritual guidance, Bible classes, dinners and prayer meetings, but does not lobby.
"They've never, in my involvement, for one second touched on anything political," Coats said. "It is certainly not a cult."
The Embassy now rents office space in Rosslyn but wants a retreat site to replace the Chase mansion, a Northwest Washington home it sold in 1978 because of zoning problems. The five-acre tract across Dolley Madison Boulevard from the Evans Farm Inn seemed perfect, Anderson said, but the McLean Citizens Association had sold the land in 1979 with a covenant forbidding the development of anything except single-family homes.
Rep. Edward J. Derwinski (R.-Ill.) told the association it should lift that covenant for the Embassy, arguing that a retreat site would produce less traffic and preserve more trees than would ten private homes.
"I don't think the community of McLean should ever go on record as not welcoming people who represent Jesus Christ," another neighbor agreed.
"It is not a matter of whether we wish to welcome Christians into this community," said Louis Gasper, the association's planning chairman. "The question is whether you want to push that area gradually toward institutional use."
Anderson said the Embassy will probably look for another site rather than pursuing the matter in court or, as some association members said they feared, encouraging more supporters to join the civic group. "We have no grand membership campaign," he said."