"When people first meet me, they think, 'I'll just watch her,' " said Rhonda Galloway, 20, a receptionist at the Dallas YMCA. "After they get to know me, they don't think I'm strange anymore. They realize I'm level-headed and, well -- I'll say sane."

On the job at an aircraft modifications plant, her husband, Gordon, 27, a computer software engineer, said he tried to talk to a shop manager about the route to salvation through Jesus Christ.

"He would get irate, say he didn't need a God or anything. He'd start coming on real macho, you know, saying, 'I'm no pansy, I don't need no god,' try to humiliate you, make you look like a wimp or something."

The Galloways are regulars at the Church on the Rock. Born again, but not born yesterday, they have grown used to the raised eyebrows, suspicion and hostility that their fundamentalist Christian beliefs attract.

Being a good Christian "doesn't mean you murder your brain or anything," Galloway said. "Usually what you run up against is people's defenses. They'll accept a benevolent all-knowing power . . . but when it comes down to a moral being, saying that what you're doing is wrong, that's where you run into problems."

As the assault troops of the Christian right hit the front lines of secular society, it is the teen-aged members of the faith who perhaps most of all must contend with a constant abrasion of their beliefs by forces ranging from television glamor to revolutionized dating rituals.

Cindy Murrell, 17, daughter of a fundamentalist structural steel drafter in Mesquite, Tex., prefers going to public school rather than private Christian school because "I like the activities they offer." A senior, she is captain of her drill team and works nights and weekends making telephone marketing calls. She said she wants to be a nurse.

"Someone has to witness in the public schools," said her father, who acknowledged that he would rather see her in a Christian school.

"I know who to hang out with and who not . . . . I know there are people that drink," she said. "These girls in phys-ed get caught smoking dope. You can smell it sometimes. I just avoid the bad crowd. And, if you get the chance, let them know it's wrong. Oh, they know it's wrong, you can tell by the way they're acting."

She has little time to watch television, she said. Her family watches Christian programs. But when she gets the chance, she added, she likes "Simon and Simon" and "Remington Steele."

Conservative Christians face especially tough decisions when their children want to date outside their religious circle, according to sociologists. This probably means, as one put it, associating with peers who "do drugs," listen to rock music, dance, "have sex, the whole thing."

David Solomon of Rockwall, his wife and children also are members of the Church on the Rock. He drives a Mercedes and speaks with awe of his "net worth," which he attributes to the blessing of God. He had planned to be an opera singer, but lost his voice.

"I pray for guidance. I pray for my clients to prosper," he said.

Does he care if his clients are good Christians?

"No. But I'll tell you what. They like me on their team."

Does God tell him what stocks to recommend?


Barbara Montgomery, a former atheist with a PhD in history from Loyola University, is a reformed alcoholic, sober for 22 years, who teaches at an inner-city community college in Dallas.

A Democrat with perhaps the only Mondale-Ferraro bumper sticker in the church parking lot, she is municipal judge of the nearby hamlet of Heath, and sometimes assigns drunk drivers who appear before her to attend her group.

After a few visits to the church, she said, she had her "spiritual experience" while watching a public television special featuring scientist Carl Sagan on an imaginary space voyage. "I thought -- all those worlds out there -- and that quotation about 'What is man that thou art mindful of him' came to mind. Tears started rolling down my cheeks. I cried and cried . . . . A lot of my friends thought I'd gone crazy."

She joined the church, went through the required three-month orientation course designed to help people "find the rock," and was water-baptized.

She adds with a triumphant chuckle, "I've prayed in tongues twice. My division chairman at school said, 'Don't say that too loud around here.' "

She is pro-choice on abortion, and said she believes there is no need for a constitutional amendment to permit school prayer. "I asked them at the church , you gonna kick me out? They laughed and said no."

How can an intelligent, well-educated person believe that the Bible is literally true?

"I had some question about it myself, as a teen-ager, and I felt guilty," Pastor Larry Lea said. "But if Jesus is who he said he is, then I have no problem believing in all kinds of miracles . . . ."

Lea praises scientific discovery and the work of medical doctors. "If we find a cure for cancer, I give the glory to God and the doctor," he said. But, he added, "There is a spirit world."

Software engineer Galloway said he sees no conflict between an infallible Scripture and an understanding of the second law of thermodynamics. "Something had to start it all, start the universe, in the first place. So why is it so hard to believe that something could have intervened later on?"

Jerry Falwell, speaking of the fundamentalist belief in the literal truth of the Bible as "the very word of God," told an interviewer, "People want what they've always wanted: they want a message from God."

Another charge leveled by critics of the Christian right is that they are bigots, clustering in "comfortable white men's churches."

Said Lea: "Well, that's been part of the problem . . . . I really think, in congregations where these charges are true, I would reprove them and, if you will, prophesy against them."

His church has "several hundred committed church people that are black people" and a number of "Messianic Jews," Jews who have accepted Christ as their savior, he added.

The appearance of unusual levels of racism within the movement "has to do partly with the sophistication -- or lack of it -- they show in expressing their racism," said Rice University's Bill Martin.

Beyond that, he added, religion tends to reinforce the broader cultural practices of its members. "You don't have a lot of sermons in the Episcopal religion decrying affluence. We tend to go to churches that confirm our 'total package.'"