On the set at Fox News, Cal Thomas dances and snaps his fingers after firing another torpedo at secularists and liberals on "After Hours with Cal Thomas." Thomas, 61, hums, "There's no business like show business," as he contemplates his next show. His conservative Christian musings have grown into the most widely syndicated political column in America, carried by more than 550 newspapers. Twice a week for 20 years, Thomas has taken aim at those he calls "my liberal friends." Indeed, many of them, such as Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy and The New York Times columnist Frank Rich, count Thomas as a friend.

While the public Thomas is a commentator on "Fox News Watch" and is syndicated on more than 300 radio stations, the private Thomas entertains friend and foe by singing Broadway tunes, scheming practical jokes, and puncturing foolish pretensions with engaging wit. Former "Meet the Press" moderator Paul Duke recalls that Thomas "would let you know what he was thinking in a jolly way."

After an up-and-down beginning to his career, in 1980 Thomas ended up as media director for Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority. He sent an op-ed piece on book burning to The New York Times—not really expecting the "Pravda on the Hudson to pick me up." It did. Then he proposed writing a column through the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. Bedlam broke out in the newsroom. "You are inviting Jerry Falwell in," one vice president argued.

But Willard Colston, the head of the Times Mirror division for syndicated columns, knew his paper was missing many readers. After a contentious meeting, Colston banged his hand on a desk and said, "We are going to try this thing." Thomas's column skyrocketed. Eventually, Thomas left the Moral Majority and created a new type of journalism that combined showbiz sensibility with a Christian worldview.

Tony Carnes, a CT senior news writer, caught up with Thomas for several interviews on the fly. Here are some highlights from their conversations.

You love musicals and the theater. You relish being a performer, in the best sense of the word. Are your columns and commentary a type of performance?

I wanted to go into musical comedy. If I could be in a musical, I would be Henry Higgins to Julie Andrews's Eliza. But I knew I couldn't make it as a Broadway star. So, broadcasting was the place where I could meet the stars. I get a kick meeting a theatrical singer like Carol Channing. On my television show, I once did a few songs with Ann Hampton Callaway, one of my favorite cabaret singers. We did a Christmas song, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." [This approach] is a very effective way to witness. It destroys the stereotype of Christians. We have fun, tell jokes, and sing. I want to let my life show before I tell them.

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How do you see yourself?

C. S. Lewis said we have been parachuted behind enemy lines. By my work I can be credible. God has sent me as a missionary to my colleagues. However, my vision is still journalism. I have never done anything else. I am praying and working to get people in church. Reporting is all passing away. I used to [think] career is everything.

How did Jack Kelley, the discredited star reporter of USA Today, go off the track?

When the Nazi Adolf Eichmann was put on trial, CBS's Mike Wallace interviewed a Holocaust survivor who testified at Nuremburg. He collapsed on the floor in tears when he saw Eichmann. Wallace asked, was this because he saw the evil in the eyes of the monster? The survivor said, "No, it was because I saw the capacity in myself to do the same thing." We have to remember to take the log out of our own eye and understand the temptation. Each time you succeed at something, a scoop on the front page for example, there is pressure to top that.

Your column came out of your faith in God. Have you been a Christian since childhood?

I had gone to a building called church, but it didn't mean anything to me. We never read the Bible at home. It was a cultural thing. I had accepted Christ at age 12, but it lay dormant in my life because I didn't feed [my faith]. At 16, I was a DJ on the local rock & roll radio station. I had my own show from 7:00 in the morning 'til noon on Sunday. It helped me rationalize not going to church.

How did your faith revive?

I had started to work for NBC in 1961 as a copy boy in Washington. I had moved up, and I had this plan of where I would be by age 30. But at 27, I wasn't advancing as I thought I should be. I felt like I was in a basement, no direction. In 1971, my wife, Ray, and I were feeling a lot of emptiness. So, we started to go to church. Someone recommended Fourth Presbyterian, pastored by Richard Halverson. We loved it and started attending.

But I was still trying to have it all and not succeeding. I was working six or seven days a week. The culture tells us that if we achieve this, or make this, or buy this, then we will get the [American] dream and be happy.

On a Friday in 1973, my boss at NBC said, "Got a minute?" I got fired-because of my ego, big mouth, and jealousy of now-dead people. That was part of the trembling struggle toward the glory of Christ. He was holding me back for my sake.

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My wife said, "You will never be free of the burden of success if you don't thank God for losing your job." In tears I recommitted my life to Christ that night. And that led to 11 years in the wilderness.

You went to KPRC-TV in Houston. Why didn't you like your time down there?

Coming from D.C., it was like a tailspin into the wilderness. But God had a plan. Outwardly, my change could be seen in me learning not to blaspheme.

Ralph Neighbor, a pastor, taught me doctrine. I also met Francis Schaeffer in Houston. In 1971 or 1972 I had heard him in D.C. I didn't understand him, but I told my wife that I must know more about him. Later, at a retreat, I picked up True Spirituality. This decoded Schaeffer's ideas for me.

Schaeffer showed me how to use my gift redemptively. [I saw that what] the apostle James said about the tongue and fire applied to me. One result is that I try to stick to issues and not to cut people down.

I went to L'Abri, where I remember having a lunch with Schaeffer. There was a knock on the door. Billy Graham was there; he was staying at a chalet up the road. He asked to join us for lunch. Schaeffer didn't treat him any differently than he did the music librarian from Chicago who was there. I will never forget that. Schaeffer also showed me how to integrate my faith and life. I hadn't gotten the pieces of my life together yet.

Why did you go to work for Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority in 1980?

I had told my colleagues my frustrations in life. Someone told Falwell, and he invited me to join Moral Majority. I figured that I was not going anywhere in news, so why not go down there? He was very generous to my family.

But you left Moral Majority in 1985 and later published Blinded by Might about that experience.

The deeper I got into Scripture on what God expects of sinful, unredeemed men and women, the more I realized that there is no trickle-down morality. The church should make disciples and not change culture. Paul didn't say, "Change the culture."

There is no reason that the unregenerate mind should be sympathetic to what we want. So, it becomes a political power game. Each side tries to beat the other side. The truth is not advanced. Believers fear the anti-Christ; pagans fear the Christians.

If the church is doing its job, it automatically affects society. Government and political power are limited.

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So, you went back to Washington, D.C., to do your column. Did you continue with Halverson as your pastor?

Yes. From Halverson I learned how to relate to people. He said don't approach people with an agenda. First, build a relationship so they can trust you. But it can't be manipulative.

Most people in journalism know I am conservative and a Christian. That is a double death in my profession. I have to overcome that. They know I care and have no agenda in our relationship. I know the easily wounded ego, the fears of being fired tomorrow because someone is cuter and better blow-dried.

Dick [Halverson] also taught me always to get to know the names of the little people. Sometimes the little shots are the ones God wants you to meet-not the big shots. Maybe the person God wants you to reach is not the senator but the secretary or the Capitol Hill policeman.

Is it possible to be a humble Christian in Washington?

This is a big ego boost. My column is a projection of myself. It is baring your all on stage. So, you get discouraged when your colleagues don't invite you to parties, when The Washington Post leaves you out. Satan is the author of discouragement. I recognize the source. Dealing with oneself is the greatest fight for a believer.

Tony Carnes is a senior news writer for Christianity Today.

Related Elsewhere:

Thomas's columns appear regularly at TownHall and Beliefnet. He is host of After Hours with Cal Thomas, on Fox News.

Christianity Today's September 1999 issue dealt with the thesis of Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson's book, Blinded by Might, in which the authors suggest that Christians should back off politics and focus on the church. Articles, available from the CTLibrary, include:

The Moral Minority | In looking at the long history of conservative politics, from the defeat of Robert Taft in 1952 to the nomination of Barry Goldwater to the takeover of the Republican party in 1994, I think it is fair to say that conservatives have learned to succeed in politics. That is, we got our people elected. But that did not result in the adoption of our agenda.—by Paul Weyrich
We Can't Stop Now | Since the disappointing 1998 election results, a few among the ranks of the faithful have counseled timidity, retreat, and withdrawal. Religious conservatives have not achieved all they desired since they burst onto the national political scene in the late 1970s with the formation of the Moral Majority. But I disagree with those who claim that we should therefore leave the public square to the organized Left.—by Ralph Reed
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Have We Settled for Caesar? | Should those who are set apart to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ descend to a lower kingdom so that they resemble the sounding brass and tinkling cymbal of the legions now competing for temporal power?—by Cal Thomas
I'd Do It All Again | I do not accept the media-invented "Religious Right" label as a correct description of believers who obey Christ's admonition in Matthew 5:13-16 to be salt and light in this darkened world. As I see it, the topic would be better titled "Should Christians give up on obeying the Lord?"—by Jerry Falwell
We're Fighting the Wrong Battle | Politics hasn't failed: attempts to reform culture through politics have failed.—by Don Eberly
An On-Again, Off-Again Love Affair | Dobson and Thomas contend that our language of right and wrong, honor and duty has become a dead language, "like Latin—quaint, curious and forgotten." What if that is true?—by Bruce L. Shelley
The New Cost of Discipleship | The profamily community has been extremely frustrated by many unsuccessful campaigns, especially by our inability to end the horrible procedure known as partial-birth abortion. But we have given our best to the effort.—by James Dobson
What's Right About the Religious Right | If the earlier hope to "save America" was overblown, so too is the current counsel to withdraw from politics—an overreaction against an original overreaction.—by Charles Colson

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