Above, Frank and Bette Russo (center, next to top row), their 7 children and their spouses, and 31 grandchildren (2 more born since this photo)
By Randall Murphree. AFAJ editor, and Joy Lucius, AFAJ staff writer
January-February 2018 – Having celebrated 40 years of ministry last year, AFA staff members did a lot of reminiscing about old times and old friends, especially some of those culture war veterans who once worked under the umbrella of the national AFA office.
AFA Journal tracked down a few of them to see if they’re still in the fight. Not to worry. They are. Some continue (by permission) to use the AFA name.
And do they ever have stories to tell. Take Micah Clark, executive director of AFA of Indiana. One of his favorite experiences reflects a victory from a few years back, a victory that perfectly illustrates the impact a few concerned citizens can have.
“There was a sexually offensive radio station billboard appearing all over Indianapolis,” Clark said. “Moms were calling me, and I suggested they call the billboard company, not realizing that the company owned that radio station too.”
Clark met with the company president, and he confessed to Clark, “Ya’ know, I kind of thought this was wrong, but I put it up and told myself it would stay unless I got complaints.”
He took the boards down within a few days of meeting with Clark; he told Clark only 12 people had called him! Clark remembers wondering, What if those 12 hadn’t cared enough to call and speak in defense of decency?
AFAJ sent five questions to five men. Below are responses from Clark; David Caton, president of Florida Family Association; Steve Crampton, attorney; Bill Johnson, president of American Decency Association; and Frank Russo, president of AFA of New York.
AFA Journal: What inspired you to become a culture activist?
David Caton: My faith in Christ inspired me to try to make a difference.
Frank Russo: In my late 30s, there was a five-year period when I was questioning the existence of God and whether Jesus was indeed His Son. There were also three key problems I faced, and I was asking God if He would please consider solving these for me in a way that confirmed His existence and that Jesus was indeed His Son. God solved all three of my problems in a most brilliant way.
I soon got involved in a major Freedom of Information Lawsuit against Nassau Community College over porn films shown in its Family Life and Human Sexuality course. We … asked for the right of any state citizen to view the course films. We won our lawsuit in Russo v. NCC, a precedent-setting case before NY’s highest court in 1993.
Micah Clark (photo, right): Growing up, around the dinner table we didn’t talk about scores or football plays. We did talk about the news and headlines of the day. I was also fortunate to come of age as a teenager during the presidency of Ronald Reagan.
This had a big impact on my worldview. Later, when God took me to a time in life when I had to choose Him as Lord, I filled in a lot of my worldview with scriptural truths about family, life, faith, and the morally-ordered liberty of our founders.
Bill Johnson: God called me out of darkness. I was addicted to pornography; but I found God, by His grace and Spirit, to be true to His Word, and I was strengthened to overcome pornography.
As a public school teacher in the 1970s and ’80s, I watched the change in children and families brought about in part by the indecency on television. I began to read Don Wildmon’s AFA Journal, and I was stirred by his leadership. Don became my main mentor into activism.
Steve Crampton (Photo to left, Steve and Shelley Crampton (fourth and fifth from left) with their children and daughter-in-law (third from right): I became concerned many years ago at the increasing decay of our culture and the attacks on biblical morality. First, it was the issue of protecting the life of innocent children in the womb. Soon, it was special rights for homosexuals, and before I knew it, I was consumed with the need for legal specialists to deal with these issues from a broader constitutional perspective.
AFAJ: How did you become affiliated with AFA?
Crampton: I met [AFA VP] Buddy Smith at a conference in Colorado Springs back in 1993. He informed me of the AFA Law Center and invited me to apply. I did, and by God’s providence, I was eventually hired. I knew from the start that I was right where I needed to be.
Clark: After college, I was blessed to have an internship in the Indiana House of Representatives. That led to work for two pro-family organizations.
[When] my wife and I were expecting our first child, an opportunity arose to lead AFA of Indiana. I felt the Lord calling me there to fill a need and to strengthen the pro-family movement in Indiana.
Caton: The pastor of my church recommended that I join the local AFA chapter.
Johnson: I joined Citizens Against Pornography, a small group opposing porn in my local community. AFA was looking to start local chapters, and we could see that Don Wildmon was a man with a calling from God to fight for decency. We wanted to stand with him and others like him.
Russo: Rev. Wildmon asked our Diocesan Right to Life head, Father Jim Lisante, to please see if he could get a local person to head a Long Island chapter of AFA. Father Lisante then asked me to do so, and I decided to accept this offer.
When I retired in 1994 after 30 years as a division manager at AT&T and NYNEX (Verizon), I decided to organize the AFA for the entire state.
AFAJ: Recall a favorite highlight of your years of working with AFA.
Johnson: We built working relationships and credibility with leading county prosecutors in Michigan. In 1998, we purchased XXX rated videos to deliver to the Detroit prosecutor, which led to a raid on the “adult” Melody Theater and resulted in its demolition.
Clark: One highlight that comes to mind is my positive involvement with our national motto license plate in Indiana. I helped pass that legislation, was there for the bill signing, and was a part of the original design team.
“In God We Trust” was clearly displayed on our automotive license plates. More than 1.6 million drivers have chosen this plate for their cars.
Caton (photo, right): Our efforts influenced all major oil companies except Shell to include terms in their marketing agreements that prohibited retailers from selling pornographic materials in close to 100,000 convenience stores worldwide.
Crampton: In one notable case, we defended peaceful pro-life advocates against the combined offices of the Connecticut attorney general and the U.S. Department of Justice. It was the first time in history when the two sovereigns (state and federal) joined forces to sue private citizens. During the course of discovery, we learned that undercover counter-terrorism agents had infiltrated the church of our clients, spying on them in hopes of catching them doing something illegal.
After a long trial, we won. Our clients are still ministering to this day, and have seen over 2,400 babies saved, and hundreds of women come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Russo: I have appeared on dozens of major TV news programs and talk shows, including Phil Donahue, Geraldo Rivera, Larry King Live, and A Current Affair. I have also been in numerous debates on college campuses, usually debating current moral issues.
One key memory was my second appearance on Phil Donahue in 1995. … afterwards, I had a brief discussion with Phil and told him I was praying for him and Gov. Mario Cuomo, two men born Catholic who left their faith. I was very polite, but Phil got so angry at me I thought he was going to punch me.
AFAJ: How are you involved in activism today?
Russo: I’m frequently called by newspapers to comment on key moral issues such as right to life, marriage, homosexuality, and school choice. We are still airing our weekly AFA of NY public access TV programs on Cablevision and on Verizon.
In the past three years, I have received five anonymous letters and five or six telephone calls to our office where I was threatened and where Jesus Christ’s name was used in a disgusting way. I have reported all this to our local police.
Clark: My staff and I still work daily to educate and activate Hoosiers to preserve the traditional moral foundations of American culture and to be an advocate for them in both the home and the halls of Indiana government.
Johnson (photo, left): In recent years, our attention has shifted to bringing a number of national experts to inform, educate, and warn people regarding the advancement of Islam, Sharia, the Muslim Brotherhood, “Interfaith Dialogue,” and Civilization Jihad.
Crampton: I have my own law practice, but still litigate constitutional cases for Christians in need, often at no cost to clients. I’m currently involved in a case at the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals that presents a direct challenge to a Supreme Court precedent that has been abused to severely restrict First Amendment rights of pro-life counselors.
I also represent some Christians in New York City who have been sued by the outspoken pro-abortion NY attorney general for their sacrificial ministry to women with unplanned pregnancies. And I’m defending Christians in cases in Washington, D.C. and Mississippi, as well as assisting in cases at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Caton: I am currently president of Florida Family Association, where we primarily counter the Islamist political movement in the United States.
AFAJ: How would you challenge today’s citizen to be an activist?
Caton: Don’t wait too long to take action. The sooner you start, the more you will impact our culture.
Crampton: Speaking out on the issues of the day is more costly now than it has ever been. But that is no excuse for us to remain silent.
As one conference speaker put it, “Silence isn’t always golden; sometimes it’s just plain yellow.” We must certainly be wise as serpents these days, while remaining harmless as doves. Now more than ever, we must speak the truth in love, come what may, and look to the Prince of Peace for all our hope and provision.
Russo: Get involved in moral/cultural issues of the day, e.g., the high degree of sexual activity outside marriage (fornication, adultery, sodomy), abortion and killing over 55 million babies in our nation since 1973, same-sex marriage, and pornography.
The best thing I can suggest is having far more public discussions and debates on these issues conducted in a respectful manner and hopefully getting wide coverage by the media.
Don’t ask children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Instead, ask them, “What do you think God wants you to be when you grow up?”
Johnson: I believe Christians must not just be good talkers, but more importantly must represent Christ well … spending time in prayer, reading the Bible, and asking God to have mercy on us.
We need to call upon the Lord to lead us to what He would have each of us do and then learn to do it by serving, standing, speaking, loving, and leaning upon Him for understanding His will. “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).