Rising Star on the Religious Right

SAN DIEGO -- As Star Parker faced the Republican National Convention, she struggled to stay calm and focus on the tightly scripted version of her life flowing across the teleprompters.

"Thirteen years ago I was on welfare, an unwed mother doing drugs, going to the spa and collecting my welfare check," she said. "As a teen-ager when I got into trouble with the law my white guidance counselor told me it wasn't my fault. I was the victim of institutional racism. ... Sounded good to me."

Then she reached the words GOP stage managers used to describe the time when some "people of faith" told her to quit cheating. She briefly considered rebelling and editing in the dreaded phrase "born-again Christians."

"Maybe I should have done that," she said, after her brief speech. "My whole story turns on that born-again conversion experience. ... Some people love my story and they love the American dream and all that, but they want me to cut out the born- again part."

Parker's on the rise. True, she was one of the only platform speakers whose biography was missing in action at the convention press office and one official schedule called her "Star Porter." But out in the hallways, society matrons in red, white and blue swooped in to kiss her cheek. The timing was right for a young, black, female, pro-life, talk-radio populist who can belt out gospel hymns. The line to shake her hand started on the right.

"We need to be listening to real people, right now, and Star is clearly a star," said Sen. John Ashcroft of Missouri, before Parker drew waves of cheers during a GOPAC panel on welfare reform.

Parker grew up in an Air Force family, before a "joyride" with friends in New Jersey took her to Los Angeles. The arrival of a baby didn't stop her from careening through years of drugs and multiple abortions.

"I was reckless and promiscuous and I had a good time. I didn't cry about any of it," she said. "The culture told me that you were supposed to do whatever you wanted to do. I did. That's an approach to life that fits right in with welfare."

In addition to working odd jobs, she sold chunks of her government medical benefits "under the table" to round up more spending money. Finally, she tried to get a job with a company that frowned on that sort of thing.

"They said my lifestyle was unacceptable," she said, and began acting out the scene in multiple voices. "So I was rather obnoxious to them. I said, `Says who?' They said, `God.' I said, `What?' So they got out a Bible and showed me. For some reason, I listened."

A year later, she decided that welfare was a sinful crutch. So she wrote her social-worker and asked to be taken off the welfare rolls. Next, Parker found three other welfare mothers to share an apartment and child-care duties. Later, she started a magazine for single Christians, before the 1992 Los Angeles riots shut down many of her best advertisers. Then she turned to radio.

Now she's married to a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church and they have a second daughter. Lately, Parker's wit and fiery opinions have landed her television work, including appearances on "Oprah," ABC's "20/20," "Politically Incorrect" and GOP TV projects. The British Broadcasting Corporation called the other day, too. Things are looking up for her advocacy group, the Coalition for Urban Affairs, and she has finished an autobiography, tentatively entitled "Pimps, Whores and Welfare Brats."

Parker said she has no idea what will happen next, but she has no plans to stop speaking her mind.

"As a black, conservative, woman, there are things I can get away with saying that other people can't," she said, watching another round of convention speeches begin on a nearby television monitor. "I made some big changes in my life because I wanted to please God. It may not make people happy to hear me say that, but that's what happened. That's the truth."