All posts from “June 2011”

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June 29, 2011

SBC Vote Reveals Delicate Evangelical Support for Immigration Reform

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) adopted a new immigration resolution at its annual meeting held earlier this month in Phoenix. The resolution called on the government to secure the border and then provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The SBC said this path to citizenship should not be amnesty but should include “appropriate restitutionary measures.” The resolution passed, but not until after a debate that revealed the tensions many evangelicals feel over immigration.

Richard Huff, pastor of Corona de Tucson Baptist Church in Tucson, Arizona, proposed to eliminate the policy section of the resolution. At issue was the path to citizenship, a provision some saw as “amnesty” and a sanctioning of lawbreaking.

Resolution Committee chairman Paul Jimenez said his committee opposed the amendment. He called the original resolution "a realistic and biblical approach to immigration." He said that if the amendment passed the SBC work would be more difficult in areas of the country with more Hispanics.

A slim majority (766-723) voted against the amendment. Instead, additional language was added making clear that “this resolution is not to be construed as support for amnesty for any undocumented immigrant.” The resolution then passed by a show of hands.

One of the supporters of the amendment was Wiley Drake, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park in Buena Park, California. He said he is not against all of the resolution, just the “amnesty clause.”

“This is amnesty any way you phrase it,” Drake said. “Restitution? They don't need restitution. They need to go to work. We win people to Jesus. We get them jobs and we take them back to their country.”

Drake is a former vice president of the SBC who ran unsuccessfully for president of the SBC this year (receiving just 4 percent in a two-person race). He has been controversial in recent years for his leadership in the so-called “birther” movement; Drake called Obama an “evil illegal alien.” Most infamously, Drake prayed for the death of President Obama if he does not “turn to God.” In 2008, he called for prayer to end the lives of leaders of the Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Perhaps as a response, the SBC passed a “civil public discourse” resolution that specifically objected to the “calling for prayers for the deaths of public officials.”

Both the amendment and the final SBC resolution reflect a conundrum facing evangelical churches. Along with other evangelical churches, the SBC has supported immigration reform even though many in their pews hold negative views of immigrants.

A February poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press finds that white evangelicals are more likely to see immigrants as a burden than a strength. Pew found that evangelicals are twice as likely to see immigrants today as “a burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing and health care” than they are to say immigrants “strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents.” These views were similar—but still more negative—than other religious groups.

Hispanic Catholics and those who are not affiliated with any religion were the most positive toward immigrants, with a majority saying immigrants strengthen the country.


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June 24, 2011

New York Approves Gay Marriage

New York will become the sixth state to approve same-sex marriage (the District of Columbia also allows gay marriage). Because of the state's large population, the number of Americans living in states that allow gay marriage will more than double. With New York, 35 million Americans will live in states with gay marriage, one in nine Americans.

The New York Senate approved a new same-sex marriage bill tonight by a vote of 33 to 29. Even though nearly all Republicans voted against the bill, the Republican-controlled Senate passed the bill because of four Republicans who voted with the Democrats. Only two Republican Senators openly backed the bill until just before the vote when Sen. Stephen Saland (Rep.) said he would give the bill the 32nd vote needed for passage. Only one Democrat, Sen. Ruben Diaz, voted against the measure. Only two Republican Senators openly backed the bill prior to the vote.

Additional votes were gained only after a majority in the Senate reached agreement on religious protections in the bill. Shortly before the gay marriage bill vote, the religious exemptions were reportedly passed by a 36-26 vote. The bill passed by the State Assembly included protections for clergy and churches. It did not include explicit protections for faith-based nonprofits. In Illinois, for example, the recent civil unions law has meant that Catholic Social Services could no longer receive state funds for its foster care and adoption services. The nonprofit has a policy against placing children with same-sex couples.

Opponents of the Assembly bill also wanted exemptions for individuals and businesses who objected to gay marriage for religious reasons. These individuals could be in violation of local ordinances. They could also be forced to allow gay couples to use their facilities. For example, without exemptions, critics argued, a business that rents its facilities for weddings could not refuse a couple simply because they were a same-sex couple.

The bill also included language making it impossible for a judge to strike down only the religious exemptions. If the exemptions are ruled to be unconstitutional, the extension of marriage to same-sex couples would be struck down, too.

Even the broadest religious exemptions would not be enough for some opponents of same-sex marriage. Family Research Council's Peter Sprigg said “the principal objection to homosexual 'marriage' has nothing to do with religion.”

“At its heart, marriage is neither a civil institution nor a religious institution. Instead, marriage is a natural institution—rooted in the order of nature itself,” Sprigg said. “The core message of the opposition to homosexual 'marriage' is not just, 'Don’t make us perform same-sex weddings in our church.' Instead, it is: 'Society needs children, and children need a mom and a dad.'”

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June 24, 2011

Opposition to Interracial Marriage Lingers Among Evangelicals

This month marks the 44th anniversary of the Loving v. Virginia, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that struck down state laws prohibiting interracial marriage. A 1968 Gallup poll found three-quarters of whites disapproved of a whites and blacks marrying. Today, opposition to interracial marriage is low, but it still lingers. Among religious groups, evangelicals remain the most opposed to interracial marriage, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press (Pew).

Pew's February Political Typology Poll asked people about recent trends in American society. Pew asked if “more people of different races marrying each other” was good or bad society. Overall, only nine percent of Americans said it was bad for society. However, 16 percent of white evangelicals said this, more than twice the opposition found among other Americans (7 percent). The survey found that 27 percent of Americans overall said more interracial marriage was good for society, compared to 17 percent of evangelicals.

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Evangelicals may have the most negative view of interracial marriage, but there is also opposition among white mainline Protestants (13 percent) and Catholics (10 percent). Statistically, the percentages in these traditions who saw interracial marriage as bad for society were about the same as for evangelicals.

The views of white Christians stand in stark contrast to two other groups: black Protestants and those with no religion. Only three percent of either group said interracial marriage was bad for society. Eight-in-ten respondents said the trend “doesn't make much difference.”  Those who are not religious were more optimistic, with 38 percent saying it was good for society.

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June 23, 2011

Pawlenty Leads National Association of Evangelicals Poll

Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty came out on top of a survey from the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) this month. The NAE recently surveyed its 100-some board members, 45 percent of whom said they would name Pawlenty as the Republican candidate while just 14 percent said the same thing about former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Twenty-two percent were undecided.

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The survey asked, “Assuming Barack Obama is the Democratic candidate, if you were to choose a preferred Republican presidential candidate for 2012, who would you name?” Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee led the 2007 list when both parties were included. A spokesperson for the NAE said that the survey was an open-ended question where respondents entered a name. The full ranking was not available.

Pawlenty, who attends Wooddale Church led by NAE president Leith Anderson, met with the NAE Board of Directors at in 2008 while he was still governor.

“Pawlenty leads the list of Republican candidates for our evangelical leaders which might be expected since he is so often identified as an evangelical," Anderson said in the statement. "Although, like the rest of the nation, there are still many undecided. With more than a year before the national nominating conventions, a lot can change.”

While the press release stated that none of the board members mentioned religion when choosing another candidate, a recent Pew study suggested that evangelicals overall might have a harder time choosing a Mormon candidate.

CT interviewed Pawlenty earlier this year.

June 22, 2011

Same-Sex Marriage Polls: It's All in How You Ask

The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) recently released results from a poll suggesting that a majority of Americans believe in traditional marriage. The poll found 62 percent of Americans believe that “marriage should be defined only as a union between one man and one woman.”

The poll results seem to run counter to other recent polls showing a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage, but like all polling, the results depend on how the question is asked. What makes the ADF poll unique is that it is the first to ask a question that borrows the same language often used in ballot initiatives.

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One explanation given for this difference has been to question the poll's sponsorship. The ADF’s lawyers are the key defenders of Proposition 8, which effectively bars same-sex marriage in California. The poll was conducted by Polling Opinion Strategies, a research firm often works with Republican candidates.

The sponsorship may explain why the poll was conducted, but the methodology provided by ADF is in line with standard practice in polling.

In 31 states, voters have approved initiatives that define marriage as being between one man and one woman. While these ballots effectively prohibit same-sex marriage, they are worded in the affirmative (should the state define marriage as the union between one man and one woman?) not the negative (should the state ban same-sex marriage?).

The importance of question wording has been long recognized by pollsters. For example, the Pew Center for the People and the Press (Pew) asked “Do you think it should be legal or illegal for gay and lesbian couples to get married?”A majority (53 percent) said it should be “legal.”

But another Pew survey conducted just weeks earlier found less support for gay marriage when it asked, “Do you strongly favor, favor, oppose, or strongly oppose allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally?”

This seems to be asking the same idea, but it is not. This question is about “allowing” gays and lesbians to marry, not whether those marriages should be “illegal.” This change in the question wording dropped support for same-sex marriage from a majority to 45 percent (versus 46 percent who oppose same-sex marriage). An August 2010 AP-National Constitution Center Poll found nearly six-in-ten Americans think “couples of the same sex be entitled to the same government benefits as married couples of the opposite sex” and oppose having “the government distinguish between them.”

Continue reading Same-Sex Marriage Polls: It's All in How You Ask...

June 17, 2011

Lone Democrat Keeping NY One Vote Shy of Same-Sex Marriage, For Now

The New York State Assembly recently approved a bill that would expand marriage to include same-sex couples. The Marriage Equality Act headed to the Senate where it is one vote short of the 32 needed for passage. That vote will need to be a Republican because there is just one Democrat opponent left—Senator Rubén Díaz, one of the most vocal opponents to same-sex marriage in the legislature.

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Díaz is a Pentecostal minister and president of the New York Hispanic Clergy Organization. He has participated in rallies against same-sex marriage.

“I am blessed to serve as a Pentecostal minister and I celebrate this!” Díaz said. “As a Christian … I will continue to defend the teachings of the Bible and oppose homosexual marriage. As a Member of the New York State Senate, I will continue to defend the definition of New York's marriage laws to be between a man and a woman.”

Díaz's outspoken position on same-sex marriage has made him the target of gay rights groups. He even became the subject of a gay writing contest: “[Expletive] Ruben Diaz: Gay Erotica Featuring NYC’s Number One Bigot.”

With Díaz voting “no,” proponents are now trying to convince one more Republican to back the bill. Ironically, a similar bill failed in a Democratic-controlled Senate two years ago. This time around, vote switching by a handful of legislators from both parties may mean it will pass a Republican-led Senate. Even if proponents of the bill are able to garner one more Republican supporter, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R) may not bring it up for a vote. However, many expect a vote today or early next week.

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June 13, 2011

Bachmann Jumps In, Palin E-mails from God, Perry's Giving to Religious Groups at .5%, Etc.

Rep. Michele Bachmann announced her entry to the race tonight's GOP debate in New Hampshire where social issues played prominent role. During the debate, Bachmann was asked if she would seek to overturn the law in states that have legalized gay marriage.

"I don't see that it's the role of a president to go into states and interfere with their state laws,'' said Bachmann, chair of the Tea Party caucus. She later clarified that she supports something like the Defense of Marriage Act.

"John, I do support a constitutional amendment on marriage between a man and a woman, but I would not be going into the states to overturn their state law,'' she said to CNN's John King who moderated the debate.

All of the candidates except for Herman Cain and Texas Rep. Ron Paul said they believe "don't ask, don't tell" policy that bars gays from openly serving in the military should remain in place.

Cain was asked whether Muslims should be asked questions to determine their loyalty to the United States, who responded, "I would ask certain questions. ...[Y]ou have peaceful Muslims and you have militant ones, the ones who are trying to kill us." He said, "I do not believe in Shariah law in American courts."

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who is Mormon, said, "No, I think we recognize that people of all faiths are welcome in this country. We treat people with respect regardless of their religious persuasion."

In other recent election news, Cain told the Weekly Standard that he regrets telling TPM that Bachmann's prayer at Ralph Reed's recent gathering sounded like the "the ultimate pander."

As the media sifts through former Alaska governor Sarah Palin's e-mail, reporters uncovered one where Palin imagines a letter from God to her family about the birth of her son Trig, who was born with Down syndrome.

Many are watching to see if Texas Governor Rick Perry enters the race. A Houston Chronicle article suggests that Perry gave about a half a percent of his income to churches and religious organizations. Perry has invited other governors to a prayer event in early August.

June 13, 2011

Want to Fire Up Conservatives? Cheer On Israel

It is no secret that some of the strongest backers of Israel are Christian conservatives in America, a trend on full display last week at the Faith and Freedom Conference. Among all the issues mentioned by speakers, few, if any, received the amount of enthusiastic support as calls to strengthen American support for Israel.

President Obama said last month that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians should begin along the 1967 borders. Presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) called this “a shocking display of betrayal of our greatest and friend and ally Israel.”

“America must do what all previous presidents have done since Harry Truman and stand with Israel. I stand with Israel. … [W]e are sending a message to the world that President Obama speaks for a very tiny minority. He may the president of the United States, but he does not speak for us on the issue of Israel,” Bachmann said.

It was the only statement by the Tea Party leader that moved the conference attendees to their feet in applause.

The reception of the audience was similar for other speakers. Calls to repeal “Obamacare,” lower taxes, restrict abortion, and enshrine traditional marriage were well-received. But Israel—that was an issue that consistently received standing ovations.

GOP candidate Tim Pawlenty spoke for nearly 15 minutes on topics ranging from taxes to terrorism, but the crowd did not appear excited until he expressed his support for Israel.

"We need a President of the United States who stands shoulder to shoulder with our great friend Israel and make sure there is no daylight between the United States and Israel,” Pawlenty said, bringing people to their feet.

The support for Israel hinted at Christian Zionism, with speakers saying that Israel was granted their land by God and should exist as a Jewish state.

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June 9, 2011

Poll: Americans Ambivalent on Abortion

People tend describe themselves as either pro-life or pro-choice. But a new poll by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) shows that the average American still holds conflicting views on abortion nearly 40 years after Roe v. Wade. Evangelicals remain much more opposed to abortion than other Americans, but they, too, often do not fit neatly into pro-life or pro-choice camps.

PRRI Research Director Daniel Cox said, “For some time now, Americans have held a stable tension between two views: majorities both say that abortion is morally wrong and say that it should be legal in all or most cases. The binary ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’ labels don’t reflect this complexity.”

On the poll's simplest, straightforward abortion question, a majority said abortion should be legal. PRRI found only four-in-ten said abortion should be illegal. However, few took a consistently pro-life or pro-choice position. Only 19 percent said abortion should be legal in all circumstances; 14 percent said it should be always be illegal. That leaves nearly two-thirds approving abortion in some cases but not in others. These results a similar to those by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. A similar question by Gallup finds fewer in the middle category, but overall the pattern is the same: most Americans approve of abortion in some, but not all, circumstances.

Among religious groups, white evangelicals stand out as being against abortion. Less than one-third (29 percent) said abortion should be legal; two-thirds believe it should be illegal. Support for the legality of abortion is much higher among other Protestants and Catholics.

This, however, is only part of the story. When asked abortion should be available to women in their community, 37 percent of evangelicals agreed. A majority of non-Latino Catholics and black Protestants said abortion should be available. Over 70 percent of Mainline Protestants and those unaffiliated with religion took this view.

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June 3, 2011

Evangelicals: Less Likely to Vote for Gay or Mormon Candidates

Mitt Romney formally announced his bid for the Republican nomination for president yesterday in New Hampshire, but a new poll suggests that the former governor of Massachusetts may still face an uphill climb to secure the votes of evangelicals because of his Mormon faith.

The May 25-30 survey from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press asked people how they would vote for presidential candidates with different traits. The survey found that a third of evangelicals (34 percent) said they would be less likely to vote for someone who is Mormon, compared to Mainline Protestants (19 percent) or Catholics (16 percent).

The findings were similar to Pew's 2007 survey when Romney attempted a previous run. With evangelicals making up a major voting bloc in the GOP primaries, particularly in early states like Iowa and South Carolina, a reluctance to vote for a Mormon candidate could hurt Romney. It could also affect fellow Mormon (albeit with different level of commitment) former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman who may still enter the race.

Overall, 25 percent of voters would be less likely to vote for a Mormon. Liberal Democrats were most opposed to a Mormon candidate (41 percent). Pew found that among the voters who were opposed to a Mormon candidate, about two-third of them said there was “no chance” they would support Romney for president.

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Evangelicals were also much more likely to oppose a gay candidate, with nearly two-thirds of them said they would oppose such a candidate. This is over twice the opposition among either Mainline Protestants (30 percent) or Catholics (25 percent).

Unlike opposition to a Mormon candidate, views of a possible homosexual candidate have changed over the past four years. In 2007, nearly half of Americans (46 percent) said they would be a less likely to vote for a homosexual candidate. In this survey, that percentage dropped to just one-third, and all groups showed less opposition to a gay candidate. Evangelicals also dropped (71 to 65 percent), but this was less than the change among other groups. Some of the largest changes in the two surveys came among African Americans (53 to 34 percent), those over 65 years of age (59 to 40 percent), and conservative Republicans (73 to 58 percent).

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June 2, 2011

Feds Veto Hoosier Planned Parenthood Funding Ban

Yesterday the federal government revoked Indiana's law that would have no longer allowed Medicaid patients from using Planned Parenthood clinics or others that perform elective abortions.

State legislatures in Kansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin are considering similar bans on Medicaid funding, and the Indiana decision will likely affect how these plans proceed.

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The state passed HEA 1210 last month, but any change in a state's Medicaid plan must be approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). CMS administrator Donald Berwick told Indiana that the funding ban was illegal. Berwick said in a letter to Indiana's Office of Medicaid Policy and Planning that states can limit the choices of Medicaid patients except when the choice involves family planning services. Berwick noted that the Indiana Legislative Services Agency stated this when it evaluated the plan in April.

While the federal statute governing the use of Medicaid providers does prohibit limiting the choice of family planning providers, backers of the state law said funding any provider that provides abortion violates the Hyde Amendment, the long-standing policy that prohibits federal funding of abortion procedures. Indiana lawmakers said giving Medicaid funds to groups like Planned Parenthood is funding abortion even if they do not fund the actual procedures.

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June 1, 2011

Gingrich Woos Skeptical Evangelical Voters

His marital past may be too much for some conservative Republicans.

As evangelicals and other social conservatives gather here this weekend (June 3-4) to take the measure of a number of Republican presidential candidates, Newt Gingrich will be conspicuously absent.

Gingrich’s campaign cited scheduling conflicts in not speaking to Ralph Reed’s Faith & Freedom Coalition, but his absence will nonetheless prompt questions about his ability to woo politically minded religious voters, and leave some voters’ concerns unanswered.

To be sure, the former House speaker has made the rounds in trying to line up early support, especially in Iowa, where religious conservatives are a major force in the state’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses.

He’s paid a courtesy call to San Antonio megachurch pastor John Hagee and also stopped by the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University and a gathering of Hispanic evangelicals, always trying to reaffirm his commitment to God and country.

Even so, some political observers expect his marital past -- three marriages, two divorces and an admitted affair with the woman who became his current wife -- to be too much for some conservative voters.

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June 1, 2011

Debt Limit Raises Ire of Social Conservatives

It's becoming a key issue for groups that once played down fiscal issues.

The House of Representatives is expected to vote—and vote down—a bill that would raise the federal debt limit. The debt limit (or "debt ceiling") is the maximum amount the federal government can borrow. The current limit is $14.3 trillion. The U.S. hit that limit last week, and if Congress does not raise the limit by August, the government will not be able to pay all of its obligations.

In previous years, many social conservatives would have viewed the debt limit as a technical, fiscal issue. Yet, many whose agenda typically revolve around issues of life, marriage, and religious liberty are now mobilizing around the debt ceiling.

The Family Research Council made the issue the focus of its weekly radio show and asked people to urge their members of Congress to vote down efforts to raise the debt limit without an agreement on spending reductions.

In a legislative alert, the FRC said, "The current fight is not against a looming debt limit but against the status quo of Washington’s out-of-control behavior with the public purse." The organization called for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and "a serious statutory spending cap." According to the FRC, such measures are required "to keep future generations from suffering for the sins of their forbearers."

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) echoed the FRC’s policy proposal. The ERLC’s Doug Carlson said the ERLC believes a "step in the right direction" would be the "cut, cap, and balance" proposal offered by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). His proposal, which is backed by 75 other House members,

* cuts spending in order to cut the annual deficit in half

* caps federal spending to 18 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and

* sends a balanced budget amendment to the states for ratification.

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