A Baptist church that is already accused of using its tax-exempt pulpit to endorse President Bush endorsed a ban on same-sex marriage during a nationally televised service Sunday. Evangelical leaders, led by Focus on the Family chairman James Dobson, used First Baptist Church in Springdale, Ark., to call for people to fight for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
About 3,000 churchgoers in Springdale and an estimated 1 million television viewers around the country heard U.S. House majority leader Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican, promise that the anti-gay marriage movement would win the battle. "If Christian people are awake and involved, we can change this country," Dobson said.
The national evangelical leaders also took the opportunity to stand behind the Reverend Ronnie Floyd, the Springdale church's pastor whose July 4 sermon was the subject of a Federal Election Commission complaint.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, based in Washington, D.C., filed the complaint claiming that Floyd's sermon amounted to an endorsement of Bush in his race against John Kerry. He never mentioned either candidate by name but used pictures of them to illustrate his points. An endorsement from the pulpit is banned by IRS rules governing church tax exemptions.
Another northwest Arkansas church leader, the Reverend Lowell Grisham of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, compared the movement to ban gay marriage to efforts in the 1960s and 1970s to keep interracial marriage illegal.