conservatives, traditionally a reliable Republican
constituency, aren't necessarily a GOP gimme this time
around. There is an undercurrent of concern that some
evangelicals, unhappy that the GOP-led Congress and
President Bush haven't paid more attention to same-sex
marriage and other "values" issues, may stay home on
Election Day or even vote Democratic.
"Conservative Christians are somewhat
disenchanted with Republicans," said Kenyn Cureton,
vice president for convention relations with the
executive committee of the Southern Baptist
Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination
with nearly 16 million members. Religious
conservatives are unhappy the Republican-led Congress
hasn't paid enough attention to "values issues," he
said, noting that even a push this summer against same-sex
marriage came too late.
"It has not escaped our notice that they waited
until just a few months from the November elections to
address our agenda," Cureton said.
Jonathan Gregory, 38, a deacon at Grace Baptist
Church in Bethpage, Tenn., said he may not vote GOP
this fall, even though he considers himself a
Republican and has voted for President Bush. "I will vote
conservative across the board, depending on the candidates'
stance on abortion, gay marriage, and their support of
the military," Gregory said.
Voters like Gregory were once considered the
president's strongest supporters. Exit polls showed
78% of white evangelicals voted for him in 2004. But
an Associated Press-Ipsos poll conducted September
11-13 indicated 42% of white evangelicals
disapprove of the job Bush has done as president.
His approval rating among evangelicals is still
better than he gets among Americans generally, but the
poll shows Democrats have made slight gains among
moderate white evangelical voters.
Conservative Christian groups have started
trying to mobilize evangelical voters this fall by
focusing on issues such as same-sex marriage and
abortion. A "Values Voters" summit that has attracted
several potential 2008 presidential candidates gets
under way Friday in Washington.
The Colorado-based Focus on the Family has
started voter registration drives in eight states,
according to the group's Web site. The Southern
Baptist Convention is helping promote a Focus on the Family
DVD about same-sex marriage. A DVD and booklet titled
"Why Not Gay Marriage?" aim to "equip Christians with
answers to some of the most often asked questions in
the gay marriage debate."
Neither group is endorsing candidates, which
they're not allowed to do because of their tax-exempt
status, but they are encouraging Christians to vote on
"values issues," Cureton said.
The nearly 70-minute Focus on the Family DVD
gives answers to 10 questions, such as "How will my
same-sex marriage hurt your marriage?" and "Is it
healthy to subject children to experimental families?"
David Masci, senior research fellow at the Pew
Forum on Religion and Public Life, said same-sex
marriage is approaching abortion in terms of the
weight it's given among conservative Christians. "This issue
[same-sex marriage] has become important enough for them
that they want people to be conversant in it," he
said. "It's a battle being fought on so many fronts."
In November, eight states will have referendums
on state constitutional amendments banning same-sex
marriage: Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, South Carolina,
South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Focus on
the Family, founded by Christian radio host James
Dobson, is seeking church and county coordinators in
at least one of those states--Tennessee.
Other states the group is targeting include
Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey,
Pennsylvania, and Ohio, according to a news release
posted on the group's Web site last month. Church
coordinator duties include "encouraging pastors to speak
about Christian citizenship, conducting a voter
registration drive, distributing voter guides and
get-out-the-vote efforts." County coordinators recruit
"key evangelical churches, friends and family, and
supporting church coordinators with periodic phone calls."
Southern Baptists created the iVoteValues
initiative in 2004 to increase evangelical Christian
voter registration, education, and mobilization,
Cureton said. Several groups participated in the movement,
including Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council.
Those efforts are continuing this year, with
churches holding nonpartisan voter registration drives
and pastors encouraged to preach on "values issues,"
particularly since conservative Christians may be
disillusioned this time around, Cureton said.
Harry Knox, director of the religion and faith
program at the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's
largest gay rights group, said religious progressives
are beginning to speak out on same-sex marriage and other
issues. He said, for example, that the HRC recently launched
its "Out In Scripture," a free weekly online resource
to help clergy in planning their sermons and spiritual
"People on our side of the conversation, who
have been silent for a long time, are tired of being
silent," Knox said. (Rose French, AP)