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The Macon Telegraph has taken sides in a Georgia State Senate race billed as a battle between two Baptist ministers.

The newspaper on Friday endorsed Ben Taylor, a staff member at First Baptist Church in Macon, over Cecil Staton, owner of Smyth & Helwys, the publishing house of choice for many moderate Baptists.

“Both candidates are to be congratulated,” the paper said. “Their campaigns have been conducted honorably. They have given voters something they don’t often get, a choice between two good candidates.”

Yet because of his knowledge of education issues from serving 10 years on the local school board and advocacy for the developmentally disabled, the newspaper gives Taylor the nod.

Taylor describes himself as a conservative Democrat, while Staton is labeled “a pragmatic Republican” in the editorial.

A news story describes the two candidates–both 46 and at one time members of the same church–as having similar values. Taylor says he pro-life but would give “prayerful consideration” to allowing for abortion in cases involving rape, incest or the mother’s health.

Staton says he believes life is sacred from conception until death and should be allowed only when the mother’s health is threatened. He is endorsed by Georgia Right to Life

Both candidates oppose gay marriage. “I think people are fed up with people in Massachusetts and San Francisco trying to impose upon us their moral code, or lack thereof,” Staton told the newspaper.

But when Staton and a group of members left FirstBaptistChurch in Macon to start a new congregation in 1997, they affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists. A smaller group to the left of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the Alliance supports full inclusion of gays and lesbians in church life, including ordination.

When Staton ran unsuccessfully for Congress as a conservative Republican in 2002, he opposed gay rights and said he didn’t know the Alliance affirmed homosexuals, when the church, which has since folded, joined the group.

Staton is well known among moderate Baptists as president of Smyth & Helwys, a for-profit company that publishes Sunday school curriculum and religious books widely used in CBF congregations.

Last year Staton launched second company, Stroud & Hall, to publish political and historical books.

The company made an immediate splash with its first book, Sen. Zell Miller’s A National Party No More: The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat.

Staton accompanied Miller to this year’s Republican National Convention, coordinating interviews after Miller’s fiery keynote speech criticizing the Democrat Party.

“That was a phenomenal experience and I was very proud of him,” Staton told the Macon Telegraph. “He puts principle ahead of party. Although I am unashamedly Republican, I think we need more people to put principles before party.”

Stroud & Hall’s newest release is The Meaning of Is: The Squandered Impeachment and Wasted Legacy of William Jefferson Clinton, by former Congressman Bob Barr.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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