More Baptists identify themselves as Democrats than Republicans in a new poll, suggesting that various claims from Southern Baptist pulpits last year that a real Christian could not vote for Sen. John Kerry may have turned off as many voters as they turned out for President Bush.
Pundits gave conservative evangelicals much credit for Bush’s re-election last November. Exit polls said people who attend church more than once a week voted for Bush by nearly a 2-1 margin.
The Bush-Cheney campaign sought early to enlist “friendly” churches in a leaked e-mail asking volunteers to submit church directories for direct-mail purposes.
Officially “non-partisan” voter registration programs like the Southern Baptist Convention’s iVoteValues.com contrasted positions of the two candidates on selected issues like abortion, gay marriage and the war in Iraq.
Falwell, pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., said Christian activist Jim Wallis wasn’t really an evangelical, because he didn’t vote for Bush.
Floyd, pastor of First Baptist Church in Springdale, Ark., contrasted positions of the two candidates while flashing photos of Bush and Kerry alternately on a projection screen in a sermon that Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State said “seemed more like a Bush campaign commercial than a church service.”
Following Bush’s re-election, Richard Land of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, contrasted the president’s “humble faith” with Kerry’s “cafeteria Catholicism,” claiming the Massachusetts senator wanted to tout parts Christianity like good works while ignoring church teaching against abortion.
Former SBC President James Merritt declared Bush “God’s man for this hour.”
Purpose Driven Life author Rick Warren, who claims he doesn’t endorse candidates, called last Nov. 2 the most important Election Day in 50 years and said if Christians did not vote they would have no right to “criticize or complain when unbiblical decisions are made by the courts in the decades ahead.”
A student at a Baptist college in Tennessee claimed he was removed from leadership in a Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter for saying he intended to vote for Kerry. A Baptist church in North Carolina reportedly voted nine members out of the church after the pastor advised that members who voted for Kerry “need to repent or resign.”
Yet this week’s Newsweek cover story on spirituality in America reports that 39 percent of people who identify themselves as a Baptist are Democrats, compared to 33 percent Republican. Twenty-two percent of Baptists are independent, and 6 percent other.
Christians who self-identify as “evangelical” are more strongly Republican, meanwhile, with 58 percent leaning toward the GOP and just 12 percent identifying as Democrats. People with no religion are more likely to label themselves “independent” (43 percent) than either Democrat (30 percent) or Republican (17 percent).
Nearly two-thirds of Baptists (64 percent) are white, 29 percent black and the rest Asian, Hispanic or other. However, 0.4 percent fewer people self-identify as Baptists now than 11 years ago, while more generic labels like “Christian” and “evangelical” have grown by 76 percent and 42 percent, respectively.
While Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and no religion have also grown considerably, the largest change in self-identification between 1990 and 2001 is “non-denominational Christian,” which grew by 1,120 percent.
In another surprising finding in a comprehensive Newsweek/BeliefNet poll conducted in August, 68 percent of evangelical Protestants said they believe a good person who doesn’t share their religious beliefs could go to heaven. That would seem to defy a central tenet of evangelicalism that a person must be “born again” into a personal relationship with Christ in order to be saved.
Despite the findings, the religious right has continued to meld religion and politics since last fall’s election. An April 24 “Justice Sunday” telecast portrayed Senate Democrats blocking President Bush’s judicial nominees as “against people of faith.”
At a Justice Sunday II event this month in Nashville, Jerry Sutton, first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said he had a message to Democrats regrouping after losing the last presidential election.
“It’s a new day,” Sutton, pastor of Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, said. “Liberalism is dead. The majority of Americans are conservative. You can count on us showing up and speaking out. Let the church rise.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
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Managing editor at EthicsDaily.com from 2003-2009, Allen wrote more than 1,500 news stories during his tenure.