Baptists reluctantly embrace "liberal" McCain
Tue Jun 10, 2008 9:49am EDT
by SphereBy Ed Stoddard

INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - Some Southern Baptists feel they have no choice but to vote for a "liberal" in the November U.S. presidential election: presumptive Republican nominee John McCain.

"It's basically a choice between a liberal and an ultra-liberal," Jodie Sanders, a Southern Baptist church-goer from Fairfield, Texas, said about the choice between McCain and his Democratic rival Barack Obama.

Sanders' pastor, Benny Mize, agreed but said he would ultimately if reluctantly vote for McCain, the Arizona senator who must woo conservative Christians like these men to his candidacy.

Several members of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), who are meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, on Tuesday and Wednesday in the annual assembly of America's largest evangelical denomination, expressed similar views.

Evangelical Protestants, who account for one in four U.S. adults, are a key base of support for the Republican Party and few analysts see McCain winning the White House without them.

But McCain is regarded with suspicion in conservative evangelical circles because of his past support for stem cell research, his failure to support a federal ban on gay marriage, and his support for immigration reform, among other things.

"I think most Southern Baptists will support McCain though I know there are some issues with McCain among more conservative evangelicals," outgoing SBC president Frank Page told Reuters in an interview ahead of the conference.

McCain attends a church affiliated with the SBC in Phoenix but that has not helped him "connect" with the flock on the issues they find important.

"I think most Baptists would want him to speak out more on evangelical issues than what he has but we are cautiously accepting him," said John Mann, a pastor from Springtown, Texas, west of Fort Worth.

Mann did note with approval McCain's consistent opposition to abortion rights and his pledge to appoint conservative judges and justices to the bench.


Dan Yoder, the pastor of a small country church in Springfield, Tennessee, said, "I'm going to have to hold my nose while I vote for McCain ... but Obama's a die-hard socialist."

Obama, a senator from Illinois who would be America's first black president, is right off the scale for many conservative evangelicals because of his liberal voting record, his opposition to the Iraq war and his support for abortion rights.

They are also mistrustful of him because of the controversial sermons by his ex-pastor Jeremiah Wright, who called the Sept 11. attacks retribution for U.S. foreign policy. Obama has severed ties with Wright.

But Obama, whose own faith and positions may appeal to more moderate and younger evangelicals, does not need conservative Christian voters who would probably not be swayed to vote Democratic anyway. McCain does need them.

Yoder said he hoped McCain would pick former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney as his running mate.

Romney was the favorite of some social conservatives during his failed bid for the Republican nomination but many evangelicals also regard him warily because of his Mormon faith and past support for abortion rights.

Gary Ledbetter, the spokesman for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, said McCain did seem the strongest of the two candidates on "family issues" such as abortion.

"We can debate the war and the economy but there are some things we feel God has spoken about and it's not up for debate," he said.

(Editing by Eric Walsh)

(To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at ... 10?sp=true