Tag Archives: evangelicals

Activists predict abortion to be hot topic in 2016 campaigns

With a deeper-than-ever split between Republicans and Democrats over abortion, activists on both sides of the debate foresee a 2016 presidential campaign in which the nominees tackle the volatile topic more aggressively than in past elections.

Friction over the issue also is likely to surface in key Senate races. And the opposing camps will be further energized by Republican-led congressional investigations of Planned Parenthood and by Supreme Court consideration of tough anti-abortion laws in Texas.

“It’s an amazing convergence of events,” said Charmaine Yoest, CEO of the anti-abortion group Americans United for Life. “We haven’t seen a moment like this for 40 years.”

In the presidential race, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton is a longtime defender of abortion rights and has voiced strong support for Planned Parenthood — a major provider of abortions, health screenings and contraceptives — it is assailed by anti-abortion activists and Republican officeholders.

In contrast, nearly all of the GOP candidates favor overturning the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide. Some of the top contenders – including Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio – disapprove of abortions even in cases of rape and incest.

“We may very well have the most extreme Republican presidential nominee since Roe – a nominee who’s not in favor of abortion in any possible way,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List. The organization, which supports female candidates who back abortion rights, says it is en route to breaking its fundraising records. A similar claim is made by some anti-abortion political action groups.

What’s changed for this election? One factor is the increased polarization of the two major parties. Only a handful of anti-abortion Democrats and abortion-rights Republicans remain in Congress, and recent votes attempting to ban late-term abortions and halt federal funding to Planned Parenthood closely followed party lines.

Another difference: Republicans in the presidential field and in Congress seem more willing than in past campaigns to take the offensive on abortion-related issues. Past nominees George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney opposed abortion but were not as outspoken as some of the current GOP candidates.

“Abortion will bubble over into the general election,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, which supports female candidates opposed to abortion. “If you don’t know how to handle this issue, you will be eviscerated.”

As the campaign unfolds, other factors will help keep the abortion debate in the spotlight.

The Supreme Court will be hearing arguments, probably in March, regarding a Texas law enacted in 2013 that would force numerous abortion clinics to close. One contested provision requires abortion facilities to be constructed like surgical centers; another says doctors performing abortions at clinics must have admitting privileges at a local hospital.

The Texas dispute will have echoes in other states as social conservatives lobby for more laws restricting abortion. Americans United for Life plans a multistate push for a package of bills called the Infants’ Protection Project; one measure would ban abortions performed because of fetal abnormalities such as Down syndrome while another would ban abortions after five months of pregnancy.

Also unfolding during the campaign will be a new investigation launched by House Republicans to examine the practices of Planned Parenthood and other major abortion providers. The panel’s chair, Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, says its work will likely continue past Election Day.

The investigation — denounced by Democrats as a partisan witch hunt — is among several congressional and state probes resulting from the release of undercover videos made by anti-abortion activists. They claim the videos show Planned Parenthood officials negotiating the sale of fetal tissue in violation of federal law; Planned Parenthood denies any wrongdoing and says the programs in question at a handful of its clinics entailed legal donations of fetal tissue.

Cruz is among many Republicans who have already passed judgment on Planned Parenthood, calling it “an ongoing criminal enterprise.” He welcomed the endorsement of anti-abortion activist Troy Newman, who helped orchestrate the undercover video operation.

Donald Trump, who leads the GOP presidential polls, has been harder to pin down on the issue. He describes himself as “pro-life” and open to defunding Planned Parenthood, while acknowledging that he held different views in the past.

Planned Parenthood’s leaders say a majority of U.S. voters oppose efforts to cut off its federal funding, most of which subsidizes non-abortion health services for patients on Medicaid. Planned Parenthood’s political action fund hopes to spend a record amount – more than $15 million – on election-related advocacy.

The fund’s executive vice president, Dawn Laguens, contends that some GOP presidential hopefuls, including Cruz and Rubio, may have hurt their general election prospects by making strong bids for anti-abortion votes in the primaries.

“They’ve gone so far out on the limb that they won’t be able to crawl back,” she said.

National polls over the years show the American public deeply divided on abortion. An Associated Press-GfK poll released Dec. 22 found 58 percent of U.S. adults saying abortion should be legal in most or all cases, and 39 percent saying it should be illegal in most or all cases. Forty-five percent viewed Planned Parenthood favorably; 30 percent unfavorably.

Abortion and Planned Parenthood are likely to surface as divisive issues in several of the races that will decide control of the Senate.

New Hampshire features an intriguing race between two women. Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, a supporter of abortion rights, hopes to unseat GOP incumbent Kelly Ayotte, who is endorsed by anti-abortion groups and favors halting Planned Parenthood’s federal funding.

Other key Senate races likely to feature sharp divisions over abortion include those in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Wisconsin and the crucial presidential battleground of Ohio, where GOP incumbent Rob Portman is expected to be challenged by former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland.

Donald Trump suggests maybe boycotting Starbucks over red cup design

Donald Trump is suggesting boycotting Starbucks over the minimalist design of its annual holiday cups.

“Did you read about Starbucks? No more Merry Christmas on Starbucks,” Trump told a capacity crowd of thousands gathered to hear him speak at a pre-debate rally in Springfield, Illinois on Nov. 9.

“Maybe we should boycott Starbucks. I don’t know,” he said. “Seriously, I don’t care.”

Some religious conservatives have expressed anger over the coffee company’s annual holiday-time cups – a minimalist all-red design with no images aside from the company’s green and white logo.

Previous years’ cups have featured snowflakes, winter scenes and sometimes Christmas ornaments. But a small number of critics see the design choice as part of a larger movement away from exclusively Christian-themed holiday decorations.

Trump, who is working to win the support of evangelical and other conservative Christians in a crowded field, has often expressed frustrations over companies using the term “Happy Holidays” in place of “Merry Christmas.”

He said:”If I become president, we’re all going to be saying, ‘Merry Christmas’ again. That I can tell you.”

He added that Starbucks operates a store in one of his buildings and that “that’s the end of that lease, but who cares?”

The rally came on the eve of the next Republican presidential debate, which will be taking place on Nov. 10 in Milwaukee.

Brian Oaks, general manager of the Prairie Capital Convention Center, said the billionaire businessman and reality television star had attracted a record-setting crowd for the convention center of 10,200 in downtown Springfield, a solidly Republican city in a Democratic-leaning state.

Trump did not mention the debate during his rally speech, but previewed some of the attack lines he may choose to use against rivals, including retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who is now running neck-and-neck with him in several polls.

Trump expressed near-exasperation at Carson’s continued popularity in the face of growing questions about discrepancies in his autobiography, “Gifted Hands,” which included claims that he tried to hit his mother with a hammer and unsuccessfully tried to stab someone when he was an angry youth.

“With what’s going on with this election? I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Trump. He went on to mimic the back-and-forth between Carson and reporters trying to verify the story of his rise from poverty to acclaimed surgeon, including a claim by Carson that the person he’d tried to stab had been saved by his belt buckle.

“You stab somebody and the newspapers say, ‘You didn’t do it.’ And you said, ‘Yes I did, I did it!'” said Trump.

“This is the only election in history where you’re better off if you stabbed somebody,” he said. “What are we coming to?”

Iowa pastors hold major sway in 2016 presidential race

Cary Gordon isn’t a political operative, a top dollar donor or an elected official. But that hasn’t stopped Jeb Bush’s team from already reaching out as the 2016 Republican presidential campaign revs up in Iowa.

Gordon is a well-known evangelical Christian pastor with a church in Sioux City that can draw 600 people on Sundays and a voice that echoes far beyond the pulpit. Gordon backed former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in the 2012 GOP field, sending out text messages, tweets and a video announcement to deliver his message.

In some states, big city ward leaders or union bosses are the go-to guys to deliver votes. When it comes to Iowa’s Republican caucuses, evangelical pastors are kingmakers, with sway over an important bloc of participants. Long before the campaign heats up, leading ministers are showered with personal attention from likely candidates, and they can negotiate their policy positions on issues such as gay rights and abortion.

With the power comes perks.

For example, Brad Sherman, pastor at Solid Rock Christian Church in Coralville, was among a group of Iowa pastors invited on a complimentary trip to Poland and London in late 2014 with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who is considering a 2016 race.

“Just being in Iowa and being involved opens certain doors,” said Sherman, who went on a trip to Israel with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.

Both were funded by evangelical leader David Lane, who is working to grow the number of conservative Christian voters in early voting states.

Going into 2016, the power of the Iowa pastors is considered indisputable. Four years ago, pastors united behind Santorum, who eked out a victory in the caucuses and saw his stature rise in the crowded field.  Back in 2008, evangelical support was part of Huckabee’s winning coalition.

“In our church, the last four cycles we’ve probably had almost 100 percent of our people vote,” said Bill Tvedt, pastor at Jubilee Family Church in Oskaloosa, who has not endorsed a candidate. “In our local county, we control the Republican party pretty much — our church and another church.”

Lots of the potential 2016 GOP candidates are wooing pastors.

Paul and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry have appeared before groups of religious conservatives. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker talks frequently about being a pastor’s son. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose father is a pastor, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal recently addressed a gathering of pastors in Des Moines.

“I believe our country is in crisis and I think it’s incumbent on people of faith to stand up and defend our values,” said Cruz, who was joined by his father, Rafael, at the event.

Iowa pastors have been politically active for years, but became more involved after the Iowa Supreme Court’s 2009 decision allowing gay marriage, which incensed many. Their turnout machines are formidable, with more than half of the 2012 caucus participants identifying as evangelical or born-again Christian, according to exit polls.

“They provide a voice in the pulpit,” said Jamie Johnson, a pastor from Story City who is working for Perry.

Said Gordon, executive pastor at Cornerstone World Outreach, “I teach our people that civic responsibility is a part of our Christian heritage.”

Some pastors arrange buses for people to attend the Iowa Straw Poll, the summer event viewed as an early test of campaign organizations.

So far this year, a chief concern for some pastors is that there may be too many good options.

“I’m concerned that the truly conservative base will get split up so many ways and we’ll end up with a moderate,” said Sherman.

Still, some Iowa pastors think faith leaders should not be working to help candidates.

Judy Winkelpleck, the pastor at Central Presbyterian Church in Des Moines, said she identifies as a progressive, but has still gotten outreach from Republican candidates, including an email recently on behalf of Paul.

“I do not believe pastors should endorse candidates,” she said. “I do believe faith questions should be raised so people can make their own political decisions.” 

American voters prefer gays over fundamentalist Christians

The Human Rights Campaign and Americans for Marriage Equality have released the results of a study that found gays are more popular among American voters than fundamentalist Christians are.

The study, titled “Victory In Sight,” conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and TargetPoint Consulting, was in an in-depth investigation that examined shifts in public opinion over time, reasons for the shifts, and differing stances on equality among people of different ages, faiths, geographic areas and more.

The first question asked voters’ whether they had favorable or unfavorable feelings toward gays and lesbians and toward evangelical Christians. Fifty-three percent of voters responded that they felt favorably toward gays and lesbians, compared to 42 percent who felt favorably toward evangelicals. Eighteen percent said they felt unfavorably toward gays and lesbians, while 28 percent reported unfavorable feelings toward evangelicals.

The survey also discovered that voters who attend monthly or yearly worship services favor marriage equality by a large margin — 64 percent and 68 percent, respectively. But respondents who said they attend weekly religious services oppose same-sex marriage by 63 percent.

Researchers also found.

• Sixty percent of Catholic respondents also said they favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry, up from 57 percent in 2012.

• One-third of millennials who left the religions in which they were raised said they did so due to their churches’ anti-gay teachings.

For more results, you can find the survey at http://gqrr.com/articles/2014/03/27/survey-reveals-dramatic-change-toward-marriage-equality/.

Iowa Republicans seek to reclaim GOP from evangelicals, tea party loyalists

Fed up and ready to get off the sidelines, veteran Iowa Republicans are working to wrest control of the state GOP from the evangelicals, tea partyers and libertarians they blame for alienating longtime party loyalists.

Led by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, these Republicans want to grow the state party – one that ideological crusaders have shaped over the past few years – by bringing back into the fold pragmatic-minded voters while attracting more women and younger voters.

These Republicans say success would be Branstad winning re-election next fall and paving the way for a national GOP comeback in the 2016 presidential election by choosing a mainstream Republican in the leadoff presidential caucuses.

“What we need is someone who knows how to get things done, accomplish things,” Branstad told the Associated Press recently. “My goal is to strengthen the party and to try to encourage people, new people, to participate and to show that I think the future for the party can be bright if we are welcoming – and if we really work.”

The power struggle shaping up here has begun playing out across the nation. Some national Republican luminaries are blaming tea party figures like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for demanding ideological purity, inciting the partial government shutdown and damaging perceptions of the party across the country.

In Iowa, it took the party two months to sell all the tickets to its annual fall fundraiser featuring Cruz, who led the failed effort to defund President Barack Obama’s health care law. The event usually sells out quickly, and Branstad allies point to the sluggish pace as evidence that local GOP leaders are unhappy – and ready for a change.

Others dispute that, and accuse Branstad’s backers of trying to weaken the party’s conservative base.

“It’s really unfortunate that a small few who are loud are trying to speak for the grassroots,” said Tamara Scott, a Republican National Committee woman and outspoken Christian conservative who speaks highly of Cruz.

For decades, pro-business, economic conservatives like Branstad controlled the Iowa GOP. In the 1980s, the evangelical wing injected new energy. But those Republicans also rallied behind presidential candidates who ultimately lost the party’s nomination, raising questions of whether Iowa Republicans were reflective of the GOP nationally.

In 2000, George W. Bush broke the mold, knitting business and Christian conservatives together to win the caucuses en route to the White House.

But big budget deficits under Bush turned off centrists, and the war in Iraq roused supporters for former Texas Rep. Ron Paul. That left evangelicals and Paul-type libertarians – many who would also later identify with the tea party – the most engaged Republicans in Iowa. They flexed their power in 2008, choosing as their caucus winner Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, whose dominant Christian conservative profile further alienated mainstream Republicans.

By 2010, the Iowa GOP was so weak that it recruited the long-retired former governor, Branstad, to run again. This pragmatic, not ideological, Republican beat a well-known social conservative in a tough primary before unseating the unpopular Democratic incumbent. Branstad backers viewed his victory as the start of a complete reclaiming of the party.

Then came the 2012 Iowa caucus debacle.

The state GOP initially declared Mitt Romney the winner. Three weeks later, the party drew ridicule when it said former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum – a social conservative – had actually received the most votes.

Meanwhile, insurgent tea party conservatives and Paul supporters from his two failed presidential campaigns worked at the precinct level to seize the state GOP committee and chairmanship. They succeeded.

A.J. Spiker, a Paul backer, became the state party chairman. Since then, he’s faced criticism from activists for weak fundraising. Records show that the party was raising more than $40,000 a month four years ago and now is raising less than $30,000 per month. Spiker dismisses the criticisms and the Branstad effort as nothing more than typical squabbling.

“We are in a period of some disagreement within the party. But I think that is happening nationally,” Spiker said.

Branstad’s allies have had enough. They hope to drive disaffected Republicans back into the party’s grassroots, starting with the midterm caucuses in January where party activists will choose delegates who will decide the GOP’s direction heading into 2016.

“If the establishment wants to take over, they have to show up,” said Doug Gross, a longtime Branstad adviser. “And frankly we haven’t.”

The effort doesn’t stop with the caucuses.

Branstad is publicly neutral in the U.S. Senate primary here, but Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds is publicly backing Joni Ernst – a state senator from rural southwest Iowa – in a crowded field.

Reynolds says her endorsement is “not just in name only,” and plans to campaign and raise money for Ernst. in hopes that the six-candidate Senate field’s only woman could help the party attract more women voters next fall, and to the 2016 caucuses.

Oskaloosa lawyer Diane Crookham Johnson is among those Republicans Branstad wants back.

The state party’s chief fundraiser in 2000, Johnson supports abortion rights, but dropped out of party leadership after growing frustrated with what she saw as increasing rigidity on social issues.

But Johnson has been contacted by Ernst and rival Mark Jacobs, and likes what she’s starting to hear.

“They want to know where I’m at,” she said “And that’s a good sign.”

Evangelical ad campaign says Jesus would back immigration reform without delay

A coalition of Evangelical groups, including the Southern Baptist Convention, hopes to give an earful to key congressional lawmakers about immigration reform.

The Evangelical Immigration Table formed last year and has launched a $400,000 radio ad campaign in 56 congressional districts. The “Pray for Reform” ads feature local pastors and national voices encouraging passage of immigration reform without delay.

The ads are airing in Wisconsin, Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas and promote securoing the borders, keeping families together and establishing an earned pathway to citizenship for people in the country now without legal papers.

Dr. Barrett Duke of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission says the ads will air for two weeks “at saturation rates.”

Pastor Felix Cabrera of Oklahoma City’s Quail Creek Baptist Church says the collateral damage of the current policy that he’s seen includes detention and separation of parents from U.S.-born children.

And Amarillo, Texas, pastor Stan Coffey says evangelicals should sound off on the issue. He says “this is what Jesus would have done if he were here.”

On the Web…


Senate minority threatens to derail immigration bill if it protects LGBT families

LGBT groups are reaffirming support for comprehensive immigration reform following reports that some senators have threatened to derail legislation if it is amended to include protections for binational LGBT families.

“The idea that lesbian and gay couples are the barrier to a bipartisan immigration reform agreement is an offensive ruse designed to distract attention away from the failings of Congress – a body that refuses to come together on popular and common-sense solutions to a host of our country’s problems,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group.

In April, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators, known as the Gang of Eight, introduced a massive 800-plus page immigration reform bill. It did not contain protections for binational LGBT families, prompting criticism from civil rights advocates and some Senate Democrats.

Earlier this week, the four Republicans in the Gang of Eight – Marco Rubio of Florida, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake and John McCain of Arizona – affirmed in closed-door negotiations on the bill that they do not want to include protections for LGBT families.

“There’s a reason this language wasn’t included in the Gang of Eight’s bill: It’s a deal-breaker for most Republicans,” Flake said, according to The New York Times. “Finding consensus on immigration legislation is tough enough without opening the bill up to social issues.”

Griffin said a handful of lawmakers are trying to portray LGBT equality as a “hot-button” controversial issue at a time when a majority of people support equality, as well as a broad coalition of religious institutions, labor organizations, businesses and civil rights groups.

Griffin said, “This bluster is nothing more than a political maneuver designed to divide the pro-reform coalition and at the same time appease a small but vocal group of social conservatives that will do anything to stop progress for lesbian and gay couples. The LGBT community will not stand for Congress placing the blame of their own dysfunction on our shoulders.”

In a joint statement, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, GLAAD, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, United We Dream and Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project said: “Our primary goal is to pass a commonsense, compassionate immigration reform bill that puts our nation’s undocumented men, women and children on a pathway to citizenship. That pathway would provide at least 267,000 LGBT undocumented people the opportunity to become full participants in our economy and our democracy.

“We do not believe that our friends in the evangelical faith community or conservative Republicans would allow the entire immigration reform bill to fail simply because it affords 28,500 same-sex couples equal immigration rights. This take-it-or-leave-it stance with regard to same-sex binational couples is not helpful when we all share the same goal of passing comprehensive immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship.

“We all deserve a chance to live with dignity, to pursue our dreams, and to work for a better future and better quality of life.

“Our current immigration system is broken. It dehumanizes, scapegoats and vilifies all immigrants, including LGBT immigrants, and their friends and families. Comprehensive, compassionate immigration reform is an urgent priority for our nation and the LGBT community.”

Estimates put the number of LGBT adult immigrants in the United States at 1 million, with about two-thirds of them documented and one-third not documented. Also, there are an estimated 32,300 LGBT binational couples in the United States. These couples, unlike heterosexual couples, cannot marry in many states and the federal government doesn’t recognize any same-sex couples.

LGBT groups, according to the statement, want reform to:

• Provide a pathway to citizenship.

• Ensure that family unity remains at the heart of immigration law and policy.

• End unjust detentions and deportations.

• Uphold labor and employment standards and ensure that the enforcement of immigration law does not undermine labor and employment rights.

• Promote a dignified quality of life for border communities by establishing oversight mechanisms to ensure border agencies uphold basic civil and human rights protections.

• Ensure immigrant members of the LGBT community are not relegated to permanent second-class status.

Sexuality survey refutes key evangelical claim

Right-wing evangelicals claim that acceptance of gays contributes to widespread sexual promiscuity, but a new government survey of Americans’ sexual behavior offers evidence to the contrary.

According to the latest statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fewer teens and young adults are having sex of any kind than they were in 2002, the last time the survey was conducted.

Among 15 to 24 year olds, 27 percent of males and 29 percent of females reported they had never had sexual contact with another person. Only 22 percent of males and females that age reported being virginal in 2002.

During the years between surveys, acceptance of same-sex relations has risen dramatically and five states have enacted same-sex marriage laws. (Massachusetts, the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, has the lowest divorce rate in the nation. Divorce rates are highest in the southern Bible Belt and western red states.)

The new sex survey also looked at same-sex relationships, and found that twice as many women as men admit to having had a same-sex experience. Among 15 to 44-year-old women, 13 percent say they’ve had a sexual experience with a woman. Only 5 percent of men in that age group acknowledged being intimate with another man.

aWomen were also three times more likely than men to say they are bisexual.