Evangelicals and the D-question

Drawing3Everyone out there who is tired or reading the following quotation, raise your hand? This is taken from the lede of a Newsweek piece by Eleanor Clift and Sarah Childress:

Most jokes that politicians tell don't make you laugh because they're too carefully calculated to be funny. Mitt Romney tells one that's carefully calculated and funny. "I believe marriage should be between a man and a woman," he recently told an audience of conservative Republicans. "And a woman, and a woman and a woman."

Polygamy humor is pretty risque, at least for a Mormon.

No, no, no -- I am not going to start another Romney post about polygamy vs. polytheism and the South Carolina GOP primary ("I believe faith is between a man and his god, and his other god, and his great-great-grandfather, who now may or may not be a god in another sphere, etc., etc.).

No, my point is that Newsweek seriously buried the lede in this report. There is some amazing material in the second half of the story that is hooked to one of the major stories in American life and politics right now -- the blurring of evangelical Protestant beliefs on issues linked to marriage and divorce.

Once again, a major mainstream publication has opened with the political angle of a story when the religious angle is just as important (or more so) and is almost certainly driving the trend.

Who has a right to judge John, Rudy and Newt anyway?

In the new NEWSWEEK Poll, only 5 percent of evangelicals said they would not vote for a candidate who had divorced. Rhonda Kelley, a professor of women's ministry at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, says evangelicals can forgive mistakes. "I'm looking for a willingness to say, 'Hey look, I blew it. I am so sorry' ... Being willing to admit fault is a mark of maturity in a leader." That would seem to be good news for McCain, who has taken responsibility for his failed first marriage and remains on good terms with his ex-wife.

Evangelical Republicans might not be as forgiving of Giuliani, who played out his ugly second divorce in the tabloids and reportedly has a strained relationship with his son, Andrew, and daughter, Caroline. The NEWSWEEK Poll showed that 26 percent of respondents would not vote for a candidate who was involved in a nasty public divorce, and 43 percent said they wouldn't support a politician who'd had extramarital affairs. (Of course Giuliani, who supports abortion and gay rights, has other troubles with evangelicals.) Newt Gingrich, another Republican mulling a possible White House run, has tried to soften that resistance. Now on his third marriage, he admitted to cheating in the past and recently asked forgiveness for "moral failings."

So, let's see. What else might be going on here in this story? Clearly the issue of evangelicals and divorce is a complex one, but it seems clear which way things are evolving.

I am haunted by something I started hearing in the mid-1990s from leaders in the "True Love Waits" movement. What was the biggest hurdle when it came time to get congregations to take part in this save-sex-for-marriage project? Often, it was the weak support of pastors afraid to offend divorced church members (including deacons) and parents who were nervous about the project, because of their own sexual histories.

There's a story in there somewhere.

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