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Evangelicals — opposed to a federal marriage amendment?

EDITORS’ NOTE: This is the 18th story in a series examining the national debate over same-sex “marriage” and appears in Baptist Press every Friday.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Pro-family leaders are questioning a new poll that suggests evangelicals — the core of American social conservatism — are opposed to a constitutional marriage amendment.

The lengthy survey, released April 13, found that by a margin of 52-41 percent evangelicals prefer to leave the issue of same-sex “marriage” up to the states and not amend the federal constitution.

The result has turned a few heads, especially since a New York Times poll in March found that 59 percent of the general population supports a marriage amendment.

It has also caused some to ask: Are these true evangelicals? In response to one question, roughly half of evangelicals said that Christians aren’t the only ones going to heaven.

On the marriage question, the difference between the new poll and other polls may be found in the wording of the question. The Times poll asked respondents if they favored or opposed an amendment, but the new poll did something different.

The poll, conducted for U.S. News & World Report and PBS’ “Religion and Ethics Newsweekly,” asked 1,610 people, “Should the U.S. Constitution be amended to ban gay marriage, or is it enough to prohibit gay marriage by law without changing the Constitution?”

The second half of the question, one pro-family leader charges, gives people a false hope, making them think that state laws are sufficient to prevent same-sex “marriage” legalization.

“It’s a leading question,” Peter LaBarbera, executive director of the Illinois Family Institute, told Baptist Press. “It’s leading the people to think that laws will be enough.”

Genevieve Wood of the Family Research Council said there is a “misperception” that same-sex “marriage” can be outlawed “just by passing state constitutional amendments.” Nebraska’s marriage amendment is being challenged in federal court.

“Just passing an amendment in your state doesn’t protect you from judges at the federal level or in other jurisdictions who can step in and say, ‘Your state law is now unconstitutional,’” she said.

The argument for a federal constitutional marriage amendment, LaBarbera and Wood said, is that state laws can be overturned by federal courts. If passed and ratified, a federal constitutional amendment would trump any state law or state court ruling.

The Massachusetts court ruling legalizing same-sex “marriage” is set to take effect May 17, and too many Christians don’t realize it, LaBarbera said.

“This is destruction of marriage day in this country — May 17 — when we’re going to have two men allowed to legally get married, if this isn’t stopped,” LaBarbera said. “And we have Christians who don’t even know.

“… You can twist polls, but there remains a problem, which is [that] a lot of Christians are not being the good citizens that God calls them to be. I think that’s the key.”

Homosexual activists have been vocal in their strategy to legalize same-sex “marriage” nationally. The strategy involves getting married in one state — Massachusetts, for instance — and then suing in federal court to have the license recognized in other states. Without a federal constitutional amendment, a federal court could overturn any state ban on same-sex “marriage.”

“People think that maybe they can just take care of it at the state level, but the reality is they can’t,” Wood said.

Using the data, the Baltimore Sun ran a story April 14 claiming that “more than half of the nation’s white evangelicals oppose such a measure.” But Russell D. Moore, dean of the school of theology and senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says the survey is off-target in assuming self-professing evangelicals are true evangelicals.

Incredibly, 45 percent of the evangelicals in the survey disagreed with the statement that “only born-again Christians go to heaven.” Forty-eight percent agreed.

“Evangelical Christianity is not an ethnic group or a social fraternity,” Moore said. “Instead, ‘evangelical’ describes a particular set of convictions about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In this poll and others like it, respondents are labeled ‘evangelical’ simply on the basis of self-identification.

“This leaves you with the bizarre situation of a large segment of ‘evangelicals’ in disagreement with the evangel itself when it comes to issues such as the necessity of faith in Christ for salvation.”

If the church is to reclaim the true meaning of “evangelical,” it must reach the next generation with biblical discipleship and biblical preaching, Moore said.

“Until then, sociologists and pollsters will persist in labeling as ‘evangelical’ anyone who likes the term ‘born again’ — regardless of whether he is a committed Christian, a New Age guru who thinks he saw Jesus in a cloud of marijuana smoke, or a middle-aged Southern Baptist who hasn’t been to church since junior high youth camp,” Moore said.

Wood said that even if the poll’s question on marriage is leading, it points to the need to inform people about the debate over same-sex “marriage.” Eighty-three percent of evangelicals in the poll are opposed to same-sex “marriage” — 65 percent strongly opposed.

“The question is,” Wood said, “‘OK, does that translate into people supporting a constitutional amendment?’ That’s where I think a lot of the work needs to be done. I think once people understand that if they’re opposed to same-sex ‘marriage’ [and that] the only way we’re going to keep marriage the way it is is to pass a constitutional amendment, I think [then] you’ll see those numbers grow.”

The survey, which asked respondents questions on a wide range of issues, was conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research March 16-April 4.
For more information about the national debate over same-sex “marriage,” visit

The complete poll can be found on the Internet at: http://www.greenbergresearch.com/issues/news.php.

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  • Michael Foust