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SBC’s Land: Church directories shouldn’t be campaign resource

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–In a move reminiscent of the 2004 presidential campaign, the North Carolina Republican Party is reaching out to local churches in the state, asking their members for their church directories reportedly as part of “get-out-the-vote” efforts.

An e-mail sent Feb. 15 from Chris Mears, identified as a political director with the state’s GOP offices, asked recipients to “collect as many church directories as you can and send them to me in an effort to fully register, educate and energize North Carolina’s congregations to vote in the 2006 elections.”

In the summer of 2004, the Republican National Committee and the Bush campaign similarly sought church lists from members of Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist churches.

As in 2004, SBC ethicist Richard Land is saying the party’s efforts are misguided. “Such a request is completely beyond the pale of what is acceptable,” said Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, in a Feb. 17 interview with The Washington Post.

“This is what political parties do in looking for an advantage,” Land told Baptist Press. “[H]owever … I would say under no circumstances is a person to send their church directory to anyone outside of the church. It is a violation of the trust of your fellow church members.”

Whether it is a political party, a direct mail company or any other retailer, the personal information of another church member should never be shared, Land continued. “As individuals, we shouldn’t do it; the Republican Party shouldn’t ask you to do it.”

The e-mail from Mears noted the Republican National Committee had determined “people who regularly attend church usually vote Republican when they vote.” This fact was confirmed by Land: “Exit polls in 2004 revealed people who attend religious services more than a once a week voted for George W. Bush by a 2 to 1 margin.”

It was these findings, according to the e-mail, that prompted the North Carolina Republican Party to initiate the call for church directories. “In light of this study’s findings,” the e-mail says, “it is imperative that we register, educate and get these potential voters from the pew to the ballot box. To do this we must know who these people are.”

In response to the criticism the effort sparked, an executive with the state party, Bill Peaslee, said the party “believes that people shouldn’t leave their moral and spiritual beliefs at the door of the polling place.” He said the party was “just appealing to one of our constituencies, just as the Democrat Party does.”

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  • Dwayne Hastings