Religion risky for GOP


POSTED: Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Religious activists are making moves to push Hawaii's Republican Party to be more conservative on cultural issues such as gay civil unions, abortion rights and physician-assisted suicide, but their effort is more likely to further marginalize the GOP. Gov. Linda Lingle's success at the polls has demonstrated that moderation, not intolerance, is the wisest approach to the party's future.

Evangelical leaders have launched what they call “;The 80/80 Vision.”; The goal is to convince 80 percent of Christian churchgoers to register to vote and then persuade 80 percent of those who register to vote according to “;Christian values”; on abortion, gay rights, euthanasia and other “;values”; issues.

The problem is that the congregation does not necessarily agree with the political preacher. A nationwide poll last month by Public Religion Research showed that 83 percent of conservative religious activists identify abortion and 65 percent cite same-sex marriages, both of which they oppose, as their most important political priorities among a list of eight issue areas.

However, a poll taken a year ago by the same research organization found that rank-and-file white evangelicals regard the economy, terrorism, energy and gas, the war in Iraq and health care as the most important issues. Obviously, they have different priorities from their activist leaders.

Last year's poll also indicated that white evangelicals ages 18-34, while strongly against abortion rights, are more supportive of same-sex relationships than their elders, with a majority favoring either same-sex marriage (24 percent) or civil unions (28 percent). Sixty-one percent of older evangelicals oppose any recognition of gay relationships. Ahead of last year's election, Democrat Barack Obama led Republican John McCain by 15 points among younger Roman Catholics. Six in 10 favored abortion in all or most cases, compared with half of Catholics ages 35 and older.

“;On issues from gay and lesbian rights to the role of government at home and around the world,”; said Robert Jones, the lead pollster, “;young Catholics, mainline Protestants and evangelicals are bridging the divides that entrenched their elders and ushering in an era of consensus in which the common good trumps the clash of ideologies.”;

Republican Lt. Gov. James “;Duke”; Aiona, a candidate for governor, has made clear his strong religious convictions and his conservative views on social issues, including opposition to civil unions, gay marriage and abortion. Whether “;The 80/80 Vision”; will bring him the desired result is questionable.

Republicans should be concerned about a hijacking of their party by religious activists whose public support on cultural issues is dwindling. While people generally want their political leaders to be fairly religious, many if not most are leery of the mix of politics and religion.