Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Evangelical Christians oppose homosexual “marriages,” but prefer the practice be outlawed through state laws rather than a constitutional amendment, according to a poll released yesterday.

An estimated 32 percent of Americans — nearly 90 million — are evangelicals, the largest group in American Protestantism.

Evangelicals — who emphasize salvation through faith in Jesus — are a powerful subculture, credited with being a swing vote in presidential politics and helping make Mel Gibson’s film “The Passion of the Christ” a box-office success.

The poll surveyed 1,610 evangelical adults March 16 through April 4 and was conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. It has a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points and surveyed persons who identified themselves as fundamentalist, evangelical, charismatic, Pentecostal or born-again Protestants.

“The big difference with evangelicals,” said Anna Greenberg, vice president of the polling firm, “is evangelicals put their beliefs into practice.”

“They have a different relationship to pop culture than do other Americans and they are more offended by it.”

Thus, despite counting President Bush, several Cabinet members, the speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader among their numbers, America’s evangelicals believe they are a minority under siege, according to the poll, a joint effort of the PBS program “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly” and U.S. News & World Report magazine.

White evangelicals especially see themselves this way. Seventy-five percent of them agreed that “The mass media is hostile toward my moral and spiritual values,” compared with 52 percent each for black and Hispanic evangelicals.

Seventy-seven percent of white evangelicals said they must fight for their voices “to be heard by the American mainstream,” compared with 59 percent of black evangelicals and 50 percent of evangelical Hispanics polled.

“Many elites don’t know anything about evangelicals,” said John Green, a University of Akron political science professor who provided an analysis of the report. “And many evangelicals are their own worst publicists.”

Some of America’s best-known evangelical leaders don’t necessarily resonate with their followers, the poll said.

Favorability ratings for Liberty University chancellor the Rev. Jerry Falwell (44.1 percent) and Christian Broadcasting Network founder the Rev. Pat Robertson (54.2 percent) were low compared with the world’s best-known religious leader, Pope John Paul II, who had a 59.4 percent favorability rating. Focus on the Family founder James Dobson scored 73.3, and evangelist the Rev. Franklin Graham registered a favorability rating of 73.1 percent.

“Many evangelicals have mixed feelings toward their leaders,” Miss Greenberg said. “Evangelicals are discerning about their leadership, and we should not assume every evangelical leader is liked by their constituency.”

The poll showed evangelicals split over who should be president, with Mr. Bush narrowly leading Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, 49 percent to 45 percent.

Thirty-five percent of evangelicals polled thought homosexual “marriage” should be prohibited by a constitutional amendment, and 57 percent said state laws alone would do the job. Sixty-one percent of evangelicals opposed any law allowing homosexuals to marry versus 30 percent in favor.

On most questions, white evangelicals polled up to 29 percentage points more conservatively than blacks or Hispanics. For instance, in the question about allowing homosexuals to “marry,” 85 percent of white evangelicals opposed a law allowing such unions compared with 65 percent of blacks and 56 percent of Hispanic evangelicals polled.

Evangelicals have “enormous energy,” Mr. Green said, “and they have become active in the arts, publishing and news media. They are interested in families and children and put a lot of emphasis on sexual behavior.”

The survey will be the basis for a four-part series on “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly,” beginning Sunday on Washington’s WETA-TV.

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