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Presidential candidates often at odds with their denominations

Posted: Friday, October 27, 2000

NEW YORK (AP) -- Vice President Al Gore and Gov. George W. Bush say they are guided by religious teachings. But not necessarily from their own traditions.

Each presidential candidate's views are often distinctly at odds with his own Protestant denomination's -- and in sync with his opponent's.

Gore's positions on abortion and homosexuality are opposed by his own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, and echoed by Bush's United Methodist Church.

On many issues, Bush has more in common with the Southern Baptists.

That denomination has been a relentless critic of the Southern Baptist at the White House, President Clinton, for deviating from what it believes are correct Christian teachings. Now convention officials are focusing on the vice president's views, particularly his support for the right to an abortion, and he's not faring well.

''Gore's current stated position ... is a departure from the most fundamental moral instruction of the Scripture,'' says William Merrell, a Southern Baptist Convention vice president. ''The convention is not stuttering when we say that we believe (abortion) is a sin.''

The list of disagreements goes on: Gore supports full inclusion of gay and lesbian families in the life of the nation, including military service. The Southern Baptist statement of faith labels homosexuality a form of ''sexual immorality.''

The convention has said women should not pastors. Gore attends a Southern Baptist church led by a woman minister.

The vice president favors affirmative action. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention ethics and religious liberty commission, says that most convention members oppose it.

A spokesman for Gore said that he is against government-sponsored prayers and thinks pre-game invocations before school sports events are ''not truly voluntary.'' Land says that most Southern Baptists support pre-game prayers.

Merrell says that even Southern Baptists who consider themselves environmentalists take issue with some of the vice president's thoughts on God and nature. In his book, ''Earth in the Balance,'' Gore writes of ''an awareness of a constant and holy spiritual presence in all people, all life, and all things.''

Gore's statements, Merrell believes, contradict the Southern Baptist assertion that human beings ''are a special creation of God and are authorized to subdue the earth.''

Bush's denomination, the United Methodist Church, allows members more leeway on social issues, says Gretchen Hakola, the church's communications program director. It's equally permissible, she says, ''to disagree with stances and remain United Methodist as to disagree with the current administration and remain an American.''

Still, many of Bush's positions contradict those of his church.

The governor is against legalized abortion; the United Methodists support it as a ''regrettable option.''

The denomination calls for the right of gays to serve in the military. Bush does not.

The church supports affirmative action. Bush opposes quotas and ''preferential treatment'' of minorities.

Bush has defended the legality of student-led prayers, and he expressed disappointment when the Supreme Court voted 6-3 to forbid officially organized football game invocations.

The United Methodist Church has objected to such prayers, arguing that they threaten the separation of church and state.

On the issue of vouchers, government aid to parents choosing to send their children to private or religious schools, the United Methodists say they would harm public schools. Bush defends them as a way of making schools accountable.

The governor has proposed increasing defense spending and supporting a robust missile defense system. The United Methodists have called for stopping the ''militarization of society'' and reducing the manufacture and sale of armaments.

The church wants a total ban on the public's ownership of handguns and assault weapons. Bush calls instead for ''vigorous enforcement of current gun laws.''

While his church opposes the death penalty, Bush believes in capital punishment for heinous crimes.

And what of other candidates' religious views?

Green Party hopeful Ralph Nader has not discussed religion, but Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan, a Roman Catholic, also disagrees with much of his own tradition's social teaching.

Buchanan has long portrayed himself as a church loyalist, nostalgic for the ''halcyon years'' of the 1940s and '50s. In his autobiography, ''Right from the Beginning,'' he criticized nuns and priests ''in acrimonious rebellion against the patriarchal church.''

Today Buchanan rebels against the patriarch. His positions on immigration, capital punishment and gun control are at odds with those of Pope John Paul II.

End Adv for Friday PMs, Oct. 27



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