U.S. Baptists to stay in political arena

SAN ANTONIO, Texas Wed Jun 13, 2007 2:32pm EDT

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SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Reuters) - Conservative Christians in the United States must press the fight against gay marriage and abortion but also broaden the agenda to include protecting the environment, a leading evangelical says.

Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said Southern Baptists needed to remain firm on the social issues that have defined much of their political activism and their association with the Republican Party.

"We need to continue to take stands against those who would define the family in ways other than a man and a woman. That may be seen as negative but I think it is biblically responsible," he said.

"I feel strongly that we must be very pro-life ... and I believe that is an appropriate political involvement," he told Reuters late on Tuesday on the sidelines of the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting.

But Page also advocated taking up an issue that liberal evangelicals are working on: the environment.

"It would be a very positive thing for Christians to be far more conscious of the environment and how to care for it and guard and keep as the Bible commands," said Page, who is a pastor of a large church in South Carolina.

But he took issue with those who said that evangelicals should back out of politics.

"I disagree with that. I do believe evangelicals need to continue to be involved in the political sphere primarily in speaking to issues rather than endorsing political candidates, though sometimes that is going to happen," he said.

The Southern Baptist Convention and other evangelical Protestants are a key base of support for the Republican Party and are credited with helping President George W. Bush win two terms in the White House.

Page's position -- he has just finished the first of a two-year term -- gives him clout as the 16-million strong Southern Baptist Convention is the second largest Christian denomination in America after the Roman Catholic Church.

Page did not endorse any politicians but said he had talks with several leading Republican candidates for the 2008 presidential race, including front runners Rudy Giuliani and John McCain.

He said he had also talked by phone with former Democratic presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.

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