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Just in Time for Giuliani, Evangelicals Rethink Divorce

November 6, 2007

Timing, as they say, is everything. In recent days, the religious right's discontent with the socially liberal, twice divorced and occasional cross-dressing Rudy Giuliani has begun to fuel rumors of a third party alternative for disgruntled Republican evangelicals. How convenient then for the self-proclaimed mayor of 9/11 that evangelicals themselves are now reconsidering their prohibition on divorce.
That's the story in the current issue of Time magazine. Citing an article by British Evangelical scholar David Instone-Brewer in the influential Christianity Today, Time describes a new flexibility among evangelicals in interpreting two key scriptural citations previously seen as barring virtually all divorce. Analyzing both the history and semantics of the citations (apparently, the biblical equivalent of what the meaning of "is" is), Instone-Brewer argues that the "plain sense" of limiting divorce to cases involving adultery and non-Christian spouses isn't as plain as it seems.
And not a moment too soon for Rudy Giuliani. In early October, a Rasmussen poll showed that 27% of Republicans would vote for conservative Christian third party rather than the GOP should Giuliani win the nomination. A more recent survey by the Pew Research Center showed that 55% of white evangelicals "said they would consider a conservative who ran as a third-party candidate" faced with a choice between Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani. (Evangelicals constitute 34% of voters supporting or leaning towards the GOP.) And just weeks ago, leaders of national evangelical groups including James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and conservative godfather Richard Viguerie met in Salt Lake City to consider a third party alternative to Giuliani. While former Arkansas Governor and Baptist minister Mike Huckabee continues to build evangelical support, Giuliani garnered less than 2% in the straw poll the recent Values Voter Summit.
While 60% of the reader reaction to the controversial Christianity Today piece was negative, events on the ground suggest that evangelicals like other conservatives are being mugged by reality. After all, the divorce rate among evangelicals not only tops the national average but at 34% is the highest of any faith group, according to the Barna Research Group. Divorce rates are highest in precisely those red states that voted for George W Bush. (As the New York Times noted in 2004, to avoid splitting up, couples should move to Massachusetts, which features the lowest divorce rate in the country.)
Evangelicals may yet reject Rudy Giuliani and his serial marriages. But at a minimum, in opposing his candidacy over his divorces, they should not cast the first the stone.
UPDATE: Not 24 hours after this piece was posted, Giuliani received the endorsement of Christian Broadcasting Network head Pat Robertson. Robertson deemed the pro-choice New Yorker "more than acceptable to people of faith."


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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