NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The head of public policy for the Southern Baptist Convention says an overwhelming majority of Baptists still support President Bush and his handling of the Iraq war.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday, Richard Land said that exit polls showed about 84 percent of Southern Baptists voted for Bush in 2004. The Iraq war hasn't significantly eroded that support, he said, despite recent polls that show Republicans losing ground with moderate evangelicals.
"I'm not ready to throw in the towel on Iraq yet," said Land, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the Southern Baptist Convention's public policy arm.
"It would be foolish to say anybody's pleased," Land said. "I don't think the president's pleased with the progress of the war. Clearly, he would have wished things would have gone better. So do I."
But, Land added: "I still think Iraq is one of the more noble things we've done. We went there to try to restore freedom and to bring freedom to the Middle East."
An Associated Press-Ipsos poll conducted earlier this month indicated that 42 percent of white evangelicals disapprove of the job Bush has done as president.
But Land contends Bush has lost less support from Southern Baptists than "virtually any other constituency." The Nashville-based SBC is the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. with over 16 million members.
"I don't think there's any question that the vast majority of Southern Baptists still strongly support this president and his policies," Land said.
Southern Baptists have been among the most vocal of conservative Christian groups in support of the Bush administration.
The president has spoken by video link to the Southern Baptist national convention three times in recent years and outgoing SBC President Jack Graham called the president "a man of personal faith whose leadership is great for America."
Land, who also serves on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent and bipartisan federal agency, said the United States needs to worry less about trying to improve its image in the Middle East.
Instead, Land says, "we ought to go negative."
"We ought to be spending our money explaining what the Middle East would look like if the jihadists win, what Afghanistan looked like when the Taliban was in control and what the role of women was.
"We need to focus more on the fact that most people being killed in Iraq are not Americans but Muslims being killed by other Muslims," he said. "If democracy loses in the Middle East, it's Muslims who will be the primary losers."
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