CHINO HILLS, Calif. Southern California pastors supporting a simply worded constitutional amendment to protect marriage in California will be launching the official release of the petitions in meetings around the state.
The meetings will showcase the issue of traditional marriage and encourage pastors to help distribute petitions seeking to protect traditional marriage permanently statewide.
The amendment petitions, sponsored by Protect Marriage, were expected to be released for circulation by Dec. 1, after review by the state. Supporters have until the first week of April to turn in 700,000 valid signatures from registered voters. To account for errors and duplication, the group needs as many as 1.2 million to qualify. If the amendment qualifies, it would be placed on the November ballot.
Pastors involved in the God's Design for Marriage project, launched during a pastor's meeting in San Diego in October, are hoping to rally their congregations to help circulate the petition.
A massive grassroots effort is viewed as critical to get the measure to qualify. The only other option is paid circulators, but the cost for professional workers is as high as $2 a signature.
Even as the logistics of distributing and collecting the petitions are being formalized, pastors across the state are being primed to take action. Chris Clark, pastor of East Clairemont Southern Baptist Church in San Diego, traveled to Sacramento Nov. 13 to discuss the issue at the annual California Southern Baptist Convention.
"I was able to very briefly explain what's going on," he said. "They were more than receptive."
Clark said he spent the early hours of the two-day convention "working the hallway" to get a coveted slot to discuss the issue. Ron Prentice, president of the California Family Council, one of the lead groups in Protect Marriage, was slated to discuss traditional marriage in the last of four business sessions.
Clark admits he pushed to get additional time early in the convention.
"I told them it's much too urgent, the situation is much too critical to wait until the end," Clark said.
"They stopped right there and prayed for the whole issue."
More than 1,000 brochures were distributed to the convention's messengers by Clark and Prentice as a way to encourage statewide mobilization to get the petitions signed.
Clark said that as he was leaving the hall after his impromptu presentation, several prominent Southern Baptist leaders stopped him for more information.
"They were definitely into it and ready to roll," he said.
Not a civil right
Prentice said he was encouraged by the response of the Southern Baptist pastors, who generally tend to be quite independent on such matters. He said a sub-meeting of African-American pastors also generated strong support.
"They especially resist this (same-sex marriage) as a civil rights issue similar to racism," Prentice said.
San Diego pastors were set to hold their second meeting on the issue in early December, while efforts to jump-start the movement in other Southern California regions are also beginning to pick up the pace. In October, Dr. Jim Garlow, pastor of Skyline Church in La Mesa, made a presentation to a group of about 700 pastors in Los Angeles.
"Across the board pastors … are responding with more assertive commitments to fight for this cause," Prentice said. "They are recognizing that the attack is on their religious liberties now, and it's starting to knock on the doors of their churches."
Through God's Design for Marriage, San Diego pastors are expecting to sponsor some type of marriage reaffirmation to tie in with Valentine's Day. Churches are also planning to register voters and host petition drives for the Protect Marriage plan.
Vote Yes Marriage
Although there is a similar proposed amendment to protect traditional marriage, the San Diego contingency has rallied behind Protect Marriage, saying it had a more likely chance of passing at the polls. Pastors at the other meetings across the state seem to have signaled similar support for the Protect Marriage initiative.
The separate Vote Yes Marriage proposal, supported by Randy Thomasson, president and founder of Campaign for Children and Families, would also declare marriage as between one man and one woman, but in addition it would also strip existing protections for domestic partnership from state law. Supporters of Vote Yes argue their amendment is the only one that will truly protect all aspects of traditional marriage, while the Protect Marriage plan basically would protect marriage in name alone.
In a Nov. 13 e-mail update to its supporters, Thomasson said Vote Yes Marriage is waiting for funding of $2.5 million before moving ahead with its signature drive.
Thomasson also released information from a September poll of 800 likely California voters saying, "If same-sex marriages are licensed in California, (by the court's pending ruling) more voters would support the Vote Yes Marriage Amendment than oppose it."
Taking away rights
Protect Marriage supporters counter that while the intention of Vote Yes Marriage is noble, statewide polls have consistently shown that California voters would not vote for a punitive measure that takes away rights already granted. In several focus groups many evangelicals shunned the idea of rolling back the rights.
Clark praised the evangelical community for remaining vigilant on the issue of traditional marriage, even as they have been inundated with ministry outreaches since the October firestorms in Southern California.
"The fires have helped people to see that the churches are not full of angry Christians, that those are just misconceptions," he said. "The fire response has shown people that these followers of Jesus really put feet to their words. They love people.
"We are for traditional marriage," he said. "We believe so strongly in the design God has placed on marriage and we are a people of action."
For more information, about God's Design for Marriage, visit skylinechurch.org. For more information on the marriage initiatives, visit protectmarriage.com and voteyesmarriage.com.
Rock Church in San Diego • 2277 Rosecrans St. San Diego
December 13 at. 11a.m. to 1 p.m.
Calvary Chapel Chino Hills • 4201 Eucalyptus Ave., Chino • 909-393-7100
February 6 at 10 a.m
New Venture Christian Fellowship • 4000 Mystra Way, Oceanside
The North County location was strategically selected for this meeting so that pastors from Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and Inland Empire counties may attend. Hosted by Pastor Shawn Mitchell, the event will draw Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C.