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SOUTHERN Baptists pass resolution to try and save marriages as meeting winds down

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ The Southern Baptist Convention addressed the divorce rate among its members Wednesday by urging pastors to convince couples they should promise not to get divorced quickly.

The resolution promoting what's called covenant marriages kept to the theme of the annual SBC meeting _ a new focus on preserving marriage among born-again Christians.

Under a covenant marriage, couples formally agree before marrying that if they become estranged, they will undergo intensive counciling before splitting up.

The meeting of America's largest Protestant denomination also issued declarations against euthanasia, human cloning and Internet pornography.

Southern Baptists also voted to support federal lawsuits accusing the Navy of discriminating against chaplains of evangelical faiths. The denomination also warned Congress to reject any campaign finance reform that limits free speech.

The resolutions were approved without debate among the 9,100 church members gathered in the Louisiana Superdome on the final day of the group's two-day gathering.

On Tuesday, the convention revealed plans to turn a critical eye on itself by developing a blueprint for pastors on preventing divorce among Southern Baptists.

Few details of the strategy have been finalized, but the aim is to strengthen the church and have Southern Baptist families serve as models for non-Christian couples, said the Rev. Thomas Elliff, who leads the convention's Council on Family Life.

The national divorce rate is estimated to be between 40 percent and 50 percent, and Elliff said some studies indicate the divorce rate among born-again Christians is similar. Federal statistics have shown so-called Bible Belt states have among the highest divorce rates in the country.

``It is our conviction that a healthy God-centered family ... is a winsome testimony,'' Elliff said.

Even with the focus on divorce in the faith, the Rev. James Merritt, convention president, said he won't stop working to change society at large.

In his annual address Tuesday, he accused network TV shows of ``making a mockery of Christians.'' He warned that the denomination's critics will try to silence its opposition to homosexuality and abortion with ``heat-seeking missiles of tolerance and political correctness.''

``One president commits sexual sin in the Oval Office and the Christian Right is told to shut up,'' Merritt said. ``Another president speaks openly of his faith in God and his trust in Christ and he is told to shut up.''
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