How churches shape the South Carolina governor’s race

Pastor Kevin Baird of Charleston’s Legacy Church admonished the state Senate on Wednesday for not passing an abortion ban this session. Churches are expected to play an active role in South Carolina’s upcoming elections. Jamie Lovegrove/Staff

COLUMBIA — When Gov. Henry McMaster campaigned last fall at Bob Jones University — the Greenville fundamentalist Christian college that’s a popular stop for Republican politicians — he touted the abundance of churches across the state.

On a 140-mile drive from his home in Columbia to Pawleys Island on the Georgetown County coast, McMaster said he personally counted 83 churches along the route.

“I’m not sure if that’s a world record but that’s something real good and comforting to ride down those country roads and see all those churches,” McMaster said. “That’s one reason we’re strong.”

Weeks away from a highly competitive GOP gubernatorial primary, all of the Republican candidates are flexing their Christian muscles in attempt to woo the Palmetto State’s more religious voters who make up a significant and vocal portion of the party’s base.

Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant earned a reputation for wearing his faith on his sleeves during his 13 years in the state Senate where he had long been one of the most ardent proponents for a bill that would ban all abortions in the state with no exceptions.

Mount Pleasant attorney Catherine Templeton, a former two-time state agency director, has said that Christians are “under attack” and must fight to have their beliefs taught in South Carolina schools. She posts a Bible verse on Sundays.

Along with his status as a Marine veteran, Greenville businessman John Warren regularly highlights his Christian faith in his TV ads across the state.

Former Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill has cited his own Christian upbringing as his reason for signing a pledge to support the abortion ban bill.

When former S.C. GOP chairman Chad Connelly left to become the national faith engagement director at the Republican National Committee, he said he was constantly pushing chairman Reince Priebus to get the party more actively involved in courting voters based on their Christian beliefs.

“It’s a massive deal,” Connelly said. “I believe that evangelicals in particular and the faith community in general is probably the most untapped, under-appreciated voting segment in American politics today.”

More than pro-life

Pro-life policies have often been a cornerstone of church political activism.

Now, all of…

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