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Neb. Rep. Says Abortion Divides GOP

July 11, 1998

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (AP) _ Rep. Doug Bereuter stunned delegates to the Nebraska Republican convention Saturday by saying too many party members are using Christianity for political gain and making abortion too much of a cornerstone issue.

``I question no individual man or woman’s religious sincerity, but ... a lot of people got religion lately when it seemed to be especially good politics with certain voting blocs,″ the 10-term congressman told the 450 convention delegates. ``That is called exploitation and it leads to further cynicism and distrust of all who cite their religious views or act upon them.″

Bereuter said the abortion issue has become so prevalent in the party’s rhetoric that it is alienating voters in Nebraska and nationwide.

``I am pro-life by commitment,″ he said. ``As important as that issue is ... it is clear that the average Nebraska Republican voter does not believe this issue should absolutely predominate over all others.

``Have we permitted this issue to tear us apart?

``A large and growing number of Americans see the two parties as sidetracked on peripheral issues _ some group’s social-religious concerns or moral agenda _ instead of getting those Americans what they want: the tools and opportunity to pursue the American dream,″ he continued. ``I like you a lot, but I’m telling you, as a group at least, you are not representative of the average Nebraska Republicans.″

Bereuter, who has served Nebraska’s 1st District since 1978, emphasized that he still thinks religion has a place in the party, as long Christianity is not the only one acceptable.

``Christianity is a keystone of my personal life,″ Bereuter said. ``Yet I must tell you that I wince every time our prayers at Republican gatherings are overtly Christian and exclusionary of Jews, Moslems, Hindu or the Asian religions that are practiced by our fellow Americans.″

While some delegates applauded Bereuter and congratulated him after the speech, many sat quietly in their chairs as he exited the ballroom.

Bereuter said afterwards that his speech was the result of ``just a collection of thoughts over a period of time.″

``There are some things ... that I can say now that other people can’t say that need to be said,″ Bereuter said.

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