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GOP Loyalty Not a Given For Young Evangelicals

Competing Interests

Merritt weighs less esoteric questions as overseer of the College & Single Life ministry at his father's Cross Pointe Church, which has 1,750 attendees each Sunday. The young adults meet in a room decorated like an urban loft, with dim lighting, brown leather couches and patches of wallpaper that look like exposed brick. One recent Sunday, Merritt spoke on being judgmental.

"The church has a bad reputation for being judgmental, worrying more about what people wear to church than the fact that they are coming to church," he earnestly told the group of about 20.

The students agree, and they say some of it has to do with a politicizing of their religion. They feel the tension of their competing interests.

"I went to school with a lot of agnostic people and after Bush, they were like 'no' " to religion, said Brittany Kelley, 22, who recently graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design. She is leaning toward McCain because she shares his economic views and is afraid that Obama will raise taxes. But in a lowered voice she said she does not feel the way some of the other young evangelicals do when it comes to all social issues.

"I have a lot of friends who are homosexual, and if they wanted to get married, that's okay," Kelley said. "They are not going to stop it because it is illegal."

For Merritt, the decision comes down to combining the values his father taught him and those he has discovered along the way. The more he talks about McCain and Obama, the clearer it becomes that he is dissatisfied with both. In a freelance column published recently, he wrote: "If Democrats begin championing the sanctity of human life and traditional marriage, they may capture some of the powerful Christian voting bloc; if Republicans can develop an aggressive platform on issues like poverty and the environment, they can reverse the erosion of their evangelical base."

Merritt is not convinced that either party will go far enough to win him over in this election.

"We've become such an idealistic generation where our parents were so pragmatic," he said. "I'm not ruling out third-party candidates."

Polling editor Jon Cohen contributed to this report.

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