An evangelical leader said he is not surprised that GOP candidates are refusing to sign The Family Leader's Marriage Vow. He believes the pledge is a "rambling" document that is "unnecessary."
Bishop Harry Jackson Jr., a board member of the National Association of Evangelicals, said the vow – which has been under media scrutiny – "attempts to bring together far too many issues."
The vow highlights 14 promises, four of which directly relate to preserving traditional marriage in federal and state government. The remainder of the pledge "has to do with personal marriage integrity and then it moves on to non-marriage issues, public policy issues, and it seems to me to be rambling at points," Jackson pointed out.
Presidential contenders who sign the vow to attract evangelicals are doing so unnecessarily, the Maryland pastor maintained. Jackson believes candidates simply need to discuss their views on marriage with voters.
Tim Pawlenty recently decided to do just that.
Pawlenty declined the opportunity to sign the pledge Wednesday, choosing to release a statement instead.
"I deeply respect, and share, Bob Vander Plaats' commitment to promoting the sanctity of marriage, a culture of life, and the core principles of the Family Leader's Marriage Vow Pledge," he wrote.
"However, rather than sign onto the words chosen by others, I prefer to choose my own words, especially seeking to show compassion to those who are in broken families through no fault of their own. I respectfully decline to sign the pledge," the former Minnesota governor stated.
Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Gary Johnson also declined to sign the marriage vow.
Gingrich said the pledge needs some changes, but did not specify what kind.
Both Romney and Johnson derided the pledge for a previous statement that suggested to some that African-American families were better off in slavery.
The statement, recovered by CNN, states, "Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA's first African-American President."
The statement drew controversy and the pledge’s signers, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum, also came under fire.
Both Bachmann and Santorum released a statement clarifying that they do not advocate a return to slavery.
Vander Plaats, president and CEO of The Family Leader, responded to critics in a video message this week.
He said the accusation that the organization was implying that raising children in the time of slavery was better than today is “absurd.”
“We never condoned slavery. We never believed that was better for families,” he asserted.
Emphasizing The Family Leader’s mission to strengthen families, Vander Plaats pointed out that 70 percent of all African-American children are born out of wedlock today and that 41 percent of all children in American are born without the benefit of a mother and a father.
“That’s a crisis,” he stated. “We need to strengthen marriages. We need to strengthen families.”
Jackson, an African American, said conservatives are right to be concerned about families. However, he criticized the pledge for not discussing the statistics of other minorities. The Marriage Vow, he stated, should have been vetted by minority groups such as his International Communion of Evangelical Churches. The ICEC was newly formed this year and its founding leadership council consists of African Americans, Caucasians, Hispanic, and international leaders.
Candidates who sign the marriage vow pledge to defend the institution of marriage as between a man and a woman and to do so through “personal fidelity to my spouse,” legal advocacy for the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and “vigorous opposition to any redefinition of the Institution of Marriage,” among other things.