[Editor's Note: Over the weekend, Mitt Romney spoke at the graduation ceremony of Liberty University, an evangelical university founded by Rev. Jerry Falwell. For the first time in this campaign season, Romney spoke about his Mormon faith -- acknowledging the differences and similarities between it and conservative Christianity. Nancy French and her husband, David, have headed up Evangelicals for Mitt since 2005 and she writes about why they're throwing their support behind the presumed GOP candidate. --Grace]
In 2006, my husband told me about an exciting possible Presidential candidate named Mitt Romney. He told me of all of his many attributes, and then added, “He’s a Mormon.”
“Oh,” I said. “Too bad we can’t vote for him.”
“Why?” David asked innocently, though I was incredulous. Wasn’t the answer obvious?
I was raised in the Church of Christ, had attended the charismatic Times Square Church in New York City, and – at the time – went to the conservative Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. (We now attend Zion Presbyterian in Tennessee.) I tithed, had been baptized in a summer camp swimming pool, knew all the verses of How Great Thou Art, and had Pyrex dishes with my name written on the bottom specifically for casseroles.
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Though I didn’t know many Mormons well, I knew I wouldn’t like them. After all, their commercials on television were ridiculously earnest. Who runs in the back yard with their family while blowing bubbles in slow motion? Please.
However, in a matter of days, I went from objecting to his candidacy to unabashedly supporting it. Here’s what helped me:
1. In spite of our theological differences, evangelicals and Mormons are already political allies. In fact, if Mormons weren’t consistently more conservative than their evangelical neighbors, Al Gore would be America’s president now and no one would’ve defended California Proposition 8, which attempted to overturn a state Supreme Court ruling that permitted gay marriage. In fact, we owe them a great deal for their steadfast consistency on moral issues. The too-frequently squishy evangelical church, tossed by every trend, is responsible for electing Barack Obama.
2. Romney’s faith doesn’t indicate gullibility. All religions require a leap of faith that appears silly to outsiders. For example, do you believe Noah was a floating zookeeper? That Jesus turned water into wine and paid taxes with coins from a fish’s mouth? No one belongs to the Church of the Scientific Method, so religion falls outside normal reasoning. Gov. Romney’s beliefs certainly require faith – including his quite miraculous notion that Jesus is his personal Savior. In my experience, evangelicals loathe religious litmus tests.That’s what Democrats do, when they try to disqualify Christian and Catholic judges because of their beliefs. And as far as gullible goes, don’t forget that Mitt Romney has two Harvard degrees.
3. Baptists don’t have the best track record, either John Mark Reynolds once wrote that “my faith in the holiness standards of Baptists survived Clinton and my belief in their sanity survived Carter, though that was a closer call.” In fact, should we taint all Baptist Presidential candidates with the legacy of recent Baptist leaders – i.e. Clinton’s moral failure, Carter’s weak foreign policy, Johnson’s social programs, and Gore’s use of the word “lock box.” Of course not. Evangelicals should evaluate candidates on their own political merits.
4. Evangelicals do not historically vote for the “most Christian” person on the ballot. When Jimmy Carter (a Southern Baptist Sunday School teacher) ran against Ronald Reagan, evangelicals correctly voted for the divorced Hollywood actor. After all, he was the one who would best represent their values. Similarly, in 2012, we should look for the candidate who will most effectively represent our values by beating Obama and being a good advocate for our social positions. Gov. Romney is that candidate.
5. Electing a Mormon will not create a surge of support for that religion It’s fair to say that Barack Obama hasn’t done much for Jeremiah Wright’s now-famous “black liberation theology,” and George Bush’s well-known evangelical beliefs likely repelled as many people as they attracted. In fact, I can’t think of a single president that had a discernible impact on the theological beliefs of our citizens. And that makes sense. Presidents aren’t pastors. We don’t look to presidents for pastoral guidance but instead for national leadership. We don’t think, “I like those Bush tax cuts. I think I’ll check out the Methodist church.” Applying these same lessons to Mormons, does watching Harry Reid make you want to talk to a Mormon missionary? How about when you fly JetBlue? During a smooth, comfortable flight do you use the in-flight Wi-Fi to surf LDS.org? Does a particularly elegant turndown service at a high-end Marriott put you in the mood to download the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s greatest hits? If you’re a sports fan, did watching Steve Young connect with Jerry Rice make you complete an application to BYU?
6. You don’t have to agree with the LDS faith to support Gov. Romney. If the Romneys agreed with my religion, they’d be conservative Presbyterians. If we believed theirs, we’d be Mormons. There’s nothing wrong with saying there are religious differences between the two. You don’t have to defend Mormonism to pull the lever for Gov. Romney.
So, to all of my evangelical friends out there, I understand your hesitation comes from a well-meaning desire to protect the gospel and to honor God in all aspects of your life. However, God has something to do with salvation, can safeguard the integrity of the gospel without our feeble, frequently self-righteous help, and wouldn’t hang the validity of Christianity on whether or not we voted for Mitt Romney for President.
The stakes are big this election cycle, so let’s get it right.
For more information please see: Why Evangelicals Should Support Romney (And Feel Good About It!) and EvangelicalsforMitt.org.
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