Evangelicals warm, cool to Mormon president

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 20 2011 9:08 a.m. MST

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney gestures during a campaign stop with mill workers at the Madison Lumber Mill, Monday, Dec. 12, 2011 in Madison, N.H.

Associated Press

Franklin Graham, the fourth of Billy Graham's five children and president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, told the Christian Broadcasting Network recently that Mitt Romney's membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should not be a factor in his campaign for the presidency of the United States.

"The fact that Mitt Romney is a Mormon doesn't bother me," Graham said when CBN reporter George Thomas asked him if a Christian could vote for a Mormon for president. "I think when we are voting for president we need to get the person who is absolutely the most qualified. You can have the nicest guy and he can be a Christian and just wonderful but have absolutely no clue as to how to run a country — you don't want that. You want somebody who understands Washington, understands government, who understands how to bring people together so that we can move this country forward."

Graham didn't actually endorse Romney for the presidency, although he did say that "Mitt Romney is a very capable fellow, I know him." But he expressed similar confidence in candidates Newt Gingrich, Michelle Bachman and Rick Santorum.

Calling the 2012 election "the most critical election in my lifetime," Graham called upon Christians to ask God to provide candidates "who fear God and who will put God's standards above everything else and who will take us back to the God of our fathers … Right now our country is going in the wrong direction and we need to make a change."

Other evangelicals, however, are less comfortable with the possibility of a Mormon in the White House. The Washington Post spoke to 2008 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who said that while he doesn't think "that [Romney's] faith being different means that he's less qualified to be president," he has "no clear idea of Romney's relationship with Jesus Christ."

Bob Vander Plaats, president of an influential Christian activist organization in Iowa called the Family Leader, told the Post that there are a couple of questions he'd like to ask Romney.

"'If you are an elder in the Mormon Church, and have been part of the Mormon faith for all your life, why not just speak openly about it?" Vander Plaats said. "'When you go to bed at night and bend your knees, who are you bending your knees to?' To us, it's to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and that's how we gain access to the throne of God. It's only through Him. Because we don't know enough about the Mormon theology. That is where the sense of pause comes from."

Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center told Kirsten Powers of the Daily Beast that "there are apparently some people out there who just refuse to vote for a Mormon."

As an evangelical Christian who has publicly expressed his feeling that religion should not be a factor in voting for a presidential candidate, Cromartie said he is "surprised by it. For whatever reason, they somehow cannot 'bracket' to the side their theological convictions to vote for someone who actually shares their moral and social concerns."

David Lane of Iowa's Pastors and Pews, told Powers that "80 percent of evangelicals will not vote for Romney in a contested primary, and 20-30 percent will stay home or go third party in the general election because of the Mormon issue and because they see [Romney] as an advocate of abortion and gay marriage."

Speaking to Tracy Jan of the Boston Globe, Vander Plaats said that "the evangelicals, if they've coalesced at all, they've coalesced against Romney. But they're fragmented as to who they're going to support to be the alternative to Romney, which could bolster Governor Romney."

Evangelical Christian pastor Kent Wagner told Jan that Romney is among his favorites in the campaign because "he embodies traditional values Wagner holds dear, such as his 42-year marriage."

Jan also spoke to Matt Schultz, the Iowa Secretary of State who is LDS who has indicated he will vote for Santorum. According to Schultz, his membership in the LDS Church was used against him in a campaign in Iowa that he eventually won with 50 percent of the votes.

"'Is religion a factor? Absolutely,' Schultz said. 'But I don't think it's a game changer.'"

EMAIL: jwalker@desnews.com

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