A group of "evangelical heavyweights" will be meeting in Texas on Saturday in an attempt to form a coalition of evangelical Christian support for one Republican presidential candidate.
Reporter Paul Stanley of the Christian Post is reporting that Paul and Nancy Pressler of Brenham, Texas, have invited a group of evangelical leaders including Don Wildmon, the former chairman of the American Family Association, former presidential candidate Gary Bauer and Focus on the Family Founder James Dobson, among others, to their ranch "for the purpose of attempting to unite and come to a consensus on which Republican presidential candidate to support or which not to support."
While it is not clear who the group will want to support — various group members are already known for their support of different Republican candidates — it is pretty clear which candidate will fall into the "not to support" category.
"If Republicans are going to put up a pro-family conservative against Mitt Romney, some decisions need to be made," said Bob Vander Plaats, head of The Family Leader in Iowa.
According to Politico, "movement conservatives are concerned that a vote split between Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum among base voters could enable Mitt Romney to grab the GOP nomination. A source who shared the invitation said the meeting was about how to avoid such a possibility."
But Bauer said the meeting is "entirely aimed at finding consensus behind one Republican and not part of any Stop Mitt movement."
"There's only one person I'm interested in stopping," Bauer said, "and that's Barack Obama."
Indeed, Bauer told Politico that "if there are any signs that the meeting will be focused on an effort to defeat Romney, he'll withdraw from being involved."
Another "prominent conservative leader who asked not to be identified" told the Christian Post's Stanley that he had been invited to the gathering but would not attend.
"I know what they're trying to accomplish but I don't think anything is going to come out of it," he said. "There will be lots of discussion about (Rick) Santorum's candidacy and even some who are going to advocate for (Newt) Gingrich and maybe a few who have hopes that (Rick) Perry can catch a second wind. But I just don't see the group reaching a consensus."
Whether or not stopping Romney will be the focus of the meeting in Texas this weekend, it is clear that many evangelicals continue to be reluctant to support him. Steve Scheffler, president of the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coaltion, told Daniel Burke of the Religion News Service that "Romney failed to convince evangelicals that he cares about their issues, particularly outlawing abortion and same-sex marriage."
"What evangelicals are saying is this: we don't know what this guy believes," Scheffler said. "Does he have any public policy philosophy other than wanting to be elected president?"
Burke suggests, however, that "deeper disagreements rooted in core elements of Christian theology are also in play."
He cites a number of recent examples: "A prominent Texas pastor (and Rick Perry supporter) has called Mormonism a non-Christian cult. A Florida pastor says a vote for Romney is 'a vote for Satan.' The associate publisher of a leading evangelical magazine said a Romney presidency would 'normalize the false teachings of Mormonism.' A former staffer for Newt Gingrich's campaign said thousands of evangelical pastors stand ready to 'expose the cult of Mormon.'"
"Evangelicals have come to regard the presidency as a spiritually potent office," said Mark Silk, an expert on religion and politics at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. "And the idea of electing someone who will use it on behalf of a religion they consider beyond the pale really bothers them."
Burke cites surveys indicating that as many as 15 percent of white evangelicals will refuse to vote for a Mormon. "That may not prevent Romney from winning the GOP nomination," he writes, "but it could mean that millions of evangelicals stay home during the general election."
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