Sunday, June 17, 2007

Evangelicals: Romney not 'guided by God'

As I've written about before, Mitt Romney is suffering heavily in his quest to become the next American president because of his Mormon faith. In yesterday's LA Times, Stephanie Simon illuminated the problems surrounding the Mormon factor by talking to evangelicals -- the politically active and conservative brand of Christians who were so influential in electing, and somehow re-electing, President Bush.

"When it comes right down to it," says (Bible book store worker Marty) Thomas, 40, "a Mormon's strength is human. A Christian person's strength is superhuman. I want [a president] who has that extra on his side."

In his quest for the Republican presidential nomination, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney — a lifelong Mormon — has often reminded voters that he's running for commander in chief, not pastor in chief. What's important, Romney says, is that he has strong faith; the details are irrelevant.

But a sharp concern about the Mormon Church shows up in poll after national poll. About one in three voters would be less likely to support a Mormon candidate. The faith draws among the most unfavorable ratings of any religion. Doubts run especially deep among evangelicals, who may account for as many as half the votes cast in Republican primaries in the South.

Some evangelicals can articulate specific Mormon beliefs that disturb them — for instance, the teaching that only married couples can achieve the most exalted realms of heaven.

Many others want to give Romney a chance; they like his conservative politics. Yet they feel uneasy about turning over the country to a man who has a radically different — and in their view, heretical — understanding of God.

This is not an arcane theological dispute; to some born-again Christians, it's at the very core of presidential leadership. If Romney does not understand what they take to be God's true nature, can he still receive divine guidance? If he doesn't accept the Trinity as they conceptualize it, can he still be filled with the strength of the Holy Spirit?

Such concerns about Romney's faith, are, of course, based on the premise that government officials, particularly the once-clear-though-now-disputed leader of the free world, should share the religious views of their constituents.

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