If you have been paying attention to the little brown nuggets of wisdom left beneath the great hamster wheel we like to call “the media” in this country, then it would seem the evangelical vote is migrating en masse hysteria to Mitt Romney now that Rick Santorum has left the GOP race.
Before Santorum’s announcement on April 10th that he was voluntarily suspending his campaign, a large percentage of evangelicals had aligned with him because of shared conservative values. While Santorum is a member of the Catholic Church, most evangelicals were willing to overlook this theological handicap because, let’s face it, at least he is not a Mormon.
Now that Santorum has slipped beneath the foam, however, an interesting thing is happening. Or, at least the media says it’s happening as it parades various evangelical leaders in front of the lens giving an array of rosy-cheeked thumbs ups in favor of Romney.
Take for example the President of the Family Research Council Tony Perkins, who recently told CBS News, “The Mormon community has been a great coalition partner with evangelicals as we have worked to build upon those traditional values that we share in common: marriage, family, life…and so it’s a good partnership. And people are looking here at this event where candidates stand on the issues and that’s the real focus.”
Fair enough. Issues: check. Politics and religion are two separate dogs in this country.
Only…yeah. Not so much.
One only need take a look at the conspiracies still in circulation that President Obama is a closet Muslim, despite his professed alignment with the mainline Christian church. Today in Mississippi and Alabama, nearly 50% of evangelical voters believe this to be fact. And while there are plenty of Obama supporters who self-identify as evangelical and recognize Obama’s claim to Christianity, there is also a healthy helping of evangelicals who don’t buy it. Not one little bit. According to these, he may not be Muslim, but he is no Christian either. All one has to do is look at his policies of social welfare and responsibility and anyone can see that.
Add to that the apparently highly controversial statement Obama gave to the Chicago Sun-Times a few years back:
“There are aspects of Christian tradition that I’m comfortable with and aspects that I’m not. There are passages of the Bible that make perfect sense to me and others that I go, ‘Ya know, I’m not sure about that,’” said Obama.
So basically, he’s not exactly an evangelical. He’s also not exactly not an evangelical. He has questions. He has doubts. He believes in allowing people to make personal choices on social issues. In other words, he rubs the evangelical community just a tad the wrong way. Like that guy on YouTube who thought he could pet a crocodile’s nose right before he got his hand bitten off.
Obama’s religious affiliation was an important issue for evangelicals last election. But now we’re being told that Romney’s Mormon faith does not matter to evangelicals, based on a solidarity of family values most frequently held in common by members of The LDS Church and evangelicals, including but not limited to the sanctity of marriage, life, capitalism, cheap Viagra, guns and war.
But while both groups generally share these Christ-like qualities, some evangelicals are publicly distancing themselves from their otherwise ideological brethren and… sistren…based on theological differences. When asked if Mormons are Christians earlier this week, evangelical ‘megapastor’ Rick Warren answered that evangelicals do not generally consider Mormons to be Christian, reinforcing claims from other evangelical speakers that the LDS Church is a cult.
Now, evangelicals have a certain stance on cults. First and foremost: they are of the devil. Second: they are of the devil. And third: they are sneaky little abominations that steal people’s souls from all thought and reason, depositing them straight onto a steep, slippery chute leading down into the fiery pits of hell itself—which every evangelical knows—is of the devil.
But…Romney’s their man?
Last election, many evangelical factions waved red flags with the fervor of a Martha Stewart verdict announcer that Obama–a professed mainline Christian–was a potentially dangerous man based on his questionable theology.
Which is how I know the claim that evangelicals are tripping over themselves to line up behind Romney is nothing but media hype.
It’s what the Republican party wants evangelicals to believe. It’s what the Republican party wants evangelicals to choose.
But will they?
I have my doubts.
Because at the end of the day, if Gingrich and Paul are allowed to recede into the shadows and the choice comes down to a Mormon or a Muslim liberal mainline Christian, many evangelicals will still use common faith alignment to make a decision. And without a candidate they can stand behind, many may just opt out entirely this year. And that puts the GOP at high risk of losing something else entirely: voters. And with the evangelical community making up nearly 30% of the population, that could have some interesting implications.