Romney’s Faith Faces Skepticism Among S.C. Evangelical Christians

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has slipped in recent polls in South Carolina, while former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has gained ground. The conventional wisdom about Romney was that he would fare poorly in the state where a great many Republican voters are evangelical Christians because Romney is seen as a social moderate.

Rev. Rob Jackson, senior pastor of the Forestville Baptist Church in Greenville, S.C., at a Wednesday night supper (Monica Brady-Myerov/WBUR)

Rev. Rob Jackson, senior pastor of the Forestville Baptist Church in Greenville, S.C., at a Wednesday night supper (Monica Brady-Myerov/WBUR)

In a gym at the Forestville Baptist Church, a serving line was set up outside the kitchen door Wednesday evening. Church members served chicken and green beans. The church lies in the western part of South Carolina. Many Baptist churches have fellowship suppers on Wednesdays and this one drew nearly 60 church members.

Pastor Rob Jackson says he tells his congregation of more than a thousand people to vote for a candidate with a Christian moral code — and for Jackson, that is not Mitt Romney, because, “from a biblical standpoint,” Jackson said, “whether you’re a Mormon or an evangelical believer, there’s no question that both belief systems at their core believe God is the originator of life, so it greatly concerns me that Mitt Romney could be pro-choice if he really says he’s a Mormon.”

When Romney was governor, he supported Roe v. Wade, giving women the right to an abortion. Now he says he’s pro-life. Jackson says Romney has not done a good enough job explaining why he changed his mind.

Others at this church supper expressed similar doubts about Romney’s conservative social credentials, including Molly Withers, a graduate student.

“To be 100 percent honest, the ideal candidate would be a moral man who professes Christ as his savior,” said Withers, over a plate of chicken and salad. “And that’s the biggest problem I have with Mitt Romney. He has a strong stance on most of the arguments that I definitely agree with and he’s a very moral man — I don’t want to decrease that — however, he is a Mormon and I disagree with his religious beliefs.”

This distrust of Mormons is not an uncommon belief among evangelical Christians, which make up more than 50 percent of likely Republican voters in South Carolina. Evangelicals spread the word of Jesus Christ and accept him as their savior.

Rev. Brad Atkins, president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention (at his Powdersville Baptist Church), doesn't believe Mormons are Christians. (Monica Brady-Myerov/WBUR)

Rev. Brad Atkins, president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention (at his Powdersville Baptist Church), doesn't believe Mormons are Christians. (Monica Brady-Myerov/WBUR)

“There’s a huge difference between a biblical Christian and a Mormon,” said Rev. Brad Atkins, president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, which is made up of more than 670,000 members. “When you look at the definition of biblical Christianity, when you look at what other leaders have said as far as Mormonism compared to Christianity, there is no connection between the two, other than they draw their basis from the Old Testament, just as we do.”

But, he continues, because Mormonism adds the Book of Mormon it deviates from biblical Christianity. This view is by no means universal among evangelicals. And Mormons consider themselves Christians and believe Christ is their savior.

In the Republican race, Gingrich and former Sen. Rick Santorum are Catholic, Rep. Ron Paul is Baptist. All three have solid conservative Christian credentials.

But political science professor Bob Oldendick, of the University of South Carolina, says it’s not Romney’s Mormon faith that’s a liability for him in the South — it’s his more moderate stance or altered positions on key social issues.

“What some of his opponents have done in the campaign is continually use the phrase ‘Massachusetts moderate’ to make that distinction,” Oldendick said. And “if there’s anybody who is thinking, ‘Well maybe he’s the most electable,’ they are trying to make those more moderate issues salient so, ‘No I can’t really pull the trigger for him.’ ”

Romney’s religion was raised in the Republican primary four years ago, when he came in fourth in South Carolina. But this time, even social conservatives are saying the economy is the No. 1 issue for them in this election.

That’s true for Joel Powell of Forestville Baptist Church, who says he recently received two brochures in the mail from Romney and has decided to vote for him.

“The emphasis there (in the brochures) was his stance on issues of family and faith and various things I didn’t know about him,” Powell said. “So I had been somewhat of a fan of his already but I did have some concerns until I read that.”

For those evangelicals who haven’t made up their minds in this race yet, several prominent South Carolina Christians leaders are advising them to pray for wisdom in making their choice.

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NPVHTN2KMSTUHKEKTMTPSNOAU4 Thomas

    Evangelical Christians readily forgive Gingrich’s sordid past sins (multiple adulteries) even though he never apologized to his abandoned wives, but won’t allow Romney’s conversion from a pro-choice to a pro-life position.

    Evangelical Pastors want to claim consistency with the Bible over Mormons but remain inconsistent how they treat Gingrich and Romney.

    In 2008, Jim Demint and Rick Santorum said that Romney was THE Conservative in the race against McCain, yet South Carolina gave the victory to McCain!

  • Anonymous

    The Mormons hate the gays as much as the Catholics and the Evangelicals do.  “Can’t we all just get along?” 

  • DnSeaman

    Apparantly it is acceptable to Evangelicals to cheat on ones wife. Applause to you all and your love for Gingrich; I can’t help but think, however, that if a man who would cheat on his wife and children is not entirely suspect regarding his professional ethiocs as well.
    And why is religion an issue at all? Is South Carolina really prepared to allow anyone to mess around with a Constitution that has kept us afloat through 250- years of turmoil?
    Family values. Love; respect; responsibility; education; survival. My family was my mother, my two brothers, a foster child whom we took in and my grandmother and grandfather.
    Because I grew up in the 1970′s the Evangelicals (and many lobbyists and politicians) made me feel like an outcast because mine was not a nuclear family. What a terrible thing for anyone to do to any child.

  • DnSeaman

    Aw, come on. Since June we’ve known that Gingrich was blwoing off Iowa and New Hampshire and aiming for South Carolina. I have one vote. oin the meantime, I’ll sit back and watch this campaign as though it’s a play by Feydeau.

    I can hardly wait for the third act.

  • Val Greenwood

    I can’t believe it.  These “Christians” would choose an adulterer  over a man who is a moral family man with solid values just because that man belongs to a church that they do not know much about and because they think they disagree with the misinformation they have about that church. 
    Regardless of that, since when do we have a “religious test” for presidential candidates?  If this is about who has the character traits to make him a good president and who has the knowledge and experience to solve our country’s economic crisis, then the glib Georgian does not measure up well–even though he good with rhetoric.  And since when do we criticize a man for changing his mind if he changes it to the better position? Hopefully we are all open to changing our minds when we learn we are off track somehow.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6X4CLOIKKMFH3UHLQPC4N4U2HI E. Piedra

    “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come ”
    Enter,  Omit XX

    http://www.Xgodtube.Xcom/watch/?v=FE2JMCNU       — —
     Zefirelli’s JESUS of  Nazareth en 3 minutos
    Spread  message – It is a wonderful one . A  SIGHT AND SOUND GIFT !
     Newt Gingrich  has   been very open about his past mistakes, HE REPENTED , CONVERTED asked  forgiveness, long time ago ! DO not judge  and  you shall will NOT be judged  !  Jesus is the WAY  AND THE REDEMPTION !   Nice timing ABC. This is just another way the biased media is trying to push everyone towards Romney because they think he is the best chance for Obama to win. They know Newt would destroy him in the debates and expose his record for what it is. —

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