Mitt Romney’s Mormon beliefs are featured prominently in a pro-Obama voter guide being circulated to African-American churchgoers in the all-important Hampton Roads area of battleground Virginia, the latest reminder that the Republican presidential nominee’s faith could be an under-the-radar issue for some voters.
Romney would be the country’s first Mormon president, and although America’s most prominent evangelical leaders have overcome their theological concerns to enthusiastically back Romney’s candidacy, some on the left continue to see his Mormon beliefs as a possible wedge issue.
The new brochure, produced by a coalition of black pastors in the Norfolk area, includes a side-by-side comparison of what it presents as the religious beliefs held by Romney and President Obama, who practices a more traditional form of Christianity.
The pastors behind the brochure, representing the Greater Hampton Roads Christian Leadership Conference, hope the comparison will motivate their parishioners to turn out and vote for Obama, even though many of them have expressed disappointment that America’s first black president decided to support same-sex marriage.
“You’ve got a president who may be what we call a back-slidden Christian at worst, but he is one who has accepted Christ as Lord and savior,” said the Rev. Lin Hill, associate minister of the 2,500-member Bethany Baptist Church in Chesapeake, Va., just outside Norfolk. “So if folks are measuring the president by the standard that says he’s a fallen Christian, well the other guy isn’t even in the ballpark playing the same game, and they have to be aware of that.”
View the brochure:
A spokesman for Romney did not respond to requests for comment. The candidate and the church have repeatedly disputed claims from some Christian skeptics in the past that Mormons do not believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ.
Rev. Hill said about 100,000 copies of the brochure have been printed and circulated in as many as 50 churches in the region, ranging in sizes from 75 to more than 2,000 members each. He also has set up a Web site, and says he is spreading the message through local radio interviews. Hill is a member of the Chesapeake Democratic Committee, but said he is purposefully keeping the Obama campaign “at arm’s length” from his efforts. When he first told The Post in September about his plans, an Obama campaign spokeswoman reiterated that “a candidate’s religion is out of bounds.”
Romney has tried to avoid talking about the details of Mormon theology, focusing instead more generally on his values and charitable work as a leader in his church. Evangelical leaders have stepped into line, with evangelist Billy Graham and his son, Franklin, going so far last month as to remove Mormonism from their organization’s list of religious cults.
Yet in recent days, a 2007 video interview has gone viral online showing Romney delving into the weeds on some aspects of his religious beliefs, including abortion and the second coming of Jesus Christ.
Romney’s team and Mormon experts have been on the lookout for anti-Mormon sentiment, and some say the latest events reflect a growing problem as the election has drawn closer.
"A lot of people are saying things about the Mormons in these closing weeks that they probably would not have said before,” Richard Bushman, a prominent Mormon historian and a predecessor to Romney as the stake president of the Boston church, told the Post’s Jason Horowitz. “Mormons have been protected by polite tolerance, ‘We know you’re crazy but we won’t say anything about it because it’s bad manners.’ But now you get down to the wire and the real stakes and people are coming up with all sorts of harsh things.”