“We can’t tell people who to vote for, but we can certainly point out the differences,” said the Rev. Lin Hill, associate minister of the 2,500-member Bethany Baptist Church, which hosted the gathering on Saturday. “Our president has declared Jesus Christ to be his Lord and savior, while his opponent denies the deity of Christ.”
Hill’s analysis of Mormon theology is rejected by Romney and church officials, who say they believe in Christ’s divinity.
It is unclear how widespread Hill’s sentiments are; many black church leaders say it is inappropriate to attack a candidate’s religion, and Obama campaign officials have said Romney’s faith is off limits. That such a meeting occurred at all reflects growing concern among African American pastors and other community leaders that a significant dropoff in black voter turnout could prove devastating to reelecting the first African American president, particularly in closely fought swing states such as Virginia.
How best to motivate black voters, however, is a topic of wide-ranging opinion among clergy.
“I want people to vote because they’re pro-health-care, not because they’re anti-Mormon,” said the Rev. Howard-John Wesley, pastor of the Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, who added that questions about Romney’s religious beliefs were coming up so frequently within his 5,000-member congregation that he decided to host a course on Mormon theology to counteract misconceptions that lead to prejudice.
Romney also has had to confront skepticism about his faith from many white evangelicals who make up a large segment of the Republican base. His campaign used last week’s GOP national convention to provide more information about Romney’s faith and his past work with the church, including stirring presentations from fellow Mormons.
Religion ‘out of bounds’
The Norfolk-area pastors who met for two hours on Saturday agreed to produce a voter-education guide for wide distribution in churches and community centers throughout the Hampton Roads region. As a starting point, they shared a one-page, side-by-side chart comparing “Biblical Christianity” to Mormonism, describing its differing views of Jesus Christ and noting that people of “African ancestry were not granted full access to Mormon priesthood and privilege until 1978.”
Obama campaign spokeswoman Clo Ewing said: “We have made clear — and do so again — that a candidate’s religion is out of bounds.” Obama complimented Romney’s church work in a new Time magazine interview published last week, saying that “he takes his faith very seriously. And as somebody who takes my Christian faith seriously, I appreciate that he seems to walk the walk and not just be talking the talk when it comes to his participation in his church.”