He did it. Mitt Romney accomplished the “Daily Double.” Not only did his speech at the evangelical Liberty University encourage students and offer sound advice for the future, but he also made the subtle case that his worldview comports with those of evangelical Christians. In short, Mitt Romney’s speech should be seen as a successful and important bridge to evangelicals.
A few parts of the speech stood out. First of all, I thought it was interesting how he made sure to mention and applaud certain evangelical figures like Chuck Colson, Rick Santorum, Jerry Falwell, C.S. Lewis, etc. He even had a Chick-Fil-A reference! But I didn’t get the sense that this was a pandering speech at all. Instead, it was just a smart move and a nice touch to mention all of these important figures.
Secondly, Romney made the case that the culture we live in is vitally important. If Romney can position himself and continue to speak forcefully as the candidate who champions the principles of sustaining America’s Judeo-Christian culture then evangelical Christians will sign up for that. Here’s what Romney said about the culture that was memorable:
“You enter a world with civilizations and economies that are far from equal. Harvard historian David Landes devoted his lifelong study to understanding why some civilizations rise, and why others falter. His conclusion: Culture makes all the difference. Not natural resources, not geography, but what people believe and value. Central to America’s rise to global leadership is our Judeo-Christian tradition, with its vision of the goodness and possibilities of every life. The American culture promotes personal responsibility, the dignity of work, the value of education, the merit of service, devotion to a purpose greater than self, and, at the foundation, the pre-eminence of the family.
The power of these values is evidenced by a Brookings Institution study that Senator Rick Santorum brought to my attention. For those who graduate from high school, get a full-time job, and marry before they have their first child, the probability that they will be poor is 2%. But, if those things are absent, 76% will be poor. Culture matters. As fundamental as these principles are, they may become topics of democratic debate. So it is today with the enduring institution of marriage. Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman."
Through those lines, you could see him channeling Rick Santorum and the more he does that the better with regard to courting evangelicals. Preserving the culture does matter to evangelical Christians. There’s been an attempt by many to hijack this country’s Judeo-Christian heritage. If Romney positions himself as the guy who sets out to reclaim that then it’s a winning proposition with evangelicals in the fall.
Finally, I thought Romney did a masterful job of making the case that although he’s Mormon he still shares the “moral convictions” and same worldview as evangelicals. Here’s what he said:
"People of different faiths, like yours and mine, sometimes wonder where we can meet in common purpose, when there are so many differences in creed and theology. Surely the answer is that we can meet in service, in shared moral convictions about our nation stemming from a common worldview.”
Look, here’s the deal. The question evangelical Christians need to ask themselves is this: If Romney holds your same worldview and wants to preserve a Judeo-Christian culture isn’t that good enough? Is his Mormon faith that much of a deal breaker? Why isn’t a squeaky clean, moral president with a great family good enough? Just asking. It’s time to go into deep thought about that.
Romney’s speech at Liberty was a launching pad to what can be a great relationship with evangelical Christians. However it will require two important elements: The ability of evangelicals to get past certain hang-ups and the capacity of Romney and his campaign to engage with evangelicals throughout the General Election rather than just providing lip service. Saturday’s speech was a great first step in that direction.