- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 30, 2012

TAMPA, Fla. — The Republican National Convention has been an ecumenical event, as people laid aside religious differences in the name of backing Mitt Romney and defeating President Obama.

Julie Jones, 91, has been watching the Republican National Convention on television each night in East Lansing, Mich. She is a Lutheran and supporting Mr. Romney, saying the Michigan native’s Mormon religion is not an issue for her as a voter.

“I’m not electing a pastor. I’m electing a president,” said Mrs. Jones, who says she is satisfied that the presidential nominee is a Christian and that religion matters in his life. “I want someone who can lead.”

At this year’s convention, others have stepped up to laud Mr. Romney and his religion, weaving a unified narrative about inclusivity that seems to have bridged fears that religion might somehow divide conservative voters, particularly evangelicals who have strong theological disagreements with Mormonism.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, himself a Southern Baptist minister, mended fences during his Wednesday night convention speech after Mr. Romney’s Mormon religion was an issue in the 2008 presidential primary, when the two men were rivals.

“Let me say to you tonight, I care far less as to where Mitt Romney takes his family to church than I do about where he takes this country,” Mr. Huckabee said.

Vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, a Roman Catholic, also allayed any fears that the running mates weren’t on the same religious page.

“Mitt and I also go to different churches. But in any church, the best preaching is done by example. And I’ve been watching that example. The man who will accept your nomination is prayerful and faithful and honorable. Not only a defender of marriage, he offers the best example of marriage at its best,” Mr. Ryan said. “Our faiths come together in the same moral creed.”

There had been fears — and Democratic hopes — of a religious war among the Republican base, though.

Evangelicals, fundamentalists and other traditional-leaning Christians widely consider the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints not to be a Christian body — claiming it either denies or unrecognizably redefines such Christian doctrines as the Trinity, original sin and the atonement.

Denouncing Mormonism is a staple of some Christian TV and radio networks, and some polls have suggested that a significant number of conservative Christians, who are vital to the Republican Party in the Bible Belt and the rural Midwest, would refuse to vote for a Mormon. Such an attitude, if widespread and followed through on, could prove fatal to the Republican nominee’s chances.

But Karen Mueller, a Republican delegate from Wales, Wis., said convention speakers hit the proper note as they dipped into the religion question to back one another and to support freedom.

“I think it was handled well,” she said. “Even though the candidates are of different religions, they put family, God and country first. I think sometimes the media has wanted to make a big deal out of Romney’s religion. But when 24 million Americans are out of work or underemployed, [religion] shouldn’t be the forefront of our discussion. These are men of faith. That shapes their values.”

In Washington, Liz McCloskey, president of the Faith and Politics Institute, says her group is calling for a broader discourse in the political realm, a notion of the “better angels of our nature” as President Abraham Lincoln put it, that moves away from the predictable rancor.

“We seek to cultivate political leaders who have the spirit of reconciliation to try to bring people together,” Ms. McCloskey said. “We would never want to see somebody demonized or dismissed because of their religion. I think we’d like to harness a spirit that you can find in many different faiths. That spirit is one.”

Less acrimony, however, seems unlikely. As the presidential race becomes more hard-fought, Democrats would be unwise to raise the specter of religion to divide voters, Republican political consultant Cheri Jacobus warned.

“Politicians often use declarations of religious faith to compensate for some embarrassing activity that, on its face, appears to go against what most religious people consider acceptable,” Ms. Jacobus said.

“Mitt Romney has lived an exemplary life, thus eliminating the need for overcompensation among Republicans and conservatives. As well, Romney shares a religion with Senate Democrat Leader Harry Reid, so the left would easily paint itself into a corner by trying to slur him for his religion,” she added, before firing off a warning shot against the Democrats.

“The racist stench of Rev. Jeremiah Wright still sticks to President Obama.”

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