Thursday, October 11, 2012

It’s Complicated: Why Evangelicals Will Reluctantly Vote for Mitt Romney

The upcoming Presidential election should be as clear as a bell for evangelical Christians. The two parties and their respective candidates represent such starkly different visions of America that there should be no problem for, especially, conservative Christians to make a decision between them—right? Turns out the election isn’t quite as simple as it ought to be. In the phrase young adults use to describe problematic relationships, it’s complicated. 

To begin with, at least in the church bubble many evangelicals live in, President Obama must at all costs be defeated.

The reasons are obvious. Obama is a Democrat (anathema to most conservative Christians, especially those in the south). He supports same-sex marriage. He’s a strong supporter of legalized abortion and Planned Parenthood. His health-care bill violates the religious rights of certain Christian medical institutions. His economic policies seem to many as more socialist than capitalist. His administration has even shown such sensitivity toward Muslim causes that large numbers of evangelicals are convinced Obama is himself a closet Muslim.

On the other side, the Republican challenger Mitt Romney is as squeaky clean as they come. A successful businessman with impeccable credentials. Successful executive experience as the governor of Massachusetts. An example of the Protestant work ethic. A strong supporter of separation of church and state. A demonstrated commitment to traditional marriage. Romney is an eloquent and effective advocate for the virtues of faith, hard work and the moral values evangelicals have historically embraced.

It should come as no surprise, then, that on November 6, when Americans go to the polls to select our next president, President Obama is expected to receive very little of the evangelical vote. The Pew Forum’s survey of voter preference, released last week, showed white evangelicals supporting Romney over Obama by a margin of 74% to 19%.

At first glance, that number looks pretty impressive. Just as you’d expect, Romney receives the overwhelming support of the nation’s evangelical community.

But when you look a little further, the picture gets fuzzy. In the 2008 presidential election, Obama received just 11% of the evangelical vote. In the current election, then, as clear as it seems that few conservative Christians would vote to reelect the President, his support among evangelicals has almost doubled.

What’s going on?

Here’s where we need to look at the other side of this election’s equation. For evangelicals this presidential election is an uneasy choice between the liabilities of President Obama versus suspicions about Governor Romney.

Romney’s Mormonism plays a huge role in this. CNN recently posted an interview with a conservative Baptist school teacher in Des Moines, Iowa, who has deep reservations about voting for Romney. Rob Seyler of Grandview Park Baptist School speaks for many when he describes the conundrum of the election: 

In Seyler's view, getting it right when it comes to God and Jesus is a high-stakes business, the difference between spending eternity in heaven vs. hell. So why would he trust the country with someone whose beliefs are shaped not just by the Bible but also by another text, the Book of Mormon?

Never mind that Mormons consider themselves Christians and focus intensely on Jesus, starting with the official name of their church: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For Seyler, that just makes a Romney presidency even more dangerous.

"If he becomes president, how much of a soapbox for his religion will he have?"

In addition to the religious issue, Romney’s position on abortion is a continuing problem. As governor of Massachusetts he supported abortion then later changed his position. Just this week, he further confused evangelicals when he said on Tuesday that he would not support any legislation restricting abortion as President. Then on Wednesday he said he would de-fund Planned Parenthood. That kind of slippery-ness not only creates confusion it also generates specific concerns in the evangelical community. Protecting the unborn is a high priority for them and their expectation is that any presidential candidate they support must also share that conviction.

Still, their angst takes second place to the need to defeat Obama. It’s of passing interest to note that the Republican party platform adopted at their convention specifically calls for an end to government-sponsored abortions. Romney clearly doesn’t agree with that position.

So what will happen on Tuesday, November 6 when America goes to the poll? Politics will trump religious convictions and evangelicals will vote overwhelmingly against President Obama. Their anger with the president and fear of his agenda will trump their concerns about his challenger’s true convictions.

They will as an afterthought cast their vote reluctantly for Mitt Romney. This isn’t a simple election; it’s complicated.

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