I spent Thursday morning at a Catholic prayer breakfast, but the big news of the day was in the Evangelical world.
Liberty University announced that Mitt Romney will be their commencement speaker this year. That’s important for Romney, for Liberty, for political ecumenism on the right.
Romney was invited by Liberty, and I can imagine some made the case to the former governor of Massachusetts that he shouldn’t accept. It’s just about the general election now, move on from trying to make Evangelical Christians happy, I imagine he very easily may have been told by some.
But he accepted. And with that acceptance, he sends a signal: It’s not breaking news that Mitt Romney considers religion a good thing and the practice of faith in the world worth defending — he’s been active in his church, he has a record of defending religious liberty, and he delivered an important speech on the issue the last time he ran in a Republican primary. But that he said “yes” is significant: He’s not moving left; he’s not bitter toward Evangelicals who preferred Rick Santorum; he’s not ashamed of an important part of the GOP base.
And it doesn’t hurt that in a general election where liberty is the most significant issue, he is speaking at a place called Liberty.
Mark DeMoss, a Romney adviser who graduated from Liberty and serves as a trustee there, predicts that the commencement will be “the largest live audience he will address in the entire campaign prior to accepting the nomination in Tampa” — over 30,000, from across the country. “Liberty has become an important stop for conservative candidates for a number of years now [from Reagan in 1980 to Perry in 2011] and the timing turned out to be perfect in light of how the campaign season has developed,” DeMoss notes.
“It’s both gratifying and unsurprising,” David French, co-founder of Evangelicals for Mitt and longtime supporter says. “It’s gratifying to see Mitt and a key Evangelical institution connecting. It’s unsurprising because the differences between Mitt and, say, Rick Santorum were dramatically over-hyped in the Evangelical community during the primaries. Romney, Santorum, and Liberty (Mormon, Catholic, Protestant) share core moral and cultural values — values that the Obama administration often directly attacks.”
This November, Americans face an election that will decide the future of our nation. Is the first freedom, religious liberty, worthy of protection? Romney’s a standard-bearer here. And Liberty isn’t a bad place for him to articulate that.