Boston, Mass.–“He has Christ in his heart,” one woman told me after listening to Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney speak at the Family Research Council’s “Liberty Sunday: Defending Our First Freedom” event here at Tremont Temple Baptist Church Sunday night.
Days after evangelical icon James Dobson announced on Laura Ingraham’s radio show that Romney’s membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints may be an obstacle on the road the governor is clearly on to the White House, FRC (formerly Dobson’s policy arm) threw the presidential prospect a hail-Mary pass that an Evangelical for Mitt could love, inviting him to a holy political rally on the “frontlines” of the gay-marriage debate.
The contrast between the crowd outside and inside the church Sunday night couldn’t have been greater.
Outside was a mix of the usual professional protesters — a welcome anyone with high political ambitions would love. An antiwar placard or two could be seen (and a few signs were just anti…anything Romney), but it was mostly gay groups — organized by MassEquality – who were running the street show. As one onlooker observed, “What are they so mad about? They hate Romney. They just hate Romney. He banned gay marriage, right? Good for him. I don’t see why he wouldn’t.”
Greg Kimball, a recent college graduate from Manchester, currently taking a year off, held a sign that said “Mittler” — with devils horns accenting the “M.” When I asked him if he thought the “Mittler” strategy was helpful to his cause, he explained that the Holocaust and Romney’s position against gay marriage were “the same.” Momentarily gesturing toward reality, he felt compelled to admit the imperfection of the analogy: “Well, not exactly the same.” Quickly, though, he was back on message: “But it is the same thing. [Both Hitler and Romney] are detrimenting a minority.”
As Justice Sunday participants left the church, they had “shameful” shouted at them and anti-Romney signs shoved in their faces.
Inside was a largely different story. Romney implored those listening — both inside Tremont Temple Baptist, once part of the Underground Railroad, and those potentioanlly 80 million people (according to FRC) watching across the country via a video simulcast — to “show an outpouring of respect and tolerance for all people, regardless of their differences or their different choices” and to “vigorously reject discrimination.” Due to a technical difficulty, Romney was brought back on stage for a second take. Gently but firmly, the governor emphasized this point — no doubt having heard the more combative speaker who followed his first appearance. “I believe God loves all of his children,” Romney said.
While urging support for a federal marriage amendment that would protect traditional marriage, children were the focus of the governor’s remarks. “Marriage,” Romney said, “is primarily about the nurturing and development of children.” He added, “A child’s development is enhanced by the nurturing of both genders. Every child deserves a mother and a father.” And, driving the point home: “The price for same-sex marriage is paid by children.”
Romney’s presence and focus impressed Lesette Wright, an energetic youth minister at the church. “I was very impressed with what he said about children. He understands.” Talking about how violence and other behavioral problems are often seen in children she works with who come from broken families and families with no father present, she said of Romney’s remarks, “That pain is real.”
Romney’s appearance stood in stark contrast with others in the Massachusetts statehouse who are working against marriage, Boston resident Kym Ayala told NRO. “He was wonderful…. We need politicians fighting that fight.” “It was amazing to see him and his wife stand here right with us for the family. He was the highlight of the evening,” added Linda Strothar.
And what about the much talked about “Mormon problem”? Speaking to the British Times recently, when asked if his religion would be a problem if he chose to run for the White House, Romney said: “People used to wonder whether a divorced actor could be elected … or whether a Mormon could win Massachusetts, a state that is 55% Catholic.”
He continued, “There was probably a time when people cared which church you went to, but that’s past. People today look to see a person’s faith in the way they live in their home with their family.”
If Liberty Sunday in Boston is any indication, there may be something to Romney’s optimism — there may, in fact, be no Mormon problem. To put it less than Christianly: It’s the issues, stupid. Perhaps, despite polls and chatter suggesting hesitancy among evangelicals or others to vote for a generic Mormon, once they see that the Mormon is a politician with a in-sync record who gives a stirring speech, singing the right tune, at an already rockin’ black evangelical church, the so-called Mormon problem may be a moot point.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.