Mitt Romney Treads Carefully in Commencement Speech at Liberty

hcsp.jpgIn a bid to win over evangelical voters who have been skeptical of his candidacy, Mitt Romney offered a forceful defense of faith and conservative Christian values, including his stance that marriage should be between only a man and a woman.

Mitt Romney singing the national anthem at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., before delivering a commencement address.

In highlighting the virtues of American values before graduates of Liberty University, founded by Jerry Falwell, the evangelical leader, Mr. Romney said, “As fundamental as these principles are, they may become topics of democratic debate.”
“So it is today with the enduring institution of marriage,” he said. “Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman.”
Mr. Romney’s closely watched speech comes at an important juncture for the presumptive Republican nominee. Even as he moves to appeal to the general electorate, particularly independent voters, he must also solidify his support among evangelical Christians, an important part of the Republican base, many of whom had supported his rival, Rick Santorum.
Throughout the Republican presidential contests, many evangelical Christians were wary of embracing Mr. Romney, citing his Mormon faith and what they saw as his lack of conviction on social issues, like same-sex marriage, abortion and the ability of religious institutions to keep birth control coverage out of their health plans, which is seen as a test of religious freedom.
Mr. Romney made sure to address those issues in his speech to the university’s crowd of 6,000 graduates and 30,000 friends and family members.
“Religious liberty is the first freedom in our Constitution,” he said. “And whether the cause is justice for the persecuted, compassion for the needy and the sick, or mercy for the child waiting to be born, there is no greater force for good in the nation than Christian conscience in action.”
And he added, “It strikes me as odd that the free exercise of religious faith is sometimes treated as a problem, something America is stuck with instead of being blessed with,” he said. “Perhaps religious conscience upsets the designs of those who feel that the highest wisdom and authority comes from government.”
Mr. Romney mentioned historic Christian figures, including Pope John Paul II, the novelist C.S. Lewis, Billy Graham, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Charles Colson, the Nixon enforcer who went on to become an important evangelical leader. And in a nod to his Republican rival, Mr. Romney also cited Mr. Santorum, saying that Mr. Santorum had stressed the argument to him that “culture matters,” that marriage, family and work determine success in life.
“What you believe, what you value, how you live, matters,” Mr. Romney said.
Without mentioning his Mormon faith directly, Mr. Romney also tried to assuage those evangelicals who are wary of his church. “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,” Mr. Romney said. “Surely the answer is that we can meet in service, in shared moral convictions about our nation stemming from a common worldview.”
Source: The New York Times | ASHLEY PARKER