Evangelicals pray for a leader

prayerHow delightful is it that both Hillary Clinton and Sam Brownback officially announced their plans to run for the presidency on the same sunny Saturday? Not that the announcements come as a surprise to anyone, but there is a slight irony that these two would share the spotlight. Brownback's candidacy offers evangelical Christian Republicans the ideal candidate and his announcement is nicely timed. As this Los Angeles Times piece explains, the GOP front-runners are in one way or another unpalatable to the "animating force of the Republican Party":

But as conservatives survey the 2008 field -- and, particularly, the early Republican front-runners -- many are despairing. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani have all broken with conservative orthodoxy at one time or another. Many activists have neither forgiven nor forgotten.

"There's absolutely no contender that is a bona fide conservative," said K.B. Forbes, who has worked for a number of conservative candidates and causes since the 1990s. "We have insiders, squishes and moderates running for president."

The candidate closest to the heart of social conservatives, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, plans to formally launch his White House bid today with a speech in Topeka. But even those who admire Brownback, and especially his Senate leadership opposing abortion, same-sex marriage and stem-cell research, question the viability of his candidacy.

The viability of Brownback's candidacy brings everyone back to Romney, who without his Mormon faith would likely be considered an ideal candidate for the religious right. But would Romney be Romney without his faith? The big question, as raised in this Dallas Morning News piece by Jeffrey Weiss, is this: How will his faith affect a Romney presidency?

A sidebar by Wayne Slater asks the appropriate second big question of whether evangelicals can vote for Romney (the answer is that evangelicals "may not" go for him). Note that Weiss starts with the heart of the issue -- theology -- in examining a potential Romney presidency:

The Mormon Church is generally against abortion, in favor of traditional families and supportive of patriotism. But the Latter-day Saints get to those positions using a different theology from that of other churches -- and those differences could affect the way Mormon politicians govern.

That's not to say that observant Mormons run in political lockstep any more than members of any other faith.

Mr. Reid, left of center, and Mr. Romney, increasingly right of center, both credit their church with setting their values.

prayWeiss handily deals with the history and theology of Mormonism, but for some reason -- and maybe Weiss can explain -- the issue of exaltation is not addressed in either article. This seems to make sense to me for Weiss' piece, since it addresses how Romney's Mormon faith could affect the policies he would implement as president.

You would think that any discussion of exaltation had to be left on the editing-room floor for a piece like this, but it would be nice if reporters, when writing about the political viability of Romney with evangelical Christian leaders, would at least start asking about it. It may seem like this is an arcane theological issue that could be ignored, but as Weiss demonstrated, a person's theology matters. Understanding that theology gives voters a very good idea of the person's core values and the source of those values.

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