While he did not speak directly about the Mormon religion, he made ecumenical efforts to appeal to the crowd on the basis of “common ground.” Referencing Billy Graham, C.S. Lewis, Chuck Colson and even Pope Benedict, Romney often waxed spiritual and stated that he believed that people of all religions should work together on national interests.
“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,” Romney explained. “Surely the answer is that we can meet in service, in shared moral convictions about our nation stemming from a common worldview.”
He also appealed to evangelicals by speaking on the issue of homosexual marriage. As he stated, “Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman,” the audience of an approximate thirty-five thousand attendees rose to their feet in a standing ovation.
Earlier this week, Romney mentioned on Fox News that while he believes that homosexual relationships cannot be defined as “marriage,” he is supportive of allowing homosexuals to live together and adopt children.
“[I]f two people of the same gender want to live together, want to have a loving relationship, or even to adopt a child, in my state, individuals of the same sex were able to adopt children. In my view, that’s something that people have a right to do,” he stated to Neil Cavuto, afternoon host on Fox News. Romney then added, “But, to call that ‘marriage’ is something that in my view is a departure from the real meaning of that word.”
He also outlined to a Denver television station on Wednesday, “My view is that domestic partnership benefits, hospital visitation rights and the like are appropriate, but the others are not.”
Romney received standing ovations both before, during and after his speech, although a number of students had threatened to forego the ceremony.
Liberty’s president, Jerry Falwell, Jr., explained today as he awarded Romney with an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree why he invited the controversial political figure to be the commencement speaker. “My father often preached that Christians should vote for the candidate whose positions on the political issues are most closely aligned with their own, not the candidate who shares his or her faith or theology. We are, after all, electing a commander-in-chief, not a pastor or religious leader,” he told students.
Michael Marcavage, director of the evangelistic group Repent America, disagrees. “God commands us to choose those who fear Him to serve in civil government, certainly not those who are involved in the occult or compromise His word,” he stated. As far as inviting Romney, Marcavage outlined, “Scripture makes it clear in Galatians that if anyone preaches another Gospel but Christ’s, he should be accursed. Liberty University gave this man a pulpit, when they should have given him the door.”
Numerous evangelicals like Falwell have come out in support of Romney. Gary Bauer, former president of the Christian Coalition, issued a news release today stating that he thought Romney’s speech was a “grand slam.” Tony Perkins, the head of Family Research Council, also stated that Liberty’s invitation to Romney was “a tremendous opportunity.” Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice has likewise been a strong supporter of Romney for several years, as well as evangelical marketing expert Mark DeMoss, who now serves as one of Romney’s advisers.
However, others are not so thrilled about Romney nor Liberty’s decision to have him deliver this year’s commencement speech. Sarabeth Rudd, 25, an evangelical law student at the university, stated that Romney should not have been invited to speak and that she was going to stay home. “People get so blinded by their party that they forget principle,” she stated. “His theology goes against my faith. I’m not going to vote for him for that.”
Longtime Lynchburg resident Jeanette Lytle, 82, a pro-life activist who knew the late Jerry Falwell, told Christian News Network, “I really disapprove, and am concerned that the students have no say in who the speaker is, because the speaker is chosen by the staff. They have had some way out speakers from the very beginning.” She explained that she believes non-Christian candidates such as Romney should not be supported by evangelicals. “They want to see [Romney] elected rather than Obama, but they are no different,” Lytle added.
Marcavage stated that he is troubled by Liberty’s invitation to Romney, as well as the increasing support of evangelicals. “It is extremely disheartening to see Christian leaders stand behind Romney to such an extreme,” he stated. “They are acting far outside of Biblical standards. We must vote in the fear of God, not in the fear of man,” Marcavage concluded.