A Latter-day Alliance
Although many evangelicals were not quite ready for a Mormon presidential candidate this election season, others were quick to join Mormons' efforts to pass California's ballot proposition banning same-sex marriage.
Evangelicals were the largest group of Americans who expressed reservations about voting for a Mormon candidate in surveys conducted last year. But leaders of the successful Proposition 8 campaign said that evangelicals, Mormons, and Roman Catholics cooperated more extensively than ever before to rally California to ban gay marriage.
"I think this is the ironic part, because everybody seems very content to work together on these issues of common values," said Mark DeMoss, an evangelical publicist and early supporter of Mitt Romney. "But the moment a Mormon man presented himself as a candidate for President, people said, 'That's a line we as evangelicals can't cross.' "
Advocates of Proposition 8 estimate that Mormons contributed at least half of the nearly $40 million raised for the ballot initiative, which about 80 percent of evangelicals in California supported. Since Election Day, Mormon churches have fielded protests across the country. California's fair-elections commission is investigating a complaint that contends that the LDS Church provided significant contributions to the campaign that it did not report.
More than 4,000 people have signed an online petition thanking the LDS Church for its Proposition 8 efforts. Those who signed the letter include Charles Colson of Prison Fellowship, James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, and Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Evangelicals were content to partner with Mormons on Proposition 8 because the groups agreed on the end goal, said Gerald R. McDermott, professor of religion at Roanoke College and coauthor of Claiming Christ: A Mormon-Evangelical Debate.
"The outcome is to have a marriage policy that is completely agreeable to evangelicals. Before, the outcome was someone in office who, to a lot of evangelicals, represented a theology that was completely disagreeable," McDermott said. "They agree on these horizontal issues while they disagree with the vertical issues, which are theological."
Thirty-six percent of evangelicals said they were reluctant to vote for a Mormon, compared with 25 percent of the general electorate who said the same thing in an August 2007 survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
During Romney's candidacy, Robert Jeffress, pastor at the First Baptist Church of Dallas, told his congregants that they should prefer Christian candidates to Mormon candidates, but he is grateful for Mormon involvement in helping pass Proposition 8.
"I think there has been a strain in the relationship with Mormons, but I think Christians need to understand that Mormonism is not Christianity," Jeffress said. "The differences between Mormonism and Christianity aren't just minor theological differences that can be erased just because we agree on moral issues."
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, believes the cooperation between evangelicals and Mormons in California could lay the groundwork for Romney should he choose to run again. But Roger Keller, a church history professor at Brigham Young University, says Romney will always face difficulties.
"Joining hands on the moral issues can only help, but it doesn't get at the root issues that are the things that evangelicals and Mormons need to talk about, which are doctrinal issues," Keller said. "Romney will always encounter a theological divide if and when he runs again."