GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney faced a tense moment during his town hall speech in Green Bay, Wis., a day ahead of the state primary on April 3, when an audience member tried to get him to comment on a race question apparently based on a passage from the Book of Mormon.
Romney, who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has been reluctant to focus on his religion during his campaign, but some conservatives have described their unease with what they perceive to be a domination outside mainstream Christianity.
At the town hall speech in Wisconsin, an audience member was picked by Romney to ask a question. He then held up verses on pieces of paper from the Book of Mormon, ABC News reported.
"Your Mormon faith might not be a concern in the election but I think it might be as well as I found these verses in the Mormon book," 28-year-old Bret Hatch began, and then asked: "Ok, well, in the Mormon book it says there were a blackness came upon all the children of Canaan that they were despised."
Romney tried to cut Hatch off early on by prompting to see if he had a relevant question, to which the man asked: "I guess my question is do you believe it's a sin for a white man to marry and procreate with a black?"
The GOP candidate responded with a firm "no" before turning to the other side of the room in an apparent effort to change the topic.
The next question Romney faced, however, was from an audience member asking him to explain how he responds to characterizations that paint him as "out of touch" with regular Americans. In response to the question, Romney returned to the topic of religion, sharing a story about the time he served as a pastor for his church.
"I had the occasion in my church to be asked to be the pastor, if you will, of a congregation. And I've served in that kind of role for about 10 years. And that gave me the occasion to work with people on a very personal basis that were dealing with unemployment, with marital difficulties, with health difficulties of their own and with their kids," Romney began.
"People have burdens in this country, and when you get a chance to know people on a very personal basis, whether you're serving as a pastor or perhaps as a counselor or in other kinds of roles, you understand that every kind of person you see is facing some challenges. And one of the reasons I'm running for president of the United States is I want to help people, I want to lighten that burden," he added.
After the event, Hatch, who identified himself as a supporter of GOP presidential rival Ron Paul, told reporters that he wanted to see if Romney believes in what the Book of Mormon says.
"Either he believes the Book of Mormon, or he doesn't," he claimed. "That's what it comes down to. So either he believes it, and he believes what these things say right here, or he doesn't. And from what I understand he just denounced his faith up there."
MSNBC presenter Martin Bashir, who referenced the Hatch-Romney incident on his "Clear the Air" segment, brought up the issue that President Barack Obama has had to face constant questioning about his Christian faith, but the same kind of pressure has not been exerted on Romney, who has risen to frontrunner status for the GOP nomination. Bashir, a Christian, suggested that all candidates, including Romney, should be more willing to engage in discussion about their faith.