(Photo: AP Images / Patrick Collard)
Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney seems to be gaining ground with the much sought-after evangelical community as he adds more Christian leaders to his growing list of supporters.
The former governor of Massachusetts picked up support among evangelicals and social conservatives while campaigning in South Carolina.
Among his new supporters are the heads of Bob Jones University, an influential conservative Christian college that teaches the Mormon Church as a cult. Romney gained the endorsements of Bob Jones III and Robert Taylor, the grandson of the universitys founder and a top dean at the school, respectively, according to The Associated Press.
Megachurch pastor Don Wilton, former president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, and Dr. John Willke, a founder and past president of the National Right to Life Committee, had also signed onto the Romney bandwagon.
Wilton, however, retracted his endorsement Tuesday, saying it was a "mistake" and a "personal error," noting he has never endorsed a candidate for any elected office.
Its hard to see, but I think that they just realized that he (Romney)s the best of a bad lot. I hate to say it that way, said Dave Woodard, a GOP activist and political science professor at Clemson University, according to AP.
Oddly enough, many of these evangelical pro-Romney leaders believe the Mormon Church which the presidential hopeful is a proud member of is a cult or at least not part of historic orthodox Christianity. Yet a growing number of evangelicals are putting aside their theological conflict with the Mormon faith and focusing on Romneys conservative and ultra pro-family stance.
The Rev. Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals, however, disagrees with his fellow evangelicals, saying he did not think it was possible for the same individuals who for years and years said religious beliefs and convictions matter to all of a sudden say they dont matter because of a candidate like Mitt Romney.
You cant simply say it doesnt matter or the only thing that matters is his stand on the issue, he told The Christian Post last week.
Values are shaped by religious beliefs, or lack thereof; and ones Mormon beliefs would surely in one sense or another shape ones values, priorities, conviction, etc., said Cizik, who pointed out that Romney has thus far been unwilling to address the connection between his religious faith and public duty.
The evangelical leader advised Christians to first make sure Romney clarifies his Mormon religion before they jump on the Romney bandwagon.
Thats just good sense, added Cizik, who is arguably one of the most powerful leaders in the 30-million-member NAE.
Nonetheless, Romneys South Carolina gains bolster his evangelical voting base which includes faith-based PR firm founder Mark DeMoss, who sent a letter earlier this month to some 150 top-level conservative Christian leaders urging them to galvanize support around the Republican candidate.
Romney also narrowly won a socially conservative Values Voter straw poll in Washington last week. There were some controversies, however, over the percentage of his votes that came from online compared to those at the Values Voter Summit in Washington. While Romney garnered 0.47 percent more overall votes than runner-up Mike Huckabee, Romney won only about 10 percent of the on-site votes. Former Arkansas governor Huckabee won over 50 percent.
According to data from recent AP-Ipsos polls, 22 percent of born-again Christians said they would vote for former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson, 17 percent for former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and 13 percent for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Huckabee and Romney trailed behind with 9 and 8 percent of the votes, respectively.