The key for many Protestants is that, after decades of trying to Christianize American history, it has become very hard for them not to think of the president as a kind of "religious mascot" instead of a politician, said the Rev. Russell D. Moore, speaking at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. A recording of this forum, entitled "The Mormon Moment: Religious Conviction and the 2012 Election," was later posted online.
"I heard someone in recent days say, 'I would never vote for anyone who is not an authentically professing evangelical Christian,'" said Moore, who leads the seminary's school of theology. "If that's the case, then as far as I can see, you have about three candidates in the last 100 years or so ... that you could possibly vote for: William Jennings Bryan, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush."
Instead of focusing on a shopping list of doctrines, religious voters will need to focus on a more practical question when they enter voting booths, said Moore. They should ask: "Between these two people -- President Obama and Gov. Romney -- who is going to do the best for the common good and in protecting the United States of America and all the other questions that we've got to keep in mind?"
Meanwhile, admitted Barnes, there are "small pockets" of evangelicals in the Bible Belt who remain convinced that members of their flocks must not compromise by voting for a Mormon. However, most religious conservatives have concluded that they fear Romney's faith less than they fear a second term for Barack Obama.
The experts also know that, "just as a matter of political geography, the few holdouts, if you want to call them that, tend to be in states where Mitt Romney probably doesn't need their votes," said Barnes. "He will carry states like Tennessee and South Carolina and Georgia ... very easily."
(Terry Mattingly is the director of the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and leads the GetReligion.org project to study religion and the news.)
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