When the Rev. Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority in 1979, many fundamentalist pastors were appalled by his decision to wade into the muck of politics.
Even more shocking, Falwell said this would be an interfaith project from the get-go, one open to conservatives in many flocks -- including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The goal was to focus on the moral convictions that united believers in different faiths, not the scriptures, creeds and theology that separated them.
Clearly, Mitt Romney or a campaign staffer did his history homework before the candidate arrived at Liberty University to embrace the Rev. Jerry Falwell Jr., and address the class of 2012, as well as -- via mass media -- millions of conservative Christians who have shunned him, or worse.
"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," said Romney, in an address that included many references to faith and family.
"Surely the answer is that we can meet in service, in shared moral convictions about our nation stemming from a common worldview."
Over in the faculty section, this "people of different faiths" passage hit home for the well-known author and Christian apologist Gary Habermas, who has taught at Liberty for 31 years and currently leads its philosophy department.
"I'm surprised that he said that, that he chose that combination of words," said Habermas. "You see, he's not really talking to our people, alone. He's talking to the whole Southern evangelical presence that he needs at the polls this fall. He knows they need to hear from him on this issue."
In particular, it was significant that Romney acknowledged that some theological disputes are so basic -- such as disagreements about the nature of God -- that the creeds of ancient Christianity divide Mormons from Trinitarian Christians.
"I was surprised that he was so clear in pointing out this fact -- that we are different, that our theologies are so different," said Habermas. "He needs to say that, to acknowledge that, before he can go on to say that we can still work together."
Obviously, Romney knew that his audience included many who were upset that he was delivering the commencement address, said the Rev. Tal Davis, who for many years led interfaith evangelism projects for the Southern Baptist Convention. It was smart for Romney to gently acknowledge this and, thus, preempt some critics.