News Roundup: GOP Primaries, Supreme Court Ruling


BOB ABERNETHY (Host): We take a look now at the week’s top religion news and religion’s role in the general news with Kim Lawton, managing editor of this program and David Gibson, national reporter for Religion News Service who joins us from New York. David hello. Evangelical Christians in New Hampshire made up just over 20 percent of the Republicans voting there. In South Carolina, coming up, they probably will be more like 60 percent. What difference do you expect that to make?

DAVID GIBSON (National Reporter, Religion News Service): Bob, I think it’s going to make a critical difference because South Carolina is really shaping up as a make or break last stand for social conservatives. They just cannot get on board with Mitt Romney for a variety of reasons. But social conservatives, these Evangelicals, Fundamentalists also can’t decide among themselves what candidate they want to back whether it’s going to be Rick Santorum one day, or Newt Gingrich. Rick Perry just doesn’t seem to be generating anything whatsoever. But if they can’t decide and decide by Jan. 21 when the South Carolina primary happens, then they could effectively deliver the nomination to Mitt Romney. And then they’ll have to decide whether in the general election, you know, if Mitt Romney is not Mr. Right, if it’s good enough that he’s Mr. Right Now.

ABERNETHY: Kim, a lot of Evangelicals say they’re very uneasy, uncomfortable with Mormonism, with a Mormon candidate. Why is that?

Mitt RomneyKIM LAWTON (Managing Editor, Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly): Well, and we should point out that there are a variety of reasons why a lot of Evangelicals haven’t backed Mitt Romney. His faith is one. A lot of them say they don’t trust him on some of their core issues like abortion. He changed his position. Or they don’t like where he stood on health care some time back. But there is the issue of his Mormon faith. Many Evangelicals don’t consider Mormons real Christians. Now that’s very offensive to members of the LDS Church who say, “We believe in Jesus is the son of God, you know, we believe Jesus is the savior, so yeah we’re real Christians.” But for some Evangelicals, the fact that Mormons don’t believe in the Trinity, they believe that God and Jesus were separate, physical beings, that’s a real difference with traditional Christianity. Mormons believe that God continued revelation in the Book of Mormon. Evangelicals and other Christians, not just Evangelicals, Catholics, mainline Protestants say this is outside the stream of traditional Christianity. So for some Evangelicals that means, “We don’t necessarily really want our president representing that.” Some Evangelicals have said, “That would legitimize a faith which we don’t agree with.”

ABERNETHY: David, is there an anti-Mormon strain within Catholicism?

GIBSON: No there really isn’t, Bob. It’s not showing up in the numbers. Mitt Romney is doing very well with the Catholic vote so far in the primaries that we have so far and he’s still polling well nationally with Catholics who just tend to be a little more moderate, I think, in their views. For them, Mitt Romney is completely acceptable. Perhaps Catholics have a kind of communal memory of the bias that they faced for so long in American culture and they don’t want to inflict that on Mormons as well. And I think that’s an irony that Kim was picking up on, that you see Evangelical bias against Mormons in the culture and perhaps in this election. Yet you see those same Evangelicals flocking to Catholic candidates like Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich, who’s a convert to Catholicism.

Rick SantorumABERNETHY: The big news for a whole lot of people in the religious communities this week was that Supreme Court decision saying that religious organizations can hire who they want to without regard to the anti-discrimination laws. Kim, pick up on that.

LAWTON: Well, I think for a lot of religious groups a key part of that was without government interference, that the government can’t come in and second guess the decisions that they make, especially when it comes to the people who are their leaders, the people who transmit their faith or lead their worship or do religious teaching.

ABERNETHY: People who are ministers.

LAWTON: Well, that’s the term although that’s the big question, who is a minister? And the court left a little open wiggle room in that one. They didn’t give a definition, “This person is a minister.” And that’s the concern of some civil rights groups that this will be interpreted broadly so that the janitor does ministry therefore he or she is a minister. But religious groups were watching this very closely because they were very concerned about creeping government power and if the government can come in a say “Well you shouldn’t have fired that minister,” then that would, they felt that interfere with their ministry.

ABERNETHY: David do you want to follow on that?

GIBSON: Yeah because I think it’s a very important decision, a unanimous decision, a resounding rejection of the Obama administration’s argument to limit this so-called ministerial exception. And a lot of conservatives in particular are hoping this signals that their signature issue, one of them – religious freedom, will prevail throughout the coming campaign. They’re concerned that the Obama administration is trying to curtail religious freedom, that its promotion of gay rights, for example, will impinge on the conscience and the rights of religious believers who are opposed to same-sex marriage. Same goes with these Health and Human Services regulations that are pending that would mandate all insurance plans to cover contraception. That’s a real problem for Catholic and Evangelical institutions and groups in particular. And they’re hoping that this signals that the administration is going to have to back off on some of those plans and policies.

ABERNETHY: So quickly Kim, just to sum it up. Religious groups are more free now than they were before to hire and fire people according to what they believe?

LAWTON: Well, they say that they’re free under the First Amendment as they always were. They were worried about the government coming in and changing that in some way. And I think David’s right that this has been an issue for a lot of religious groups as the culture becomes more diverse and there are different points of view, how can these religious groups do their faith, exercise their beliefs in a culture that may, you know, largely differ with them? And can they hold those religious beliefs on some very controversial issues like homosexuality or, you know the role of women and how can they do that in this context and so I think they were very pleased.

ABERNETHY: Kim Lawton of Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly. David Gibson of Religion News Services. Many thanks.

  • Channah

    Mormans do not believe in the Trinity. So? Neither did Christians until it was a made up idea at the Council of Nicene—–300plus years after Jesus died. Too bad evangelicals cannot accept there are different religions, and as Kahlil Gibran said, ”There are many doors to God”. This is true. Who cares what religion our President is, as long as it does not interfer with our laws and being. Who cares? Maybe I do. These evangelicals scare me–alot. I hate the thought of one being our President. We had enough of that under Bush.

  • Hugo R. Vigoroso

    “Differences” have an always will exist. No one has found the “solution” to “true community”. We need mindful listening and respect without “intrusion”. Any one “interest” group should not impose its perspective on a total group. A “leader” must try to act on principle, respect and the common good without the tenets of their “belief” system imposing. I pray that his is possible.

  • Phillip C. Smith

    These is much confusion about Mitt Romney’s position on abortion. There is a difference between being pro choice, which I do not believe that in his heart he ever was and, as governor, recognizing that abortion is the law of the land and seeing one’s obligation, when governor of Massachusetts as one of supporting those who acted within this law.

    When Romney came to recognize that pro-abortion forces were seeking to introduce even more demanding requirements, such as instituting laws that would force religions to go along or even approve of such services, he made the rational move, as I see it, to a more pro-life position.

    We must be careful in our analysis in this and other issues about Mitt Romney.

    Phillip C. Smith, Ph.D.

  • JDE

    “Evangelical Christians in New Hampshire made up just over 20 percent of the Republicans voting there. ”

    As a New Englander, I’m dismayed that it’s that many.

  • Fred Barrett

    It is difficult for me to understand why in the world anyone would vote for Newt Gingrich who’s true colors have surfaced over the last few weeks. He is a DC establishment Republican who has a long record of being such. His weaknesses is so obvious as displayed last night in the Huckabee Forum on FNC in Charleston South Carolina. He has with his own lips declared that he is a progressive socialist who’s hero is Woodrow Wilson. He revealed in that forum last night on the 14th of January 2012 that he will not adhere to the rules in the forum or in the debates. Rick Santorum is likewise a washington establishment politician as well. Newt was the first to strike out at Mitt Romney after he lost in Iowa and in New Hampshire blaming Romney for adds that he had no control over, then he claimed to be innocent when he found those in support of him was doing the same thing to Romney. He has continued to do so right on up to last night in South Carolina. He was in fact the only candidate who violated the rules and even pushed back at Former Governor Mike Huckabee when he attempted to get him to stop an action or actions that was against the rule. If he will not abide by the rules along with the other three who have filed a law suit against the state of Virginia because they refused to follow the rules there what difference is there between those three and the present occupant in the White House? If they refuse to abide in the set rules and regulations before obtaining the nomination can one expect them to abide in the constitution if they win the nomination and then are elected to the highest office in the land? Why would they join in attacks on Mitt Romney and the free market system if they actually are true conservatives? Each of those candidates have misrepresented Mr Romney’s service at Bain Capital. I have watched these three for more than 30 years and Newt is anything but honest and transparent. Placing him in the White House in my opinion would further the cause of the Marxist’s who have been so successful over the last 70 or more years. I am shocked when such famous persons as Rush Limbaugh has said that the last thing we the people want in DC is an establishment politician and then condemn the one who is most qualified to solve our national financial problems. Is it possible he being born and reared in Missouri has the same mind set as those of his state who were responsible for the slaughter of the saints in the 1830′s their governor even signing an extermination order for the militia to kill the saints or drive them from the state? I do not see where these people get the idea that Romney is a liberal. Even Rush was repeating something that claimed bad things about Romney and then stated that he didn’t know if it was true is that any different than the liberal leftist movement? These conservative radio talk stars are using the same tactics that the liberal progressive socialists have been using to defeat the conservatives during many previous elections. Has the Liberal’s got the GOP base so frustrated that they don’t know if they are pitching or catching? We better put our nation ahead of our party or we won’t have a party to place a candidate on the ballot preceding an election. I would just call our attention to the fact that 3 of those candidates running for the GOP nomination are DC establishment politicians and in weeks past it is obvious that Newt would do whatever he has to to get that nomination whether under the table or over the table including the violation of the rules whenever he feels they don’t apply to him if they prevent him from coming out the winner as he did in South Carolina last night. His actions there should really cause each of us to shudder and consider if we want that kind of person leading our nation.