Archives for December 2011

Don’t Believe Misleading Attacks About Mitt’s Record on Abortion

It’s correct-the-record day here regarding Mitts’ record on life and marriage.  First, we all know Mitt Romney is a convert on the life issue, so his record prior to that conversion is checkered, at best.  Second, it’s beyond dispute that Mitt’s record in office on life issues was far, far better than, say, Ronald Reagan’s before he became president.  (Mitt vetoed pro-abortion legislation and won an award from his state’s most prominent pro-life advocacy group; Governor Reagan signed into law one of the nation’s most liberal abortion laws pre-Roe).  Third, Mitt has issued a very specific pro-life pledge that addresses every single major plank of the pro-life platform.  Fourth, it’s clear that the Left views Mitt’s conversion as genuine: NARAL has targeted him above other Republican presidential candidates.  Mitt is pro-life, and he’ll be a pro-life president.

The stop-Mitt movement, however, is now in full-on crisis mode.  With Mitt surging in Iowa, maintaining a huge lead in New Hampshire, and with various Mitt alternatives struggling, it’s apparently time to take the gloves off.  Erick “not even Rick Santorum is conservative enough for me” Erickson is the latest to unleash a recycled and obscure attack.

Channeling his inner Fred Thompson (himself a former pro-choice politician), Erickson’s broadside begins:

You should be quite familiar by now with the fact that Mitt Romney gave $150.00 to Planned Parenthood in 1994 when claiming he had always been pro-abortion.

You should also know that in 2004, Mitt Romney says he personally converted to the pro-life position. In fact, according to ABC News on June 14, 2007, “Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has long cited a November 2004 meeting with a Harvard stem-cell researcher as the moment that changed his long-held stance of supporting abortion rights to his current ‘pro-life’ position opposing legal abortion. But several actions Romney took mere months after that meeting call into question how deep-seated his conversion truly was.”

He then charges Mitt with three specific post-conversion offenses: nominating a pro-abortion judge to a Massachusetts state-court seat, signing a bill that “could” expand access to the morning-after pill, and that Romneycare not only expanded access to abortion, it “gave Planned Parenthood new rights under state law.”  Let’s take these issues in turn.

First, the judges.  Yes, Mitt nominated a pro-abortion judge . . . to a state court position that has no authority over abortion law.  I addressed this issue in an Evangelicals for Mitt post dated all the way back to January, 2007 (yes, folks, that’s how old this charge is):

Regarding judges, here I think [critics blur] the difference between federal and state court judges and the federal and state (in this case, Massachusetts) systems of judicial nominations and approvals. First, when we talk about the Governor’s allegedly “liberal” judicial appointments, we are talking about judges who deal primarily with criminal matters–not the constitutional issues that can dominate the federal judicial debate. Given this reality, Governor Romney did not nominate judges who were “liberal” or “leftist” within their job description. The Governor wanted individuals who were tough on crime. As he said, “With regard to those at the district court and clerk magistrate level, their political views aren’t really going to come into play unless their views indicate they will be soft on crime.” So the reality is that the Governor nominated judges who were tough on crime to fill spots that dealt primarily with crime. State court judges at this level have absolutely no say over abortion rights. None. Abortion is primarily a matter of federal–not state–constitutional law.

Second, every one of Governor Romney’s judicial nominees has to be approved by the “Governor’s Council”, a popularly-elected, eight member board that is dominated by Democrats (as is most of Massachusetts state government). Imagine a situation where the President of the United States had to run all of his judicial nominees by a Senate that contained 85% Democrats–most of them of the radical sort. That would change the picture a bit, wouldn’t it? I think the best way to think of Governor Romney’s track record in nominating judges is that he did the best that he could have done.

So what does a state District Court appointment mean for abortion law?  Nothing.  And did Mitt succeed in nominating a tough-on-crime judge?  Well, yes.  Lawyers have nicknamed him “The Hammer” for his sentencing practices.

Next, what about Mitt’s allegedly inconsistent position on the morning-after pill?  Once again, when you look at the details, the picture is different than that painted by Erickson. Mitt vetoed a bill that would have mandated access without a prescription, a move wholeheartedly endorsed by the pro-life movement.  The bill Mitt actually signed — and Erickson condemned — was merely a request for Massachusetts to get federal reimbursement for services it was already providing at cost (roughly $5 million) to the state.  The bill wasn’t expanding access to abortions but instead cost-shifting contraceptive services to the federal government.  In fact, even Mitt’s critics said it “could” expand access to the morning-after pill, not that it would.

Finally, let’s deal with the Romneycare attack.  Let’s make one thing perfectly clear, any abortion coverage contained in Massachusetts insurance plans is required by Massachusetts legal precedent that Mitt could not alter.  The Weekly Standard raised this issue in a recent piece by John McCormack:

Some social conservatives don’t buy Romney’s defense that it’s all the fault of the judges. “You know what I would think if I were a pro-lifer? That’s a pretty darn good reason not to have the government take over the health care system,” says Steve Deace, a Christian conservative Iowa radio host and longtime Romney antagonist. “Forget the mandate, which is wrong to begin with. The first moral principle is don’t murder.”

Why would Romney expand access to government-subsidized health care if those plans would cover elective abortions? David French of Evangelicals for Mitt says that argument is a “classic example of not understanding what an actual governor of an actual blue state has to face.”

French argues that by going to the Heritage Foundation for advice and using what leverage he had, Romney got the best deal he could in Massachusetts. “Doing nothing wasn’t a realistic alternative,” he says. “People need to get over the idea that he’s coming out of Texas. He’s coming out of Massachusetts.”

“Mitt Romney did not have the option of saying .  .  . that there won’t be government involvement in Massachusetts health care,” says French. “He was a conservative governor facing a veto-proof [Democratic] supermajority in both houses dead-set on a particular kind of health care reform.”

Regarding Planned Parenthood’s presence on a state panel, yes they apparently have a reserved slot (along with 13 other representatives) on something called the MassHealth Payment Policy Advisory Board (not on the “planning board for the health care plan” as some have claimed).  This Board has no authority over abortion policy and in fact has no real power except to compile reports and make recommendations).

So, where does this leave us?  Mitt’s actions as governor were worthy of his pro-life award.  Even the worst action (allowing Planned Parenthood access to a payment advisory board — something I definitely don’t agree with) had zero impact on abortions in Massachusetts.  When he could have an impact, he vetoed expanded access to the morning-after pill and vetoed expanded stem cell research.  Crucially, he also became an advocate for life in a state that badly needs such advocates.  Writing in the Boston Globe on July 26, 2005, Mitt said this:

You can’t be a prolife governor in a prochoice state without understanding that there are heartfelt and thoughtful arguments on both sides of the question. Many women considering abortions face terrible pressures, hurts, and fears; we should come to their aid with all the resourcefulness and empathy we can offer. At the same time, the starting point should be the innocence and vulnerability of the child waiting to be born.

In some respects, these convictions have evolved and deepened during my time as governor. In considering the issue of embryo cloning and embryo farming, I saw where the harsh logic of abortion can lead — to the view of innocent new life as nothing more than research material or a commodity to be exploited.

If we’re going to win the battle for life, we need converts — like Ronald Reagan and like Mitt Romney.  If I had the slightest doubt that Mitt Romney would govern as a pro-life president, I wouldn’t be an “evangelical for Mitt.”

Deroy Murdock Misleads About Romney’s Record on Gay Marriage

No American governor has faced more critical cultural issues than Mitt Romney, Massachusetts’ chief executive from 2003 to 2007. In the midst of Governor Romney’s efforts to rescue his state from a fiscal crisis and create lasting and innovative health care solutions, activist judges and a far-left legislature forced issues of same-sex “marriage,” abortion, religious liberty, stem cell research, and gay rights into the forefront. Each time he was challenged, the Governor not only made the conservative choice, but also did so with an optimistic, unifying message. In doing so, he became a national leader on these vital cultural issues without squandering his ability to govern the Commonwealth.

In spite of this impressive conservative record, Deroy Murdock claims in National Review today that Gov. Romney actually encouraged gay marriage as governor. The truth, however, is that Gov. Romney been one of the nation’s foremost advocates for traditional marriage by launching a multi-year (and multi-state) campaign to preserve traditional marriage after Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage.

My husband, David French has set the record straight several times, because it comes up quite frequently over the years as half-truths keep floating around the internet.  (David, I should say, is a co-founder of Evangelicals for Mitt, an independent website dedicated to spreading awareness about Governor Mitt Romney among Christian conservatives. He also holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School and is a leading constitutional attorney. We live outside Nashville and worship at Zion Presbyterian Church, a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America.)  David claims that Gov. Romney been one of the nation’s foremost advocates for traditional marriage:

From the moment the activist judges in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court handed down their breathtakingly arrogant decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, the Governor took strong and consistent actions to defend marriage. He also took decisive action to make sure his state would not grant marriage licenses to out- of-state couples, thereby guaranteeing that Massachusetts would not become the “Las Vegas of gay marriage” (as he called it) and trigger a constitutional crisis as couples returned to their home states with Massachusetts licenses. He also initiated and led an effort to amend the Massachusetts constitution by referendum and has gone so far as to file suit against the Commonwealth’s own legislature after it took action to prevent the people of Massachusetts from voting on that amendment—a suit that resulted in the legislature complying with its constitutional responsibilities and sending the marriage amendment on to the next stage of the ratification process.

Critically, he has become a leading national advocate for marriage, with his optimistic and uplifting message dominating the public debate. Rather than casting the debate as one over adult rights, the Governor has made the best possible case for marriage, noting what we all should know but too often forget (at great cultural cost): Marriage does not exist for the convenience and enjoyment of adults, but as the best possible way of raising and nurturing children. The credible defenders of marriage in Massachusetts all agree, and through their own statement they have recently and emphatically made their feelings clear: Mitt Romney has been an invaluable supporter and advocate.

Yet despite this record, people like Deroy Murdock claim that Mitt Romney actually enabled gay marriage by not defying the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts—in other words, by not breaking the law.

This is simply an incorrect reading of the decision. Here is what the Supreme Judicial Court actually said: “We construe civil marriage to mean the voluntary union of two persons as spouses, to the exclusion of all others.” In other words, the court itself changed the definition of marriage. The reference to legislative action in the opinion merely gave the legislature a chance to amend the law to state what the court already said it meant. This was not advising the legislature; it was changing the law. Any governor who defied this decision risked contempt of court. Rather than becoming what the media would undoubtedly call the “George Wallace of gay marriage” by standing in the courthouse door and barring couples from receiving marriage licenses, the Governor chose legal means to resist the court’s decision.

And his decision was correct. It is now clear that the Goodridge decision represented not the beginning of the end of traditional marriage but what may well be the high-water mark of the same-sex marriage movement. Since that decision, homosexual marriage activists have been on the defensive virtually everywhere, losing referenda and losing court decisions. Had Governor Romney not offered a principled and effective defense of marriage, the outcome may very well have been quite different.

The Governor believes all people should be treated equally in the eyes of the law, but that no additional legal protections for sexual orientation should be added. Since his race against Ted Kennedy in 1994, sexual orientation nondiscrimination laws have become commonplace across the country, and it is easy to see and understand their effects. Since 1994, these laws have been used as pretexts for ejecting Christian student groups from college campuses, for closing religious-based adoptive services, for silencing people of faith as they seek to debate issues of sexual morality, and for transforming marriage laws (see the New Jersey Supreme Court’s recent decision).  In 2006, he strongly defended the right of Catholic Charities to refuse to place adoptive children in homes with homosexual couples. In taking this stand, he opposed virtually the entire Massachusetts political establishment, but he was defending the fundamental freedom of people of faith to live out their values. Once again, Governor Romney made the right choice.

But if you don’t believe David, obviously a Romney supporter, listen to the testimony of someone who was there in the trenches as all of this played out. Maggie Gallagher quit her job in 2003, when she learned the Massachusetts courts were likely to make gay marriage a reality.  Then she founded the National Organization for Marriage and jumped with both feet into the quagmire of the gay marriage issue in Massachusetts.  In other words, she was there as the sausage was being made, and she went on to become one of America’s foremost defenders of traditional marriage.  She says it’s “grotesquely unfair” to paint Romney as a supporter of the institution of gay marriage.  Romney “didn’t just oppose court-ordered same-sex marriage with words, he fought hard, including behind the scenes,” she says.  “On gay marriage, he’s been a rock.”  (For more information, read the Real ClearPolitics article called, “Mitt Romney Never Flip Flopped on Gay Marriage.”)

For the first time in many years, conservatives have a presidential candidate who not only shares their core political and moral values but can also communicate those values in a persuasive, compelling, and—yes—unifying way. We should not permit legal distortions, leftist-style scare tactics, and identity politics to obscure the truth about Mitt Romney—a man of principle who is and will be the best conservative standard-bearer in 2012.


A Letter to Iowa Evangelicals


To my Iowa Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I get it.  You have people like Bob Vander Plaats who are trying to get you to vote for Rick Santorum, even though you know he has no chance to beat Obama.  (Though he’s a great Catholic guy, he was so intimidated by the Virginia ballot process that he simply slunk away without even trying to give Virginians the option of voting for him.)  You love Michele Bachmann’s personal story, her faith, and her great conservative ideas.  Yet, she too doesn’t seem up for the job.  You briefly flirted with Newt — that’s okay.   Who hasn’t?But after the news of all of his affairs, his ethical violations, and his incompetence, you can’t bring yourself to voting for the guy either.

The most competent candidate, by far, is Mitt Romney.  He’s more conservative than George W. Bush, he is a champion of traditional marriage, pro-life issues, and — oh yeah — he can turn an economy around.

There’s that one nagging little thing…

I’ll never forget the day when my husband David told me about the exciting Presidental candidate named Mitt.  “He’s a Mormon.”

“Oh,” I said.  “Too bad we can’t vote for him.”

“Why?” David asked innocently, though I was incredulous.   Wasn’t the answer obvious?

“I’ll never vote for a Mormon,” I said, flabbergasted he’d even consider it.  After all, I was raised in the Church of Christ, had attended the charismatic Times Square Church in New York City, and – at the time – went to the conservative Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia.  I tithed, had been baptized in a summer camp swimming pool when I was twelve, knew all the verses of How Great Thou Art, and had Pyrex dishes with my name written on the bottom in Sharpie specifically for benevolence casseroles.

Though I didn’t know many Mormons well, I was sure I wouldn’t like them.  After all, their commercials on television were ridiculously earnest.  Who runs in the back yard with their family while blowing bubbles in slow motion?  Please.

However, in a matter of days, I went from objecting to his candidacy to unabashedly supporting it, so I thought I would share how I went from being completely opposed to unabashedly supportive of this particular Presidential candidate.  Here’s what helped me:

1. In spite of our theological differences, evangelicals and Mormons are already political allies. In fact, if Mormons weren’t consistently more conservative than their evangelical neighbors, Al Gore would be America’s president now and California Proposition 8, which overturned a state Supreme Court ruling that permitted gay marriage, would’ve failed. In fact, we owe them a great deal for their steadfast consistency on moral issues The sometimes squishy evangelical church, tossed by every trend, is responsible for electing Barack Obama.

2. Romney’s faith doesn’t indicate that he’s gullible. Let’s face it.  All religions require a leap of faith that appears silly to outsiders. If a reporter questioned me about my religion, he’d raise an eyebrow over my belief that Noah was a floating zookeeper, that Jesus was the best sommelier in Galilee, and that he paid taxes with coins from a fish’s mouth.  No one belongs to the Church of the Scientific Method, so religion falls outside normal reasoning. Gov. Romney’s beliefs certainly require faith – including his quite miraculous notion that Jesus is his personal Savior. In my experience, evangelicals loathe religious litmus tests.  That’s what Democrats do, when they try to disqualify Christian and Catholic judges because of their beliefs.  The same people who would disqualify a Mormon would disqualify me, citing the same list of “this person can’t be a serious thinker if she believes this miraculous stuff.”  And as far as gullible goes, don’t forget that Mitt Romney has two Harvard degrees.

3. Baptists don’t have the best track record, either.  John Mark Reynolds once wrote that “my faith in the holiness standards of Baptists survived Clinton and my belief in their sanity survived Carter, though that was a closer call.” In fact, should we taint all Baptist Presidential candidates with the legacy of recent Baptist leaders – i.e. Clinton’s moral failure, Carter’s weak foreign policy, Johnson’s social programs, and Gore’s use of the word “lock box.” Of course not.  Evangelicals should evaluate candidates on their own political merits.

4.  Evangelicals do not historically vote for the “most Christian” person on the ballot. When Jimmy Carter (a Southern Baptist Sunday School teacher) ran against Ronald Reagan, evangelicals correctly voted for the divorced Hollywood actor.  After all, he was the one who would best represent their values.  Similarly, in 2012, we should look for the candidate who will most effectively represent our values by beating Obama and being a good advocate for our social positions.  Gov. Romney is that candidate.

5. Electing a Mormon will not create a surge of support for that religion.  My husband David put it best when he wrote:

I think it’s fair to say that Barack Obama hasn’t done much for Jeremiah Wright’s now-famous “black liberation theology,” and George Bush’s well-known evangelical beliefs likely repelled as many people as they attracted. In fact, I can’t think of a single president that had a discernible impact on the theological beliefs of our citizens. And that makes sense. Presidents aren’t pastors. We don’t look to presidents for pastoral guidance but instead for national leadership. We don’t think, “I like those Bush tax cuts. I think I’ll check out the Methodist church.

Applying these same lessons to Mormons, does watching Harry Reid make you want to talk to a Mormon missionary? How about when you fly JetBlue? During a smooth, comfortable flight do you use the in-flight Wi-Fi to surf Does a particularly elegant turndown service at a high-end Marriottput you in the mood to download the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s greatest hits? If you’re a sports fan, did watching Steve Young connect with Jerry Rice make you complete an application to BYU?

6.  You don’t have to agree with the LDS faith to support Gov. Romney.  If the Romneys agreed with my religion, they would be conservative Presbyterians.  If we believed theirs, we’d be Mormons.  There’s nothing wrong with definitively saying that there are religious differences between the two.  There obviously are, and you don’t have to defend Mormonism to pull the lever for Gov. Romney.

Reports show that Rick Santorum — the only candidate not to have experienced a surge so far — might be earning the evangelical votes in Iowa.

So, to all of my evangelical friends in Iowa, I know where you’re coming from. I understand that your hesitation comes from a well-meaning desire to protect the gospel and to honor God in all aspects of your life.  However, God has something to do with salvation, can safeguard the integrity of the gospel without our feeble, frequently self-righteous help, and wouldn’t hang the validity of Christianity on whether or not we voted for Mitt Romney for President.

If you still have questions, or are concerned about his track record on abortiongay marriage, or Romneycare, please visit, where we have sorted through the issues so you can make an informed decision in 2012.

Please, Iowa Evangelicals, let Bob Vander Plaats know that you can think for yourselves and that you aren’t going to let Iowa select a person who’ll guarantee another four years of Obama.

No Candidate Except Gov. Romney Presents a Full Slate of Delegates in Tennessee

With all the hoopla surrounding the Virginia ballot, I wondered how the candidates fared in my home state.  Tennessee works a little differently than other states.  In fact, it seems that every state has a little tweak, a little nuance that makes it a little different from the others.  That’s why the process is a great peek into how a candidate can handle complicated issues that require organization and hard work.

Tennessee will have fifty-eight delegates to the Tampa Republican National Convention. Each of our nine congressional districts will have three delegates.  That means that Presidential candidates must find delegates who are leaders in their community willing to walk around with a clipboard asking friends and strangers to sign their names and their addresses on behalf of their candidacy for their preferred Presidential candidate. Each delegate had to get one hundred valid signatures of registered voters.  So there’s several ways this could go wrong – illegible signatures, addresses that don’t match the person’s voter registration address (perhaps because they’ve moved), signers who claimed to be registered to vote but weren’t, or signers who thought they lived in a certain congressional district but didn’t.

My husband and I did this process in the 4th Congressional district of Tennessee on behalf of Gov. Romney, and the process wasn’t easy.  We literally took our little clipboards with us while taking the kids trick-or-treating, to our church parking lot, to the drop-off line at Zion Christian Academy, and football games!  It’s not an elegant process, rather it demands putting your feet on the pavement and your heart on your sleeve. Since almost no one in this day and age will sign a form without really understanding it, we had to explain why Mitt Romney should be the next President to my friends and neighbors, sometimes in the freezing cold.  During this contentious campaign season, this also meant our heated conversations usually made us forget the cold weather.

In addition to the congressional delegates, fourteen “at large” delegates will be elected. These delegates had a slightly easier job, because they weren’t restricted to a certain district and could signatures from any registered voter in our state.

A full slate of delegate candidates would be forty-one.

So which candidates were able to supply a full slate for Tennessee?  Only one:

Michelle Bachmann: 0

Gary Johnson: 0

Rick Santorum: 0

Ron Paul: 35

Newt Gingrich: 34

Rick Perry: 27

Mitt Romney: 48

(Here’s the complete list of how the candidates did.)

But Gingrich and Perry fans mustn’t worry: Tennessee is not as restrictive as Virginia. Candidates without a full slate can still win them at the polls and have delegates appointed later by the state Republican Executive Committee under party rules.

However, it’s worth noting that the Yankee governor received forty-eight delegates in our southern state, pulling off what no other candidate could.  What does this say about the conventional wisdom that southerners won’t warm to him?

Perhaps the Knoxville News Sentinel reported it best with this lead sentence:

Four of the nine Republican candidates in Tennessee’s presidential primary ballot will have no committed delegates on the ballot with them on the March 6 ballot, while Mitt Romney has a surplus wanting to represent him at the Republican National Convention.

Rethinking “Mormon Morality”

“Mitt Romney’s a good moral person, but he’s not a Christian.”Pastor Robert Jeffress.

“When Mormons seem to be so nice & have good family values, what makes them wolves in sheeps clothing?”A questioner on Yahoo! Answers.

“We can have a lot of fun at the Mormons’ expense because there’s stuff in their religion that may seem silly to outsiders . . . But these are really nice people who believe what they do wholeheartedly.”“South Park” and “Book of Mormon” Co-Creator Matt Stone.

In my almost six-year-long journey as an “Evangelical for Mitt” I’ve been told a few things with almost numbing repetition and certainty:  First, Mormons are “nice people” with “good values.”  Second (and by extension), Mitt Romney is a “good family man.”  Finally — and emphatically — evangelicals should never obscure their opposition to the LDS church and it’s “false gospel.”  In other words, Mormon morality was the obligatory and cursory compliment before the decisive theological blow.  Mormon morality was presumed, and so was Mormon apostasy.  But over the years, as I got to know more Mormons, spent more time in scripture, and experienced more of the dysfunctional world of American evangelicalism, something about this message simply wasn’t adding up.

*** *** *** ***

I grew up in the churches of Christ, autonomous fundamentalist congregations born out of the American Restorationist Movement in the Second Great Awakening.  The message of the restorationists was relatively simple: the pure Gospel message had been distorted and destroyed by the denominational churches.  Convinced that creeds divided and led to apostasy, one of the core slogans of the historical church of Christ was “No creed but Christ.”  Concerned that a thousand years of Christian teaching and tradition had led believers astray, the church of Christ looked to the Bible alone (more specifically, the New Testament) for wisdom.  Many times I heard the statement: “Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent.”

The founding fathers and leaders of the early church of Christ, men like Alexander Campbell and David Lipscomb, led a movement that ultimately became radically Arminian, truly sectarian, and functionally deist.  In other words, salvation was entirely a matter of individual choice, only those who chose to join the church of Christ would be saved, and God’s supernatural interference in the Earth’s affairs had almost entirely ceased.  This left members of the church in quite a fix: salvation was earned by their choices, God would not aid church members in making the right choices, and any choice other than the church of Christ led to damnation.  Salvation was easily lost.  Youth ministers (“pastor” is not a word the church of Christ uses) regaled teens with the story of the poor damned girl who died driving to her baptism.  My wife, the very week after her baptism, “went forward” after church to confess the sin of uttering a mild curse word — a sin she was convinced (and she was taught) was a mortal stain on her formerly-redeemed soul.  Suffice to say, moral purity was highly recommended.

For me, there was one tiny little problem that theology: I didn’t believe it.  In fact, my church made me angry.  One fifth grade Sunday after enduring yet another lesson about the damnation of my Baptist, Methodist, or Presbyterian friends, I grabbed one of the Bibles from my parent’s shelves and started reading.  And kept reading.  (I’d like to say that I read it as voraciously as I did Lord of the Rings, but that’s not quite right).  When I finished reading, I turned to my parents and made a declaration: I wasn’t going back to Sunday School until my teacher apologized for telling me that my Christian friends were going to Hell.  The core of my legal case was Romans 10.

My teacher apologized.  In writing.  A young lawyer was born.

I think it was two years later when our pulpit minister disappeared.  Well, he didn’t really “disappear,” he just vanished from the pulpit — he ran off with the church secretary.  Three years later my first youth group friend “came forward” to confess her pregnancy.  By high school graduation, our youth group’s behavior was indistinguishable from my public high school classmates, except we were fantastic a cappella singers.  As the “good kid” (it’s amazing how devotion to Dungeons & Dragons and science fiction can act as a firewall for teen purity), I felt more of an outsider in my own church than I did in my public school.

Needless to say, I left the church.  But I never left Christ.  In His infinite mercy, he taught me about grace, he gave me the eternal security I never thought I’d feel, and I realized I can do nothing without Him.  In other words, He empowers and enables all that is good in my life.

*** *** *** ***

Why the autobiographical diversion?  Because God and virtue are not separate.  In the first 22 years of life, I lived and breathed a culture and theology that placed absolute importance on moral purity — a moral purity that could (and must be) obtained without God’s divine help — but that same culture reeled from its own failure.  I left the church of Christ just as hundreds of thousands of its members cried out for something different, a Gospel of grace, not works, and a God who lives, not a historical figure who wrote the rules and then departed this world.  And by God’s grace, the church of Christ is changing, with congregation after congregation springing to life, a truly new life.

I made my first Catholic friends in law school (yes, that late) and was deeply moved by the depth of Catholic teaching combined with the vital reality of the Holy Spirit in their lives (it turns out that the Spirit of God was moving throughout the last 2,000 years).  When I first darkened the doors of a Presbyterian church it was — with all due apologies to John Denver — like coming home to a place I’d never been before.  And what about those crazy pentecostals?  Nancy became a Christian in David Wilkerson’s church in Times Square, and I spent six of the best years of my life at Trinity Assembly of God in Georgetown, Kentucky.

If scripture and life have taught me — clearly and unmistakably — that Christ enables virtue, what then can we say about the LDS church?  Is it right to so quickly say, “they’re moral people, but . . .” with such certainty?  Are we not taught “By their fruits you shall know them?”  Are we not also taught that “fruits” in fact come from the Holy Spirit.  Yet we so quickly dismiss those “good” and “moral” Mormons in spite of manifest virtues that my fellow Presbyterians should envy.  Who has the lowest divorce rate in America?  Yes, Mormons who marry Mormons.  Who gives more money to charity than evangelicals?  Mormons (Utah is our most charitable state).  Evangelicals talk a lot about young people serving God (and some go on short mission trips), but Mormons — well, who hasn’t met a Mormon missionary?

Does this mean that Mormons are Christians because of their good works?  No, of course not.  We are saved by faith, not by works.  But the presence of abundant fruit means that those of us in the evangelical world, an evangelical world that is overrun with pornography, divorce, and infidelity, should perhaps be a bit more humble in our judgments of our Mormon friends and neighbors.

*** *** *** ***

Twenty years ago this fall I was very far from home, sitting in a law school dorm room hallway, and defending myself from a raging attack from my secular left classmates.  They were mocking my faith, mocking me, and mocking my family.  I felt very much alone.  A door opened and a 3-L walked out, our RA.  He sat next to me and proceeded to give his own testimony of faith, speaking of his love for Jesus Christ in words far more moving, far more eloquent than I could ever craft.

My RA?  A Mormon.

Four years ago, Nancy had the enormous privilege of spending months working with Ann Romney on an as-yet unpublished book project.  She came away from that experience calling Ann her “Mom mentor,” an agent of God’s grace who taught her how better love and serve our family (she even started making pancakes every Saturday for breakfast, though sadly using Bisquick more often than Ann’s recipe).  The lessons Nancy learned from Ann have enriched our lives in very real and meaningful ways.

In case you didn’t know, Ann Romney is a Mormon.

During that same time, I had the privilege of serving my country in Iraq with the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment.  We had exactly two LDS members in our 780-man unit.  One was my paralegal.  The other?  My roommate.  When my wife organized an effort to send care packages to every single member of my unit, more than 2,000 packages arrived.  Where did they come from?  Most came from Tennessee (my home) and . . .

From Utah.

Who is a Christian?  God knows who has called on His name. If, however, we are told that we know a tree by its fruits, perhaps we need to have more respect for the Mormon spruce.  And maybe, just maybe, our comments about Mormons shouldn’t begin with, “They’re good and moral people, but . . .”

Instead, how about, “They’re good and moral people, and . . .”