October 24th, 2007
05:30 PM ET
14 years ago

Romney loses prominent evangelical endorsement

Romney lost the support of a prominent South Carolina minister.

COLUMBIA, South Carolina (CNN) - Dr. Don Wilton, the former head of the South Carolina Baptist convention, recanted his endorsement of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney Wednesday, just days after announcing his support.

The Romney campaign has touted Wilton's endorsement, along with that of Bob Jones University president Bob Jones III, as signs that evangelical leaders in South Carolina were putting aside reservations over Romney's Mormon faith and siding with the candidate based on his family values.

In a statement released by Baptist News, a Southern Baptist publication, Wilton said he made a "personal mistake" and that, until now, he had never endorsed a presidential candidate.

"While I did give my consent to the local campaign to use my affirmation of the governor's stance on family values in my capacity as an individual citizen, I made the mistake of not realizing the extent to which it would be used on a national basis," Wilton said in the statement.

He added that: "I will continue to use my personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ as the only standard by which I determine who to vote for in any election."

When Wilton endorsed Romney on October 19, the campaign issued a statement from Wilton saying, "While we may not agree on theology, Gov. Romney and I agree that this election is about our country heading in the right direction."

On Wednesday, Romney spokesperson Kevin Madden said he respects the decision.

"Rev. Wilton is a great leader in the community and we respect any decision he makes regarding his involvement with the campaign," Madden said.

In an interview with CNN in February, Wilton discussed his views of Mormonism.

"All politicians are people of deep and abiding personal conviction. I can tell you Governor Romney appears to me to be a man of deep and abiding conviction," Wilton said in the interview with CNN. "I would say that we need to sit down and enter into a dialogue with Gov. Romney, the same way we would enter into a dialogue with anybody who is running for that political office. On a personal level, Mormonism does make me nervous, because I am a Christian, and because the precepts and principles, and more importantly, the practices of Mormonism have cause for great concern."

"But I am going to tell you this. The people of the Mormon religion are very highly astute, highly family-oriented, deeply character-driven people. They are very fine people. This is not a conversation about a person, it is about a religion that drives a person to do what he does," he added.

Wilton went on to say he would want to explore the religious background of any person running for president that participated in a religion different from his. Wilton was the only religious leader in the Spartanburg, South Carolina area that was willing to speak on camera with CNN in February about the potential difficulties Romney may face in that Southern evangelical community.

Even though Wilton’s statement retracting his endorsement indicates the pastor did not know how much play his words would get on the national stage, it’s worth noting the pastor and his church boast quite a savvy media operation. An in-house multi-camera set-up shoots and broadcasts church services via TV, radio and the Internet, and there is an employee who holds the title Minister of Media.

- CNN's Peter Hamby and Sasha Johnson

Filed under: Mitt Romney • South Carolina
soundoff (160 Responses)
  1. Larry, West Covina CA

    Wow, even his supporters are flip-floppers.

    October 24, 2007 06:30 pm at 6:30 pm |
  2. Heather, Albany, Oregon

    Somebody once told me never to discuss politics or religion...This has all the elements to be the perfect storm.

    October 24, 2007 06:30 pm at 6:30 pm |
  3. jacob,boston,mass

    Here is the truth. Gov. Mitt Romney had a girl that was married off in utah at the age of 14 when he went to preach abroad. That is what People don't know and they don't want you to know

    October 24, 2007 06:32 pm at 6:32 pm |
  4. jacob,boston,mass

    Gov. Mitt Romney had a girl that was married off when she was 14 years old to a mormon in utah when he went abroad to preach. That is what they don't want you to know....

    October 24, 2007 06:35 pm at 6:35 pm |
  5. Erik Johnson, Washington, D.C.

    Listen Ladies and Gentleman,
    Of course the response to the California fires is dramatically better than the response to Katrina...ITS MALIBU AND THE SURROUNDING AREAS. I have been reading articles that the "evacuees" are choosing hotels over shelters ::scratches head:: "I wonder why?" – Because they all HAVE MONEY, and don't believe for a SECOND that the higher income bracket of that area has NOTHING to do with the response and subsequent immediate evacuation of its residents – QUITE unlike Katrina and the lower income bracket families that lived there.

    October 24, 2007 06:44 pm at 6:44 pm |
  6. WS, Woodinville, WA

    Wow. You guys are amazing. What a cat fight. "My God is better than your God". "Is not!" "Is so!"

    Now I see why Republicans espouse family values. You argue like my two preschoolers.

    October 24, 2007 06:52 pm at 6:52 pm |
  7. Jason VanEk

    All you nay sayers will be surprised when Mitt gets that endorsement back, along with endorsements from all the Evangelical Christians. All he has to do is explain why his beliefs are polytheistic and why the Mormon deities are human (like him) before they become gods. That'll do it! Then they'll all come flocking to him.

    October 24, 2007 06:54 pm at 6:54 pm |
  8. Trish, Schertz, Texas

    I don't really care who is endorsed by whom...I will make up my own mind. For the Mormon apologist above, if you believe that you will become a god in the hereafter, then you aren't even a monotheist much less a Christian. And Mormons do believe this. Furthermore, your claims that the Book of Mormon hasn't ever been altered are false. It has been revised many times over the years, and the LDS church takes the new version to every public library to replace the old one in order that changes will not be noticed.

    October 24, 2007 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  9. Shannon, Austin, TX

    I was under some strange impression that churches / religious organizations were prohibited from endorsing a political candidate for risk of losing their non-profit status.

    Personally, I don't care if the guy worships the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I'm looking for a candidate that is solid on the issues, holds strength in his/her convictions, has a basic understanding of economic and foreign policy, won't sell America [any further] to special interest groups and won't shove religion down everyone's throat. Our founding fathers referred to God in the terms of a Natural God, not in context of endorsing Christiantity. Yes, they were Christian, yes they believed in God, but they were adamently against having religion (regardless of the flavor) having an undue influence in governmental affairs.

    In fact, Thomas Jefferson himself said: "Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law." and "History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes."

    George Washington himself had many opinions as well including, "Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought most to be deprecated."

    So, let's cut out this 'Who is more Christian than the other' but focus on real issue and not this smoke and mirrors drum beating which will get us nowhere and simply distract us from the very real challenges that face our nation.

    October 24, 2007 07:07 pm at 7:07 pm |
  10. Todd, Las Vegas Nevada

    Comments from Dr. Wilton:
    "On a personal level, Mormonism does make me nervous, because I am a Christian, and because the precepts and principles, and more importantly, the practices of Mormonism have cause for great concern."
    "But I am going to tell you this. The people of the Mormon religion are very highly astute, highly family-oriented, deeply character-driven people. They are very fine people."

    They are fine people, deeply character driven, but they make me nervous and they give reason for great concern.

    Sounds like a politician.
    Slaps you in the face, then pats you on the back afterwards.

    Could I make a similar statement about my neighbors: "Gosh, they are the nicest couple, so well behaved. But I gotta keep an eye on them because they drive a Green Car"

    October 24, 2007 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  11. Glenn, Provo, Utah

    Book of Mormon, the book of Alma, chapter 3, verse 6:

    "And the skins of the Lamanites were, dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a "curse" upon them because of their transgressions and their rebellion against their bretheren..."

    Does this chapter and verse imply that people with dark skin are cursed?

    Reference: Book of Mormon, Copyright 1981 by Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.A.

    First English Edition published in 1830

    October 24, 2007 07:17 pm at 7:17 pm |
  12. Daniel, Syracuse, NY

    While I am definitely glad that the endorsement has been withdrawn, I encourage Christians across America to not rely on their church or denominational leaders for direction at the polls. With the internet, you have a wealth of information at your fingertips.

    Look up "Flip" Romney. He is a former bishop of the Mormon church. I believe that Mormonism is a cult. If you disagree, look up the definition of a cult and then compare that to LDS doctrine. Even beyond religion, Romney has flipped on EVERY MAJOR ISSUE since he declared his candidacy. A little convenient, don't you think?

    Then, look up Mike Huckabee. He is a man of integrity and character. Even if you don't agree with him on every issue, at least you know who he is and what he stands for.

    October 24, 2007 07:20 pm at 7:20 pm |
  13. Jenny, Houston,

    Rodney in Dallas –

    Southern Baptists going to elect Romney??? Are they the only people that get to vote? Last time I checked, Catholics still outnumber the Southern Baptists.

    October 24, 2007 07:20 pm at 7:20 pm |
  14. Karen,ny

    Hey summus.. Everybody will be a Mormon eventually, well I sure to .... won't be. I was supposedly a protestant and my grandparents (3rd grandfather who was a Catholic) made me go to church. I hated it. I will never go to church again nor do I want to be any religion. Religion is a crutch. Speak for yourself!

    October 24, 2007 07:21 pm at 7:21 pm |
  15. Todd, Las Vegas Nevada

    To Mike:
    A recent article in The Christian Century magazine by Laurie Maffly-Kipp, religion professor at the University of North Carolina, who takes a look at the beliefs, history and culture of Mormonism. Written in the context of current presidential politics (the Mormon Church is neutral in partisan politics), she has produced an informed, rigorous and “non-Mormon” analysis with insights that go well beyond the surface.

    Hope this helps.

    October 24, 2007 08:10 pm at 8:10 pm |
  16. Mark S Omaha, NE

    Our forefathers had the wisdom and foresight to create a government that was independent of the church. There still exists a fundamental separation of Church and State. We have the right to worship however we choose, but keep your bigoted and hypocritical religion out of politics. I'd vote for Hillary before giving the Religious Right (huh) control over government.

    October 24, 2007 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  17. Shawnie - Grants Pass, OR

    to Glenn in Provo:

    No, it specifically said the Lamanites and isn't referring to anyone else.

    October 24, 2007 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
  18. Shawnie Cannon, Grants Pass OR

    Glenn of Provo:

    You've taken an event that happened with a specific tribe in a specific period of time and are trying to show racism. Here is what the Book of Mormon says in various ways and at various times:

    2 Nephi 26: 33

    For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; an ALL ARE ALIKE unto God, both Jew and Gentile.

    And the book was traslated and published at a time when slavery was accepted by all America, including Baptists, Methodist, etc. Joseph Smith politically campaigned for the freedom of blacks too, when that was not the least bit fashionable, some 50 years before the real abolitionist movements.

    October 24, 2007 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
  19. Neal, Blacksburg VA

    Daniel in Syracuse,

    I looked up the definition of a cult, and Mormonism does not meet that definition. At least, no more so than any church.

    1. a particular system of religious worship, esp. with reference to its rites and ceremonies.

    This is every church.

    2. an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, esp. as manifested by a body of admirers: the physical fitness cult.

    Again, this does not single out Mormons.

    3. the object of such devotion.

    Doesn't fit with religion

    4. a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc.

    You could use this, but it's no different than Baptists, or Catholics, Jews, etc.

    5. Sociology. a group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering around their sacred symbols.

    Hmmm....the Masons?

    6. a religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader.

    Mormons are considered false by many other Christians....just as Christians are considered false by other religions. Are all Christians a cult? Mormons don't live outside of regular society, and they certainly are not any more extremist than say...orthodox jews.

    7. the members of such a religion or sect.

    See above.

    8. any system for treating human sickness that originated by a person usually claiming to have sole insight into the nature of disease, and that employs methods regarded as unorthodox or unscientific.

    Irrelevant to religion.

    So, again, why is Mormonism a cult? I'd love to know why you think this. What personal insights do YOU have into this church that make it a cult? The Mormons have 11 million members. This is no small-town Texas cult here. This is a worldwide religion with members in ALL walks of life, including senators in our country in both parties.

    October 24, 2007 10:00 pm at 10:00 pm |
  20. AJ, San Antonio, TX

    Jesus is God!

    October 24, 2007 11:05 pm at 11:05 pm |
  21. Cliff, Michigan

    I do not see this as being a setback for Mitt. Many Americans are still learning about the candidates and have yet to make up thier minds. To state that you would not vote for someone because of thier religous affiliation is narrow minded. If your really planning on voting, it is in your own best interest to educate yourself on all of the candidates before hand. This way you've at least used your own mind and not 10 of your friends.

    October 24, 2007 11:09 pm at 11:09 pm |
  22. Mark R. Fort Lauderdale FL

    Southern Baptists are not going to support a mormon. They believe Mormonism is a cult and that mormons are going to hell. I know- I grew up in a Southern Baptist church. If you don't believe me, ask James Dobson.

    October 25, 2007 01:41 am at 1:41 am |
  23. Shawn Dodge, Miami, FL

    to be quite honest, the only way a true christian can be true to his/her faith is to not vote in the 2008 presidential elections. which is what i plan to do. because no one contender embodies all of the christian values and beliefs, to vote for any one would mean your sacrificing your faith to a certain extent. you can't say "yeah they're anti-abortion but pro-homosexual and pro-euthanasia". to do so would be hypocrisy of your faith. i call upon all fellow christians to avoid the pitfalls of politics that may lead to a compromise of your principles and to let the heathens do their thing. especially all these "conservative christian evangelicals". the ultimate in hypocrisy and false-faith.

    October 25, 2007 02:22 am at 2:22 am |
  24. Craig, Carlsbad CA

    Its not that Mormonism is a cult that is objectionable per se it is that it is such a silly cult established by such a shallow con man based on so many ridiculous ideas most of whom contradict the systematic theology of the Christian Church. (FYI I have no personal bias in this as I have a masters in theology am not a Christian and am the direct descendent of JM Grant the first mayor of Salt Lake City and HJ Grant the second longest serving President of the LDS)

    October 25, 2007 05:19 am at 5:19 am |
  25. Robbie, West Hollywood, CA

    I think he should support Hillary Clinton.

    October 25, 2007 06:13 am at 6:13 am |
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