Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney worked to woo evangelical voters at Liberty University on Saturday. The Mormon candidate offered what conservaitves are calling a compelling speech during the Christian university’s 39th commencement at Williams Stadium.
Romney paid tribute to Jerry Falwell Sr. many times in his 20-minute speech, recalling having met him in his Boston home seven months before he died, according to Liberty University News Service.
“Your generosity of spirit humbles me, the welcoming spirit of Liberty is a tribute to the gracious Christian example of your founder,” Romney said. “In his 73 years of life, Dr. Falwell left a big mark. … The calling Jerry answered was not an easy one. Today we remember him as a courageous and big-hearted minister of the gospel, who never feared an argument and never hated an adversary. Jerry deserves the tribute he would have treasured most: as a cheerful, confident champion for Christ.”
Romney said the most confident step Falwell Sr. ever took “was to open the doors of this school 41 years ago.”
“He believed that Liberty might become one of the most respected Christian universities anywhere on the earth and so it is today,” Romney said. “He believed even when the first graduating class consisted of only 13 students, that year after year young Christians would be drawn to such a university in ever great numbers—here you are. Today, thanks to what you have gained here, you leave Liberty with conviction and confidence as your armor. You know what you believe, you know who you are and you know whom you will you serve. Not all colleges instill that kind of confidence.”
Romney spoke briefly about his own convictions and, according to Liberty University News Service, received a standing ovation when he stated marriage was a relationship between one man and one woman. He also spoke about the protection of religious freedom, “the first freedom in our Constitution” and putting that faith into service.
“Whether the cause is justice for the persecuted, compassion for the needy and the sick, or mercy for the child waiting to be born, there is no greater force for good in the nation than Christian conscience in action,” he said.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council and a Liberty University graduate, called the address a “tremendous opportunity” for Romney to communicate to social conservatives through one of the largest conservative evangelical venues in the country. Romney, Perkins said, seized it by emphasizing the shared values he holds with evangelicals even while acknowledging theological differences.
“Mitt Romney picked up on the message that energized Rick Santorum's campaign: America's financial greatness is directly tied to moral and cultural wholeness,” Perkins said. “Mitt Romney's address gives me a sense of hope that he will build on this message at a time when millions of voters are reeling from President Obama's endorsement for redefining marriage.”