By Tim Ciesco
Standing in front of a crowd of more than 30,000 people Saturday, Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney talked about the role of faith.
“All that you have heard here at Liberty University, about trusting in God and in his purpose for each of us, makes for more than a good sermon,” said Romney. “It makes for a good life.”
He hopes his own faith won't play a role in his bid for The White House, as he tries to build a bridge between himself and an important Evangelical Christian base.
“People of different faiths, like your's and mine, sometimes wonder where we can meet in common purpose where there are so many differences in creed and theology,” said Romney. “Surely, the answer is we can meet in service, in shared moral convictions about our nation, stemming from a common world view.”
The decision to invite Romney, a Mormon, to deliver the commencement address at Liberty had raised some eyebrows leading into Saturday's ceremony, as the school teaches its students that the LDS Church is a cult.
School leaders, though, were quick to downplay any tension, presenting Romney with a chair with an inscription saying there was always room for him at their table.
“My father often preached that Christians should vote for the candidate whose positions on the political issues are most closely aligned with their own, not the candidate who shares his or her faith or theology,” said Jerry Falwell Jr., President and Chancellor of Liberty University, and the son of its founder, the late Jerry Falwell. “We are after all electing a commander-in-chief, not a pastor or religious leader.”
Neither Romney, nor Falwell made any direct mention his Mormon faith during the ceremony. And if the multiple standing ovations they gave him were any indication, the crowd generally appeared to be in line with Romney's message of faith, family, and hard work.
“It was really inspiring,” said Michelle Franklin, who graduated from Liberty Saturday. “I appreciated what he had to say.”
His speech, for the most part, was not political — alluding to President Obama only once and only mentioning the economy a couple times. One of its more memorable moments, though, came when he talked about marriage.
“Culture — what you believe, what you value, how you live — matters,” said Romney. “Now as fundamental as these principles are, they may become topics of democratic debate from time to time. So it is today with the enduring institution of marriage. Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman.”
Those remarks — coming just days after Obama announced his support for gay marriage — received the loudest applause from the crowd.
“I was really glad he came out and made a stance about that,” said Franklin. “It's something that I feel very strongly about and I know we as a university feel very strongly about.”