When it comes to discussing religious beliefs relative to this year’s presidential campaign, Mark DeMoss, a senior advisor to Mitt Romney’s campaign (and an evangelical himself), says he doesn’t want to focus on religion. Instead, he says we should be talking about faith and values.
What’s the difference between religion and faith when it comes to the presidential election? Should faith play an important role in the voting booth? And what does that mean to you, personally, as a voter? DeMoss sat down to speak candidly about faith and politics with Greg Liberman, President and CEO of Spark Networks, which owns and operates ChristianMingle®.com, the largest and fastest growing online community for Christian singles, Believe.com™, Faith.tv™, DailyBibleVerse™.com, ChristianDating.com™, ChristianCards.net™ and many other leading online communities.
Greg Liberman: You’ve worked with Mitt Romney for nearly six years and even offered your services to the Romney campaign for free. What is it about Governor Romney that made you want to reach out to him, initially, and work on his behalf?
Mark DeMoss: Back in 2006 there were some early polls, asking people whether they would support a Mormon candidate for president. A significant number said they would not, and that bothered me on several levels. As an evangelical Christian, I have watched as my fellow Christians have partnered and collaborated with conservative Catholics, Jews and Mormons on a host of issues of importance to all of us for decades. I didn’t understand why we would suddenly say, we could work together, but we couldn’t support a Mormon for president.
Mitt Romney is also the most qualified and competent person to ever seek the presidency in my lifetime. Mitt Romney has had four very successful careers. First, He had a successful academic career by completing a business degree and a law degree simultaneously at Harvard. Secondly, he had a very successful business career at both Bain & Company, the consulting firm, and then at Bain Capital, the venture capital firm. Thirdly, he had a successful private sector career when he ran the Olympic Games during Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002.
Lastly, he went on to become the governor of Massachusetts, which had financial problems, and turned a $3 billion deficit around, leaving a $2 billion rainy-day fund when he left office. He did that without raising taxes or borrowing money.
I looked at all of that, and I concluded this is the most uniquely qualified person to ever run for president. In 2006, I sought a meeting with Governor Romney, went to see him, and told him I wanted to help him. I also told him he couldn’t pay me. That started a wonderful friendship and journey together. I’ve been out talking about Governor Romney with Christian leaders ever since. Talking on his behalf, I think we’ve made a lot of progress when it comes to talking about faith and values, and not a particular religion. There are still people who can’t seem to cross that bridge, but I think that number is decreasing.
Greg Liberman: Clearly, you’re trying to change the minds of those people who said they would not support a Mormon presidential candidate. How are you working to change that perception?
Mark DeMoss: The thing I’ve concentrated the most on is shifting the conversation from a conversation about religion to a conversation about faith. And, shifting the conversation about a doctrine or a theology, to a conversation about values as well. Rather than talk about Mormonism or theology, I want to talk about faith and about values.
While I have fundamental theological differences with Mormons, I also have very common values with most Mormons around things like the sanctity of human life, the Biblical definition of marriage, the importance of family and family relationships, moral living and so on.
I would also say, in terms of values, I have more in common with most Mormons than I have with liberal Southern Baptists. And I would say to those who think it’s important to vote for candidates who share your religious label, think again. The three most prominent, politically speaking, Southern Baptists in my adult life have been Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Al Gore. They might share my religious label, but did not share my values on a number of issues.
So, that’s what I’ve sought to do, to distinguish between a candidate’s doctrine or theology and their values. And we can have, I believe, very different theologies and very common values.
Greg Liberman: As an advisor to Governor Romney, do you spend more time sharing that sentiment with leaders in the Christian community or coaching Governor Romney on how to shift the conversation from religion to faith?
Mark DeMoss: I’ve spent much more time and attention speaking to fellow believers, or fellow evangelicals, than I have speaking to or advising the governor, or his campaign, about what he should do or shouldn’t do.
I think when someone has lost a job or has lost their home or is in mounting debt and worried about their future or sending their kids to college, all of a sudden Mitt Romney’s church of choice just seems less important.
Greg Liberman: What role does your perspective on faith play in the conversations you have with folks out on the campaign trail?
Mark DeMoss: This is a country comprised of people with very diverse faith perspectives. I think most people, certainly not all, but most people like to think their president is a person of faith, that they have faith in a higher being. But beyond that, I think what the particular faith is, is less important to most people.
I think Mitt Romney’s religion has been of great interest to the media because they have to produce news every day. And so it’s been a subject they could talk about, write about, explore and do research on. But I don’t know that the average voter is as obsessed with it.
Greg Liberman: Let’s shift gears for a second. You’ve written about the virtues of “under promising and over delivering” in your book, The Little Red Book of Wisdom. In politics, people often perceive the opposite happens. How would you guide a politician to use that idea in their approach in government?
Mark DeMoss: That’s a great question. In the political context, you’ll more often hear the term, “managing expectations” than “under promising and over delivering.” I’ll just say this about Mitt Romney, and this story was told by one of his staff members while he was governor, after he was sworn in as governor, he pulled his staff together and brought in a big whiteboard. He said, “I want us to list every promise I made during the campaign and put it up on this board.” I think there were 44 promises and he said, “Now I want us to work on these promises and when I leave office, we’re going to track it and see how we did by scoring ourselves at the end.”
They kept all 44 of these promises. I think that story is probably more of an exception than the rule. But I think that’s the kind of manager and leader he is. He takes it seriously. Should he become president, he will not be guilty of over-promising.
To be fair, there are a lot of things outside of the president’s control. So a president can promise to do something with tax policy, but congress may stop it from happening. So, it complicates things a bit. I think his [Romney’s] personality and business style is more cautious and reasoned, rather than just blowing smoke.
Greg Liberman: Do you think this election will be based more upon religion than in past years?
Mark DeMoss: In the short time we have left before the election, I don’t see anything that would cause somebody in the voter booth to apply some kind of religion test to these two candidates. I think the election will not be based on the religion of any of the candidates. It will be based on competence, on leadership ability, and on whom voters feel can best reverse some of these economic indicators.
I heard about a guy who is launching an Internet campaign to suggest Christians not vote for Obama or for Romney, but that they write in the name of Jesus as a protest of the two candidates, as a symbol of allegiance to Jesus Christ.
That’s so preposterous on so many levels, so short-sighted and, I think, fairly embarrassing. There will be a miniscule number of people who will follow his advice. Frankly, I think Jesus deserves a better showing than that. But, Jesus is not a candidate in this election.