LYNCHBURG, Va. - Mitt Romney only briefly reaffirmed his opposition to same-sex marriage Saturday, triggering a standing ovation, in a closely-watched commencement address at Liberty University in which the presumptive Republican nominee spoke in deeply religious terms about his family, his faith, and the country.
Speaking before an audience of evangelical Christians like those who never really warmed to him during the primary race, Romney quoted religious authors like C.S. Lewis and referred to evangelists like Billy Graham.
He talked about God’s ability to “reawaken our hearts’’ in “a world that searches for meaning.’’
“He is always at the door and knocks for us,’’ Romney said. “Our worldly successes cannot be guaranteed, but our ability to achieve spiritual success is entirely up to us, thanks to the grace of God. The best advice I know is to give those worldly things your best, but never your all, reserving the ultimate hope for the only one who can grant it.’’
The religious overtones, delivered at a conservative Christian university and before the largest audience of his campaign so far, were a significant departure for a candidate who is typically most at ease touring manufacturing facilities, participating in economic roundtables, and talking about data in PowerPoint presentations. Although religion has formed a core of Romney’s life, it is not something he frequently talks about in public.
Romney’s appearance, though planned weeks ago, came at the end of a lively political week that was dominated by President Obama’s decision to support same-sex marriage.
But the presumptive Republican nominee largely avoided politics altogether. He never mentioned abortion, he said the word economy only twice, and had only one reference to gay marriage.
“Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman,’’ he said, triggering a standing ovation and the largest applause of the address.
Liberty University, founded by televangelist Jerry Falwell in the foothills of Virginia, is a Christian conservative school where Romney’s Mormon faith has come under scrutiny. The selection of Romney to be the commencement speaker triggered controversy, with protests filling Facebook pages and campus newspaper editorials.
But he was treated warmly on the campus, with polite applause and standing ovations before and after his address.
Romney never mentioned his Mormon faith, but he alluded to it once in an attempt to bridge some of the differences.
“People of different faiths, like yours and mine, sometimes wonder where we can meet in common purpose, when there are so many differences in creed and theology,’’ Romney said. “Surely the answer is that we can meet in service, in shared moral convictions about our nation stemming from a common worldview.’’Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.