By Greg Garrett
This past weekend, a cabal of conservative Christian leaders met down the road from me in Brenham, Texas. Brenham is a town best known as the home of Blue Bell Ice Cream, not as a location for political intrigue, but at the ranch of Paul Pressler (a former Texas judge who masterminded the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention some years ago), over one hundred movers and shakers—including leaders from the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, and other high-profile Christian organizations—met to discuss the Republican candidates.
They did this because, as the New York Times noted in early January, many evangelical Christians are "dismayed by the prospect of Mitt Romney as the Republican presidential nominee." The meeting bore fruit. According to the Times, a "supermajority" of leaders chose to rally behind former Senator Rick Santorum as their favored candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.
While some attendees later reaffirmed their support for former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, the vast majority of those present at the Brenham event did throw their support behind Santorum. Santorum has been reliable in his approach to the two great social conservative litmus tests, abortion and homosexual marriage, both of which he resolutely opposes. In response to the first issue, he demonstrated, at least, personal integrity: when he and his wife were told that the baby his wife was carrying was afflicted with what would be fatal birth defects, they chose to carry it to term rather than abort it. Santorum has also never wavered in his opposition to gay marriage, and is famous for making what Sean Cotter calls "wacky analogies comparing gay marriage to animals and inanimate objects." Santorum asks, If marriage between two men becomes the law of the land, then won't polygamy, marriages between adults and children, between live humans and dead ones, between human beings and animals necessarily follow?
(I hope so. There is a sexy toaster I have had my eye on for some time now, and I am tired of these laws saying we can never live together in wedded bliss.)
Santorum fits the bill for social conservatives in lots of ways, although what was not reported about this weekend in Brenham—nor mentioned often in the news media—is that the front-running Romney dismays many conservative Christians not simply because he may not be reliably conservative on their issues, but because he is Mormon. Gail Russell Chaddock told the truth in the Christian Science Monitor when she wrote that these "evangelical leaders want to use whatever clout they have to help a strong conservative advance in South Carolina's Jan. 21 primary, upsetting frontrunner Mitt Romney, who is viewed as too moderate—or too Mormon."
Greg Garrett is the author of works of fiction, criticism, and theology, including The Other Jesus from Westminster John Knox Press. He is Professor of English at Baylor University, and a licensed lay preacher in the Episcopal Church.