NORFOLK, Va. — Some students and alumni at an evangelical Christian university founded by Pat Robertson are upset with the commencement choice of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a Mormon.
“My initial reaction was, how could they do this?” said Lynne Gilham, a Columbus, Ohio, minister and former reporter who had posted a comment denouncing the choice on a ministry blog. She said she earned a master’s degree in journalism from the school, Regent University, in 1992.
Gilham said Friday that she understands “evangelicals in an academic context need to be exposed to other viewpoints.” But she fears inviting a speaker of the Mormon faith “would confuse young Christians who are not so firmly grounded in Christian doctrine.”
Some students have posted negative — and positive — messages on Regent’s internal electronic bulletin board and sent e-mails to faculty members and administrators since Romney’s selection was announced Feb. 14, said Regent spokeswoman Sherri Stocks.
“It just seems to be a very healthy debate,” Stocks said. “Frankly, we’re happy to see our students’ thought processes in action.”
Stocks did not know how many students have been involved and she said the school has heard little from alumni.
Robertson, chancellor of the Virginia Beach school, invited the former Massachusetts governor to be the keynote speaker at the May 5 ceremony. Stocks confirmed that the religious broadcaster recently wrote a memo to students, faculty and alumni about his choice because “he was hearing there were questions,” but declined to release it.
A Republican presidential candidate himself in 1988 and founder of the Christian Coalition, Robertson has not endorsed Romney.
“Governor Romney enjoys each opportunity to engage voters, introduce his vision, his ideas and the aspirations he has for leading this country,” Romney spokesman Kevin Madden said in a statement Friday.
Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network mentions Mormonism on its Web site on a page titled “How Do I Recognize a Cult?”
“The Mormon church is a prosperous, growing organization that has produced many people of exemplary character,” the site says. “But when it comes to spiritual matters, the Mormons are far from the truth.”
Founded in 1978, Regent has some 5,000 students.
“The alumni need to take a deep breath. Regent will survive a speech by a Mormon,” said Rob Boston, a spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which monitors Robertson’s CBN news-and-talk show, “The 700 Club.”
Another GOP presidential candidate, ex-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who is Catholic, is to speak at Regent’s executive leadership program next month.