By John Sepulvado, CNN
(CNN) – Conservative Christian activist Ralph Reed has called the Bible Belt home for decades, but he grew up in Miami in the 1970s, when the city was emerging as a diverse megalopolis.
Among his middle school friends were Jews, Catholics and Methodists.
Then, at age 15, Reed's family relocated to the sleepy mountain town of Toccoa, Georgia, so his dad, a doctor, could take a better-paying job.
“It was very conservative,” says Reed, who now lives outside Atlanta. “At first – as would be true of any 15-year-old – I didn’t like it. I think it was a culture shock.”
Ultimately, the mostly evangelical residents of Toccoa shaped Reed’s faith, helping lead him to Jesus in his 20s. But in terms of his faith-based organizing, the well-known activist drew more on his experiences in hyper-diverse Miami.
"Later on in life, when I became a leader in the Christian Coalition, I had a greater appreciation [for] ethnic and religious diversification,” Reed says.
That could be good news for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor is looking to regain momentum from chief rival Newt Gingrich, after the former speaker’s upset in South Carolina, in Florida’s Tuesday primary.
There are signs that Florida’s evangelical voters may be more forgiving of Romney’s past social liberalism than their Iowa and South Carolina brethren – and more willing to support a Mormon candidate.
“I think Romney could do well in Florida,” Reed says.
A more centrist evangelicalism
As a percentage of GOP voters, there are fewer evangelicals in Florida compared to South Carolina and Iowa, where Rick Santorum won the presidential caucuses, according to CNN exit polls from 2008.
In that year, evangelicals accounted for 40% of Republican primary voters in Florida, compared to 60% in the Iowa caucuses and South Carolina primaries.
And compared to those other early primary states, Florida is much more religiously diverse. In the 2008 primary there, Catholics were nearly a third of the Republican vote, with other kinds of Christians, Jews and those with no religious affiliation each claiming a chunk of the vote.
Still, evangelical Christians claim a bigger share of the Florida Republican vote than any other religious tradition. There also are signs they may be more tolerant of a Mormon candidate than born-again Christians in the Bible Belt and Midwest.
In the South Carolina primary, Romney claimed 22% of the evangelical vote, compared to 44% for Gingrich, according to CNN exit polls.
Florida’s evangelicals are “more open” to the idea of a Mormon in the White House, according to Orlando area pastor Joel C. Hunter.
“Our nature, of being a fairly mobile state, with a lot of tourism and a lot of transcultural and transnational interaction really makes us boundary spanning, rather than sticking to our own affinity groups,” Hunter says.
He leads a congregation of 15,000 at Northland, a Church Distributed, a nondenominational megachurch of the kind that are more popular in Florida than in Iowa or South Carolina.
“For any independent church, you’re going to be open – necessarily open – to non-ready made boundaries, open to other religious groups,” Hunter says. “You’ll be more likely to partner with groups that aren’t necessarily like your own.”
The pastor cites his church’s partnerships with local synagogues and mosques to help local homeless children. For Hunter, teaming up with different religious traditions follows the example of Jesus.
“Jesus talked to the people, the religious leaders others wouldn’t talk to,” he says.
“As an evangelical, I should be ready to talk to a lot of people that aren’t like myself, because that’s what I see in the life of Christ, and I’m looking to build relationships.”
Mark I. Pinsky, the Florida-based author of "A Jew Among Evangelicals," says there are other key differences between evangelicals in Florida and those in Iowa and South Carolina.
“In Iowa,” Pinsky says, “they tend to be rural and older. In South Carolina, they tend to be more fundamentalist, and more likely to be affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention,” a denomination that isn’t shy about pointing out theological differences with Mormonism.
Pinsky says Florida evangelicals, especially in the central part of the state, are more likely to have Mormons as neighbors, compared to their brethren in South Carolina and Iowa.
“Nondenominational evangelicals are less likely to demonize someone who is a real person,” Pinsky says.
Less Preaching, More Teaching
Even in smaller Baptist churches in Florida’s Panhandle, there are “notable differences” with Christians in more historically evangelical parts of the country, according to pastor Curtis Clark.
“There’s still a lot of yelling from the pulpit in South Carolina,” says Clark, who leads a congregation of 2,500 at Thomasville Road Baptist Church in Tallahassee. Clark says his congregation is split between Republicans and Democrats, that almost all the adults have college degrees and that the parishioners want to be led, not yelled at.
“I try and teach, try and encourage,” Clark says. “Florida evangelicals are a little bit more educated, and have a broader experience.”
Census figures from 2010 show Florida has a slightly greater share of college graduates than South Carolina.
Both the Romney and Gingrich campaigns are reaching out to evangelicals to quell concerns about their candidacies. Both campaigns held conference calls with influential conservative religious leaders last week, discussing religion, personal and policy decisions.
Many evangelicals have expressed concern about Romney’s past support for abortion rights and gay rights and over Gingrich’s failed marriages.
But Romney doesn’t need to win big among evangelicals to take Florida, Reed says. Because evangelicals make up a smaller portion of Republican voters, Reed says Romney only needs to win a sizeable share of their support.
“If Romney gets a third of evangelical voters” Reed says, “he wins the primary.”
While Romney skipped meeting with some evangelical leaders in South Carolina, including officials at Bob Jones University, his campaign has started more aggressively courting pastors and religious community networks in Florida. The campaign has participated in multiple conference calls with religious leaders and activists.
“In part, I think [the Romney campaign is] more open to outreach by virtue of the Florida demographic,” Reed says.
That suggests the Romney camp suspects Florida’s evangelicals will be more open to his candidacy than other evangelicals in the primary states so far.
A thought to consider without an ego response
Accept Jesus christ as your lord and saviour. You never know how soon is too late. Transcend the worldly illusion of enslavement.
The world denounces truth....
Accepting Jesus Christ (for me) resulted in something like seeng a new colour. You will see it .....but will not be able to clearly explain it to anyone else..... Its meant to be that way to transend any selfism within you.
Also... much the world arranges "surrounding dark matter into something to be debated" in such a way that protects/inflates the ego.
The key is be present and transcend our own desire to physically see evidence. We don't know anyways by defending our own perception of dark matter.
Currently.... most of us are constructing our own path that suits our sin lifestyle. Were all sinners. Knowing that we are is often an issue. But both christians and non are sinners.
We don't like to Let go and let god. We want control to some degree. This is what Jesus asks us to do. "Follow me".
It's the hardest thing to do... but is done by letting the truth of scripture lead you (redemptive revelation)... as I said .
Try reading corinthians and see if it makes sense to you. Try it without a pre conceived notion of it being a fairy tale.
See the truth...
do we do what it says in todays society... is it relevant... so many have not recently read and only hinge their philosophy on what they have heard from som other person...which may have been full of arogance pride or vanity..
Look closely at the economy ponzi, look at how society idolizes Lust , greed , envy, sloth, pride of life, desire for knowledge, desire for power, desire for revencge,gluttony with food etc .
Trancsend the temporal world.
Just think if you can find any truth you can take with you ....in any of these things. When you die your riches go to someone who will spend away your life..... You will be forgotten.... history will repeat iteslf.... the greatest minds knowledge fade or are eventually plagerzed..... your good deeds will be forgotten and only give you a fleeting temporary reward . your learned teachings are forgotten or mutated..... your gold is transfered back to the rullers that rule you through deception. Your grave will grow over . This is truth .
Trancsend your egoism and free yourself from this dominion of satan. Understand you are a sinner and part of the collective problem of this worldly matrix... Repent.... Repent means knowing (to change) The Holy spirit (within) will convict you beyond what you think you can do by yourself. Grace is given to those who renounce the world. That are" in" the world but not "of " the world.
Evidence follows faith. Faith does not follow evidence..... Faith above reason in Jesus Christ.
Faith comes by Reading or Hearing the word of god from the bible . Ask Jesus in faith for dicernment and start reading the new testament... You will be shocked when you lay down your preconceived notions and ....see and hear truth ... see how christ sets an example ... feel the truth....
Read Ecclesiastes. Read corinthians.
You cant trancend your own egoism by adapting a world philosophy to suit your needs. Seek the truth in Christ.
Sell all your cleverness and purchase true bewilderment. You don't get what you want ....you get what you are in christ.
I promise this has been the truth for me. In Jesus christ .
Think of what you really have to lose. ...your ego?
Break the Matrix of illusion that holds your senses captive.
once you do . you too will have the wisdom of God that comes only through the Holy Spirit. Saved By grace through Faith. Just like seeing a new colour.... can't explain it to a transient caught in the matrix of worldly deception.
You will also see how the world suppresses this information and distorts it
You're all smart people . I tell the truth. Its hard to think out of the box when earthly thinking is the box.
I'ts a personal free experience you can do it free anytime . Don't wait till you are about to die.. START PUTTING YOUR TREASURES WHERE THEY REALLY MATTER >
Its awsome and It's just between you and Jesus
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.