Can Mitt Romney’s evangelical ambassador seal the deal before Election Day?
Mark DeMoss and Mitt Romney at Liberty University, where Romney delivered the commencement address in May.
September 1st, 2012
10:00 PM ET

Can Mitt Romney’s evangelical ambassador seal the deal before Election Day?

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

Tampa, Florida (CNN) – The task of selling a Mormon presidential candidate to evangelical America has fallen to a public relations man who’s not even getting paid for what may be the toughest sales job of his career.

For six years, Mark DeMoss has served as Mitt Romney’s unofficial evangelical ambassador, making the case that born-again Christians should help elect the first Mormon to the White House.

It has often been a lonely job.

During this year’s primaries, DeMoss found himself addressing audiences of evangelical leaders in which nearly everyone was rooting for another candidate: Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry – anybody but Romney.

“It would have been tough for anyone other than Mark,” says Richard Land, the public policy chief for the Southern Baptist Convention, remembering how DeMoss performed in one hostile setting last January. “The audience was stacked for Santorum and Gingrich.

“But he has a lot of street cred with evangelicals,” Land says of DeMoss. “He understands us because he’s one of us. So he did great.”

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Now that Romney has outlasted the other candidates to become the Republican nominee for president, DeMoss is using that street cred to help the candidate close the deal with evangelical voters in the weeks before Election Day.

It’s unclear whether he will succeed.

Polls show that although most evangelicals have come around to Romney, there’s a sizable chunk who have not. With those voters making up a huge part of the GOP base in swing states like Ohio, Iowa and Virginia, whether DeMoss’ gambit works could mean the difference between an Obama or a Romney White House.

For DeMoss, who is officially a senior adviser to the Romney campaign, the stakes of his work go well beyond electoral politics. He’s trying to open the American evangelical mind.

“I took this on to tackle prejudicial attitudes,” DeMoss says, explaining how he approached Romney about running for president in 2006, convinced that the then-Massachusetts governor was the most qualified man for the presidency that he’d ever seen.

How Mormonism shaped Mitt Romney

“I discussed it with Romney the first time we met,” he continues, sitting in his room at the elegant Vinoy Resort and Golf Club in St. Petersburg, his home during the convention. “It bothered me that some evangelicals said they couldn’t support a Mormon for president. As a public relations guy, I wanted to change that mindset.”

Which is why DeMoss was in front of the North Carolina delegation at the convention Monday morning, arguing that it’s unfair for some Republicans to insist on a presidential nominee with whom they agree about everything.

“My advice to those folks is perhaps you should run yourself the next time,” DeMoss told the evangelical-heavy delegation in a Hilton Hotel ballroom, still abuzz about a powerhouse speech that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had delivered a few minutes earlier.

“My wife and I have been married for 24 years,” DeMoss said, “and I don’t agree with her on everything.”

Looking professorial in tortoiseshell glasses, a blue blazer and a white polo shirt tucked into khakis, DeMoss never mentioned religion or Romney’s Mormonism.

But you could tell it was a big part of what he was talking about.

It’s why he told the delegation that he has prayed with Mitt Romney and shared scripture with him and has even sought parenting advice from Romney and his wife, Ann.

After years of traveling and visiting with the Romney, DeMoss told the crowd, “I trust his values - for I’m fully convinced they mirror my own.”

It might not sound like much, but an evangelical Christian vouching for a Mormon’s values in front of ballroom full of fellow believers can be a powerful thing.

At least that’s the hope.

Lessons from the Moral Majority

DeMoss developed an appreciation for Mormons from a somewhat unlikely source: the evangelical giant Jerry Falwell.

He enrolled at Liberty University, Falwell’s school, in 1980, the year after his father died of a heart attack. Falwell, a fundamentalist preacher, would become like a second father.

DeMoss’s dad had been friends with Falwell – DeMoss says it’s unclear if the insurance marketing company his father founded, National Liberty Corp., helped give Liberty University its name – and Mark found work in Falwell’s office after graduation.

By the time he was 23, DeMoss was serving as Falwell’s chief of staff and spokesman, helping his boss run a growing evangelical empire that included the Lynchburg, Virginia, university and a new organization Falwell had helped found: the Moral Majority.

The organization aimed to bring evangelicals back into the political fold, after millions of them had spent decades sitting out elections, convinced that politics were a dirty, ungodly business.

“We traveled the country, challenging pastors to get involved. He outworked staff  that were half his age” DeMoss says of Falwell, who died at 73 in 2007.

Mark DeMoss with Jerry Falwell at 1992 Republican Convention in San Diego, California.

Falwell taught him how political organizing works, from the grassroots to the very top. He took him to meetings with President Ronald Reagan, whom the Moral Majority had helped elect, and President George H.W. Bush.

Among the most important lessons Falwell taught, DeMoss says, is that politics is the art of the possible.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who was more politically conservative than Falwell, but he became increasingly pragmatic,” DeMoss says, eating blueberries from a plastic cup in his hotel room. “He was more practical and open-minded than a lot of people saw.”

As he waged crusades against abortion and for prayer in schools, Falwell proudly linked arms with non-evangelicals. While others in the burgeoning Christian Right wanted to organize only among their own flocks, the Moral Majority chief pushed an idea called co-belligerency: people of different religious backgrounds setting aside theological differences to pursue common political goals.

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“A lot of people forget this or didn’t know it to begin with, but the Moral Majority was a coalition of evangelicals, Catholics, Jews and Mormons,” DeMoss says. “It was not an evangelical organization.”

Mormons consider themselves to be Christians, but some evangelicals and other traditional Christians disagree. While Mormons treat the Bible as Scripture, they also consider the Book of Mormon to be a holy book

There are other big differences between Mormonism and traditional Christianity, including the Mormon belief that the modern prophets of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can receive revelations from God. Traditional Christians believe that the period for such revelations is over.

But Falwell’s insistence on coalition building with Mormons and others stuck with DeMoss long after he left the Lynchburg in 1991 to start his own Christian PR firm in Atlanta.

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The firm, called the DeMoss Group, took Falwell as its first client and quickly added business from big Christian groups like Chuck Colson’s Prison Ministries, Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse and Christian Crusade for Christ.

More than 20 years later, those groups are still with DeMoss.

“What makes Mark different than a lot other guys in this business is that he’s independently wealthy,” says Graham, who notes that DeMoss’ wife, April, is also from a family that started an insurance company.

“I find him to shoot straight because he’s not trying to keep my business,” Graham says. “I think he’s more concerned with trying to be honest. He will bill you and then at the same time he’ll make a big contribution back to you.”

Mark DeMoss with the Rev. Franklin Graham, a client since 1991.

Though DeMoss has kept his work for Romney, which is unpaid, separate from the DeMoss Group, the relationships he built over decades through his PR work are key to selling Romney to evangelical leaders.

Graham had never met Romney before DeMoss arranged for 15 conservative Christian leaders to visit Romney’s Massachusetts home in 2007, when he was preparing to make his first run for president.

As the leaders took turns introducing themselves, many volunteered that they had traveled to Romney’s home mostly because DeMoss had asked them.

By the end of the meeting, Romney had made some new friends.

“Sometimes on TV someone can appear one way but when you meet them face to face you see the personal side of him,” says Graham, recalling the meeting. “After I met Governor Romney I liked him very much and even more l liked his wife and his marriage and his commitment to family.”

As for theological issues that interested some of the evangelicals, Graham says Romney “answered those questions extremely well.”

Since then, DeMoss has helped evangelical leaders not only become more comfortable with the idea of a Mormon in the White House but also with Romney’s evolving position on issues like gay marriage and abortion.

“He’s absolutely trusted as a pro-life person,” Land says of DeMoss. “When he says Governor Romney is pro-life, that means something. That helps.”

Land is among the many evangelical leaders who use DeMoss to relay concerns or advice to the governor.

“Mark’s a trusted negotiator,” says Land, who had dinner with Romney and DeMoss last year.

Though Romney’s 2008 campaign was unsuccessful, DeMoss counted it as a victory that no major evangelical figure came out against him over his faith, even if few publicly endorsed his campaign.

Four years later, there still aren’t many prominent evangelicals who’ve come out publicly for Romney.

And there are questions about where Romney stands with rank-and-file evangelicals. A recent Pew poll found that, while most white evangelicals support Romney, a quarter are uncomfortable with his religion. Just one in five in that group are strongly pro-Romney.

Ten weeks before Election Day, it’s not where a Republican nominee wants a key part of his base to be.

Visiting Salt Lake

DeMoss’ case for why evangelicals can enthusiastically support a Mormon candidate echo Falwell’s arguments about why evangelicals and Mormons should be political allies.

It goes like this: If evangelicals are OK with seeing a Mormon doctor or flying with a Mormon pilot, DeMoss reasons, shouldn’t they be OK with a Mormon president? We’re electing a commander-in-chief, not a pastor-in-chief, right?

Plus, fixing the national economy – the No.1 issue in this election – doesn’t really have anything to do with religion.

In fact, DeMoss was drawn to Romney because of the candidate’s unusual breadth of experience as a businessman, governor and Olympics Committee chief with dual degrees from Harvard.

“On a personal level and a spiritual level, I might care a great deal about what somebody believes doctrinally,” he tells NPR during a phone interview from his room at the Vinroy. “In the case of presidential election, I don’t care.”

After hanging up, DeMoss stays on that point: “I hope I’ve shifted a conversation about the religion of a candidate to one about the values of a candidate.”

DeMoss says that voting on the basis of a candidate’s faith is dangerous and inane. He notes that three of the most successful politicians from his own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, are all Democrats whom many evangelical loathe: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Al Gore.

Since January, DeMoss has spent about half his time making such arguments, stressing to clients that the work is not official firm business. Still, he suspects that some potential clients have skipped signing up with the DeMoss Group because its founder and president is pushing a Mormon candidate.

April, his wife, who’s checking her iPhone on the bed of DeMoss’ hotel room, says they’ve lost a few friends over Romney, too. But they’ve also made new Mormons friends, and have developed a deep appreciation for the Mormon faith.

On the van to the hotel to address the North Carolina delegation, Mark and April trade stories with their Mormon driver, a convention staffer, about their respective visits to Salt Lake City, where the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is headquartered.

Later, DeMoss talks about being turned off by the evangelical street preachers he’d seen on the street corners there, preaching to Mormons in town for the church’s annual general assembly. How could such evangelizers hope to convert anybody in the 30 or so seconds it takes to wait for the light to change?

For DeMoss, the episode represents a civility deficit when it comes to the evangelical treatment of Mormons. He sees his work with Romney partly as a corrective.

Whether DeMoss can help soften the evangelical line toward Mormons is an open question. So is whether he can get enough of his brethren to go a giant step further and vote for a Mormon for president.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: 2012 Election • Christianity • Mitt Romney • Mormonism • Politics

soundoff (1,426 Responses)
  1. MaryM

    Romney said Separation of Church and state have been taken to far. Seems to me Bishop Romney is taking the first step to establishing is theocracy. White Horse Prophecy anyone?

    September 2, 2012 at 9:38 am |
    • edweird69

      Spot on!

      September 2, 2012 at 9:41 am |
  2. Seth

    The President has fulfilled every promise that he made during the campaign within the limits of his power. Americans aren't stupid. The "stated" agenda of the RNC was to block the President's plans in order to ensure his failure. Thereby allowing the country to suffer at their expense. Romney has already made himself perfectly clear that he "is not concerned with and doesn't care about the poor" ; the least of these being the extreme poor. http://abcnews.go.com/politics/t/blogEntry?id=15488930
    The RNC is trying to appeal to the uneducated, white voters (KKK) that don't have to have an excuse to not vote for Mr. Obama. Romneys "I'm one of you" birther comment made in Michigan is evidence of that. Republicans have never supported any social programs but use them when made available; what hypocrites. They voted against social security, Medicare, Medicaid, the voting rights act and even voted against making one of their own, Dr. MLK, Jr to be acknowledged with a holiday. Wow! I normally don't post but I had to get this out of me.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • edweird69

      Thanks for posting that Seth. I have the exact same reaction to the Repug campaign. Just the thought of a cult leader in the white house, makes my blood curdle.

      September 2, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • Steve

      Your very first statement is completely wrong. The Commander in Chief has the power to bring the troops home. He promised. He failed to deliver. He could have ordered the return day one and they would have packed up and left. His #1 priority and promise to the American people he did not do.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:11 am |
  3. Dave

    Is he going to give us our own magic underwear? A Planet to go to when we die, where we can be Gods? 20 wives? If not, what good is he?

    September 2, 2012 at 9:37 am |
  4. Deceivers

    So the GOP's grip on religion comes to help the Mormon? The GOP has no more hold on religion than they can hold air. God is NOT A REPUBLICAN!

    September 2, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      LOL a "grip" on religion & God is not republican lol ... anyone who believes in theistic religion needs to get a grip.

      September 2, 2012 at 9:41 am |
  5. kellyf

    These people make me want to VOMIT. Religion has NO PLACE in politics..PERIOD...

    September 2, 2012 at 9:36 am |
  6. One one

    How unfortunate that in this day and age people are more concerned about what particular brand of mythology A candidate believes than his track record, character, experience, or approach to getting the economy back on track.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      What's unfortunate is not the brand of mythology but the fact that people actually believe any of them.

      September 2, 2012 at 9:37 am |
  7. H0nky

    Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, and Catholics believe the Jesus IS God. This concept is referred to as the Trinity. Mormons don't believe this.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • 111Dave111

      who cares what what you snake handlers & shroud worshipers think.

      One of our best presidents was an atheist. Guess who?

      September 2, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • H0nky

      You should care because the President has his hand on the nuclear button. You are on this world with the rest of us.

      September 2, 2012 at 9:42 am |
    • havetocomment

      Yes Mormons do believe in the trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. The difference is that Mormons believe they are separate and distinct individuals. Not someone hard to visualize that is one and the same person but also at the same time three different individuals. An explanation hard to understand that was conceived by a council of some 300 Catholic bishops sometime around 338 AD after a long debate. Many of the Bishops still disagreed with the explanation of the Trinity but were threatened with banishment by the Emperor Constantine if they did not sign the creed

      September 2, 2012 at 9:52 am |
    • H0nky

      The concept of "Trinity" means 3-in-1. Remember St. Patrick and the clover leaf? Thousands of years ago Patrick went to Ireland, the land of your ancestors, and showed them the meaning of "Trinity."

      September 2, 2012 at 9:55 am |
    • havetocomment

      H0nky You mean the St Patrick who was born 50 years after the Nicaean Council where the nature of the Holy Trinity was debated and established?

      September 2, 2012 at 10:06 am |
  8. char

    The religious right would rather vote for a cult leader than a sitting Christian president. . The bible warned about this. Christians in America are truly lost. Someone left the pasture gate open.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:33 am |
  9. Roy

    “I trust his values – for I’m fully convinced they mirror my own.” Ouch, that doesn't speak wel of you. I'm sorry but when I read Jerry Falwell became a father figure to him, his credentials fell off a cliff. Bet he doesn't discuss much bear false witness in his speeches for Romney. I wonder if he ever felt God's calling to fight the muslim slander against the President. And I love the line about "art of the possible," That is the song from Evita? You know, where the fascist military are singing while they suppress voters and manipulate and lie. LOL
    "One always picks
    The easy fight
    One praises fools
    One smothers light
    one shifts left to right
    It's part of the art of the possible

    One always claims
    Mistakes were planned
    When risk is slight
    One takes one's stand
    With much sleight of hand
    Politics–the art of the possible

    One has no rules
    Is not precise
    One rarely acts
    The same way twice
    One spurns no device
    Politics–the art of the possible"

    September 2, 2012 at 9:31 am |
  10. Nietodarwin

    Listen to what Mary wrote here, google "Lying for the Lord" and "The White Horse Prophecy" Google mormonism vs. christianity before you vote, look at a chart comparing the two.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • NoTheism

      Are you saying that the president should be a Christian president? Couldn't (s)he be an atheist? Or are you just saying that Christianity is messed up but Mormonism (which, since they still accept the whole Jesus thing still makes 'em Christians) are not as Christian?
      Now I'm confused.

      September 2, 2012 at 9:32 am |
  11. Randi

    We send our children to school where they are taught that evolution is truth, not theory. We send our children to colleges where they are taught that liberalism is the true path. We live in an ungodly world. To find a man that walks with God is rare. It doesn't matter what denomination he is, its the condition of the heart that God sees. We cannot judge another soul.

    Those that are taking this opportunity to trash the Mormon faith, are persecutors and bullies of this world. If they truly believed what the Bible says, and they believe the Mormon faith has some beliefs that don't align with the Word of God, they should be a living testimony, themselves, and not condemn them, but speak out of love.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:26 am |
    • midwest rail

      That is truly hilarious. There is no group on the planet more judgmental than contemporary evangelical Christians.

      September 2, 2012 at 9:29 am |
    • grafixer

      Not all Americans are Christians... much less FUNDAMENTAL EXTREMIST CHRISTIANS. Most Americans do not want America to be a "Christian-only" country. It never has been. It never will be. If you want to live in a country where everyone MUST believe the same thing... move to the middle east, and change your faith. Only a theocracy will do for some of you. America stands for FREEDOM AND JUSTICE FOR ALL.

      September 2, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • Nietodarwin

      The only thing more scary, judgmental and ignorant than the TALIBANGELICALS are the mormons.
      The 1st amendment give you the right to practice your ignorant faith without being persecuted, NOT to try to shove it down everyone else's throat, as all Talibangelicals do, (spread the word) OR try to take over the government and spread the word as mormons want to do. GOOGLE THE "WHITE HORSE PROPHECY' mormons have been planning to take over our government for a long long time, and now they are close.

      September 2, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • H0nky

      Mormons are not Christians.

      September 2, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • apache201

      II just love it when you so called "religious"people defend someone who is ready to go to war and kill hundreds or thousands of innocent people.. how is this NOT hypocritical? Because they are not "true believers"in your twisted eyes. Go repent.

      September 2, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • Nietodarwin

      There are many many xstians who are still NOT SO IGNORANT as to DENY EVOLUTION. Do you believe in gravity? Do you believe in the Newton's laws of thermodynaics? Do you believe the earth revolves around the sun with the other planets?

      September 2, 2012 at 9:39 am |
    • 111Dave111

      Who cares what what you snake handlers & shroud worshipers think.

      One of our best presidents was an atheist. Guess who?

      September 2, 2012 at 9:52 am |
  12. chuckly

    I know one thing, if you claim to be a christian and you vote for the 'lesser of two evils' then you are nothing but a hypocrite. You are admitting to voting for 'evil'. God said you are neither hot nor cold and I spew you out of my mouth.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:25 am |
    • Randi

      Who made you judge?

      September 2, 2012 at 9:27 am |
    • chuckly

      um, I quoted scripture. god said do not be hot or cold. He spews you out of his mouth. Didn't he?
      voting for the 'lesser of two evils' is still voting for evil, isn't it?
      Sorry for printing the truth.

      September 2, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      chuckly ... "god said do not be hot or cold. He spews you out of his mouth. Didn't he?" Um No .. if people hear God(s) they need therapy. Quoting "scripture" does not consittute the truth.

      September 2, 2012 at 9:35 am |
  13. Jonline

    Mormonism is a scary, non Christian, secretive religion.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:24 am |
    • NoTheism

      Every religion that requires belief in the supernatural is sort of scary... Have you ever been in a church? They're extremely scary; dead people hanging from crosses, depicted on murals etc... people drinking 'blood' and eating 'bodies'... Scary!

      September 2, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • Who me?

      I am a non-believer and I don't think Mormon is a scary religion at all.It may be a little more strange than your basic Christianity,but they seem like pretty nice folks.Yes.it is secretive,but I would take their secrets over the back-room dealings of the RCC any day .

      September 2, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • Roy

      I don't know about scary, but they definitely see themselves as better than other Christian faiths. No drinking, smoking, gambling or drugs seems like good practice to me–and other Christianity love those things–you can do three of them in church!! Secretive–yeah. I was shocked to read that after Ann Romney converted to Mormonism, her own parents weren't allowed to attend her wedding to Mitt. Of course, afer he father died, she forced him to become a Mormon by baptizing him when dead - something Mormons do to al their ancestors (and probably yours, too). The baptize the dead forcing them to become Mormon to save them from the fires of hell because everyone else is going to hell for not being one of them. So it is a benevolent thing.

      September 2, 2012 at 9:52 am |
  14. Johnson

    Until just recently, in the foyer of my church, anti-Mormon pamphlets abounded. But magically, they have all disappeared. I suppose the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:24 am |
  15. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    I was hoping the evangelicals would stay home and not vote. If they do decide to vote they are faced with making a positive affirmation of either someone who they believe is "at war" with religion or someone who is a powerful figure in a cult based on Satan's lies and distortions of Christianity. If I were an evangelical I'd review Biblical prophecies and stay away from Romney, he looks more like the well-packaged deceiver the Bible warns about.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:23 am |
  16. luigim

    It is a cult. It wraps itself with the cloak of Jesus Christ. I left it in the 1960s for that reason.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:21 am |
  17. MaryM

    Please google White horse prophecy. Bishop Romney believes this mormon doctrine. Oh, also google "Lying for the Lord"
    its a mormon thing

    September 2, 2012 at 9:19 am |
    • Johnson

      Lying for the lord: The LDS Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley was cornered by Larry King in an interview regarding the practice of Polygamy. He lied when denounced the doctrine, but section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants remains. Mormons practice spiritual polygamy in the Temples today.

      September 2, 2012 at 9:29 am |
    • MaryM

      Romney said Separation of Church and state have been taken to far

      Seems to me Bishop Romney is taking the first step to establishing is theocracy. White Horse Prophecy anyone?

      September 2, 2012 at 9:35 am |
  18. Tom Carter

    No angel britches in the White House. It's a cult.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • Tom Carter

      Harry Reid is a Mormon. I hate him, too.

      I'm also a big idiot, but you all knew that.

      Didn't you?

      September 2, 2012 at 9:28 am |
    • Randi

      Is that like the Moses cult, the Abraham cult, the David Cult, the Abraham cult? The cult of the disciples? Who are you to judge?

      September 2, 2012 at 9:29 am |
  19. GonzoinHouston

    You gotta remember, these guys are conservative first and Christian second. They supported Reagan, who saw church as a place for just marry'n and bury'n, over Carter, who had impeccable born-again credentials. They use Scripture as a way to justify their actions, not influence them.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:16 am |
    • GonzoinHouston

      Jeez... I am such an idiot. Sometimes I can't believe the stupid things I say on line.

      September 2, 2012 at 9:29 am |
  20. Paul

    Mormon belief #237: God has a physical body. That's because he used to be a man. But then he became perfect. So now that man is God. Christians, is this what you believe? If not, you might want to take a closer look at Mormonism.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • Roy

      Don't forget, after he became perfect.. he was given a planet to shepherd over... Earth. That's the goal of everyone. To care for a planet.

      September 2, 2012 at 9:43 am |
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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.