December 7, 2007

POLL DRIVEN FAITH:

Romney, Eye on Evangelicals, Defends His Faith (MICHAEL LUO, 12/07/07, NY Times)

The passing mention of his Mormonism in his 20-minute speech here at the George Bush Presidential Library underscored just how touchy the issue of Mr. Romney’s faith has been since he began running for the Republican nomination. He and his aides agonized for months over whether to even give the speech, with those who argued against it saying there was no need to do it because he was doing so well in early voting states, advisers said. [...]

Afterward, Mr. Romney’s advisers said privately that they hoped the speech would help him with his other, arguably larger, obstacle: lingering questions about the firmness of his convictions given his shifting positions and tone on issues like abortion, gay rights and gun control over the years.

MORE:
How and Why Romney Bombed (Lee Harris, 07 Dec 2007, Tech Central Station)

The Mormon church is not Romney's problem; it is Romney's own personal religiosity. On the one hand, Romney is too religious for those who don't like religion in public life—a fact that alienates him from those who could care less about a candidate's religion, so long as the candidate doesn't much care about it himself. On the other hand, Romney offends precisely those Christian evangelicals who agree with him most on the importance of religion in our civic life, many of whom would be his natural supporters if only he was a "real" Christian like them, and not a Mormon instead.

To say that someone is not a real Christian sounds rather insulting, like saying that he is not a good person. But when conservative Christians make this point about Romney, they are talking theology, not morality. Anyone with even a passing familiarity with the Mormon creed will understand at once why Romney felt little desire to debate its theological niceties with his target audience of Christian evangelicals, many of whom are inclined to see Mormonism not as a bona fide religion, but as a cult. In my state of Georgia, for example, there are Southern Baptist congregations that raise thousands of dollars to send missionaries to convert the Mormons to Christianity.

Yet if Romney was playing it safe by avoiding theology, he was treading on dangerous ground when he appealed to the American tradition of religious tolerance to make his case. Instead of trying to persuade the evangelicals that he was basically on their side, he did the worst thing he could do: he put them on the defensive. In his speech Romney came perilously close to suggesting: If you don't support me, you are violating the cherished principle of religious tolerance. But such a claim is simply untenable and, worse, highly offensive.

The Christian evangelicals who are troubled by Romney's candidacy do not pose a threat to the American principle of religious tolerance. On the contrary, they are prepared to tolerate Mormons in their society, just as they are prepared to tolerate atheists and Jews, Muslims and Hindus. No evangelical has said, "Romney should not be permitted to run for the Presidency because he is a Mormon." None has moved to have a constitutional amendment forbidding the election of a Mormon to the Presidency. That obviously would constitute religious intolerance, and Romney would have every right to wax indignant about it.


Posted by Orrin Judd at December 7, 2007 10:28 AM
Comments

Interesting. Most of the reviews I read were highly favorable. But then I don't read the NYT's anymore.

Posted by: Genecis at December 7, 2007 2:58 PM
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