On the Church and Society January 16, 2006
Mitt Romney is credited with saving the scandal-plagued 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Later that year, this Republican was elected governor of one of the bluest states in the nation - Massachusetts. Romney served one-term, which expired early this month, and is now running for president.
Oh yes, and Romney is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That is, he's a Mormon. Does or should his faith matter when considering whether or not to vote for Romney?
This question has been addressed in a variety of media stories in recent days and weeks. It seems that whenever Romney comes to town for a speaking event, the local media speculates on whether or not Christians - in particular, evangelical Christians - can or will vote for him. Comparisons to John F. Kennedy's run for the White House as a Roman Catholic in 1960, and to Joseph Lieberman, an orthodox Jew, and his run for vice president in 2000, inevitably are invoked.
Reporters regularly observe that some evangelicals do not consider Mormons to be Christians, with the potential implication being that this promises to be a major obstacle for a Republican in particular. A January 8 story in the Hartford Courant noted: "A Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg survey last summer showed 37 percent of those surveyed saying they could not vote for a Mormon for president, and a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll last month found 24 percent of registered voters were less likely to support Romney because of his religion."
Let's first take a quick look at the theology, and then the politics.
It certainly is not just evangelical Christians who should object to the assertion that Mormons are Christians. All Christians should protest. Just consider a few key tenets of the Mormon faith:
While Mormons speak of being Christian, just these few tidbits should make it glaringly apparent that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not Christian.
But how does this play into running for president of the United States? Obviously, this nation practices religious freedom, and there is no religious test for running for or holding elected office. As for Christians in the voting booth, their primary concern should be which candidate best fits their views on the issues.
What if the choice for a conservative Christian in 2008 turns out to be between a Democrat who happens to be Christian but holds liberal positions on issues like abortion and gay marriage, and a pro-life, pro-traditional-marriage Mormon or Jew, for example? When it comes to politics and voting, it is not about the particular faith of the candidates, it's about political philosophies, positions and policies, as well as other traits, such as leadership and character.
This naturally leads to the question of where Romney stands on matters of importance to traditional Christians? A front page story in the June 10-11, 2006, Wall Street Journal relayed an amusing incident when Romney was speaking to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Palm Beach, Florida: "'You may have heard that I'm Mormon,' Mr. Romney told the crowd, adding that it's 'very difficult being Mormon' in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage is legalized. 'You see for us, marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman and a woman and a woman,' he deadpanned in an oft-repeated line. The crowd erupted in laughter."
It's good to see that Romney has a sense of humor. But on the issues, there are questions. In his 1994 campaign for U.S. Senate (which he lost to Ted Kennedy) and his 2002 successful run for governor, Romney staked out a pro-choice position on abortion and spoke favorably of gay rights, including adoption and partnership rights, according to a January 7 Tampa Tribune report.
Now Romney says he is pro-life after reflecting more deeply during the embryonic stem cell debate. He also favors a federal constitutional amendment protecting marriage, and led the fight in Massachusetts for a traditional definition of marriage in the state constitution.
Are these true political conversions? That certainly happens. For example, neither Ronald Reagan nor George H.W. Bush started out as pro-lifers, but became strong pro-life U.S. presidents. Or, is it merely a timely shift in positions, as Romney moves from running for office in a liberal state like Massachusetts to seeking the presidential nomination in the far more conservative national Republican Party?
Voters will decide in the end. And it will be an assessment of Romney's politics and character, not his religion, as it should be.
Raymond J. Keating, also a columnist with Newsday, is the editor and publisher of the "On the Church & Society Report."
This column is from the latest issue of the "On the Church & Society Report," which also includes "Politicians and Embryos," "Blue Catholics," and Baseball, Forgiveness and Redemption." To receive a free four-issue trial of "On the Church & Society Report," send an e-mail request to ChurchandSociety@aol.com.