Mitt Romney gave a speech this morning in Texas that most Americans will agree with. Romney made the case that religious faith is important, but that political candidates should not get into theological debates. I think he’s right about that, and I don’t think the LDS church would in any way dictate his actions as president.
But Romney’s supporters need to be careful before alleging religious bigotry. Many evangelicals oppose Romney not because he is a Mormon but because his newfound commitment to conservatism seems inauthentic, especially with other long-term committed social conservatives in the race.
Not only Romney but Mike Huckabee has been subjected to inappropriate theological scrutiny. Rather than being allowed to speak to the issues addressed by other candidates, like Iraq and immigration and taxes, Huckabee receives an inordinate number of questions about creationism and today was asked whether he thought Mormons were Christians.
That happened to me during my campaign for Governor. At a press conference where I announced an unprecedented level of support from more than 30 state legislators, the first two questions were the same ones Huckabee got today — do you support teaching creationism and what do you think about Mormons?
The attempt to divide over theology is nothing more than an effort to drive a wedge between an effective political coalition of pro-family Mormons, Catholics and evangelicals. As an evangelical, I strongly supported Matt Salmon, a member of the LDS church, when he ran for Governor. And many prominent Mormons wrote a letter endorsing me when I ran.
The doctrinal differences between evangelicals, Catholics and Mormons are important — when we discuss matters of faith and church. They are less important in the political sphere, where we should unite around our shared views on public policy.
Romney is correct to point out that he is running for a policy position, not a theological position. All pro-family Republicans need to be careful to not fall into the trap set by a liberal media that wants us to destroy each other politically over theology.
UPDATE DEC. 7: Romney continues to receive positive reviews about his speech, as he should, especially for his defense of the influence of faith in American history. But this paragraph from the New York Times describes Romney’s problem in the Republican primary:
While Romney has scheduled a speech for Thursday in Texas to address questions of faith, the new survey suggests that the broader authenticity question is more damaging to his candidacy than religion.
Romney’s supporters need to recognize that his strong and articulate defense of abortion on demand just four years ago is a much bigger problem for him than his Mormon faith.