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.


  1. Dear Len,
    Thank you for commenting on Mitt Romney’s speech. I was hoping you would. I see three important themes in your post that I’d like to address separately: Mitt Romney’s speech, Mitt Romney’s “authenticity problem”, and the existence of religious bigotry towards Mormons. By way of introduction, I am conservative, Republican, and Mormon. I voted for you in the primary and general election last year and even contributed financially to your gubernatorial campaign. I appreciate what you have done for family values in Arizona, and the thought of “value voters” fracturing over theological differences makes me heartsick.
    Mitt’s Speech “Faith in America”
    Mitt Romney’s speech was excellent and deserves full-throttled accolades by those who believe in American Exceptionalism. Regardless of who you prefer in the Republican primary, if you believe that God was instrumental in founding this nation and establishing our principles of religious liberty, then you are indebted to Mitt Romney for his speech. I watched the speech twice, the second time on C-Span2, and the magnitude and importance of the speech continues to move me. If you haven’t read Rush Limbaugh’s analysis of the speech, you really should. Romney described a vision of American I last heard described by a President in the 1980s.
    Mitt Romney’s Authenticity
    I, too, have been troubled by some of Romney’s statements in the past regarding abortion. I was particularly disappointed with one of his statements in which he said that we should “support and sustain Roe” since it had been the law for so many years. On the other hand, the fact that he was running for office in Massachussets causes me much less concern. (Quick, name the last pro-life Massachusetts Governor.) Romney’s position on abortion was such a big issue in his gubernatorial campaign precisely because he was Mormon. The pro-abortion groups would not let him stay quiet on the issue. By saying this, I do not mean to cast aspersions on Romney’s account of his conversion to pro-life. What I am suggesting is that the political realities of running for office in Massachusetts made it easy for Romney not to explore or challenge the pro-choice view he apparently inherited from his mother. I am also suggesting that it would be more unforgivable had Romney been running as a pro-choice political candidate in a conservative state like Arizona, or in Tennessee i.e. Senator Thompson.
    Obviously, it is not bigoted for evangelicals to vote against Romney if they don’t like his policy positions or if they do not believe he is “authentic,” but I would find it much easier to believe that such concerns themselves are “authentic” (as opposed to masked bigotry) if I saw the test applied to all Republican candidates uniformly. Unfortunately, that is not what I’ve observed. Fred Thompson ran as pro-choice in Tennessee. He also said that he would oppose Congressional action proscribing abortions, but he voted for the federal partial birth abortion ban (a flip-flop for which I am thankful). Mike Huckabee is admittedly purer than Mitt on abortion. His position on immigration is abysmal though. If it’s consistency you’re looking for, you’ll surely be disappointed by Huckabee’s insistence that the deprivation of in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants is punishing them for the sins of their parents, but that the deprivation of federal tuition aide is simply the withholding of a “reward.” Either Huckabee needs to concede that it is not “punishment” to deny the child of an illegal immigrant state tuition aide, or he needs to have the strength of his convictions and advocate for the extension of federal tuition aide too.
    The Existence of Religious Bigotry
    Intuiting religious bigotry in others due to their lack of support for Mitt Romney is admittedly perilous. For example, I tire of the assertions that people who want to “secure the boarder” are actually closet racists. Some may be, but my general rule is to assume the best intentions in others where possible, and I think that rule is especially important in this instance, because as you note, the media would love nothing more than to fracture “value voters” by convincing Mormons that they are being discriminated against.
    Unfortunately, I cannot convince myself that the existence of religious discrimination against Romney is a creation of the media. Too many high profile and reputable Christians have gone on record and candidly admitted that the problem with Mitt Romney was his Mormonism. Here are just a few examples (there are plenty more where these come from):
    1) In an extremely offensive WORLD Magazine article, Joel Belz recently said that Mitt Romney is a liar BECAUSE his “religious upbringing doesn’t value truth.”
    2) In Hugh Hewitt’s book, “A Mormon in the Whitehouse,” Al Mohler is quoted as saying that the problem with electing Mitt Romney is the “mainstreaming of Mormonism” and the boon Mohler thinks it would provide to Mormon missionary efforts.
    3) According to Phil Roberts, President of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of Unmasking Mormonism, the problem with Mitt Romney is that he is a “temple-going Mormon.” He then falsely asserts that temple going Mormons “swear allegiance” to the prophet.
    4) Just today, Hugh Hewitt interviewed James Dobson on his program who was introduced as the most influential evangelical in the United States. Hugh asked Mr. Dobson whether Romney had overcome the religious objection to his candidacy such that he would receive the support of evangelical Christians if he were to become the Republican nominee. Mr. Dobson answered that some evangelicals would support Romney and that some would not. Dobson expressed no disappointment or even disagreement with those who would not support Mitt Romney for theological reasons.
    I could go on, but I think this list demonstrates the existence of religious bigotry against Mitt Romney, and the lack of uproar within the evangelical community over these statements speaks volumes.
    Let me be clear; I like Mike Huckabee. He practically forces you to like him with his jovial attitude and good humor, but I keep remembering something that Hugh Hewitt said on Dennis Prager’s radio program 6 months ago: if Mitt Romney weren’t a Mormon he would be the shoe-in Republican candidate for president. Do you disagree, Len?
    I’m still not sure how Mormons should respond to this religious bigotry, but, at least from this Mormon’s perspective, it’s pretty clear that it exists.

  2. Joe, thanks for your support during the campaign and for such a well-articulated, thoughtful post. I agreed with virtually everything in it.
    You did ask me a question, though, so let me answer it: I do not think Romney would be the “shoe in” winner of the Republican primary if he were not Mormon. And that’s because it isn’t just the life issue on which Mitt Romney has changed with an alacrity stunning for a bright, well-read and politically aware man in his mid-50s (when these conversions happened). About a year ago, before the public outcry against the “comprehensive” approach to immigration reform, Romney said he favored such an approach. In previous races for office he indicated that he was so against the Reagan era that he was a registered independent during those days. He said he would be a bigger advocate for gay rights than Ted Kennedy. And he still touts implementing a health care system in Massachusetts where citizens are forced to participate. So it’s not just abortion — on virtually every issue that conservatives have been addressing for the past two decades, Romney was on the other side until he decided to run for president.
    That said, he is obviously an extraordinarily talented and successful man who is now taking positions I agree with. Like you, I believe we should give people the benefit of the doubt on their motives. But when you look at all the liberal positions he took in the past when they served his political interests at the time, you can see why many of us are concerned about whether his conversion to conservatism is real. And in my case, and I think in many others, that hesitation has nothing to do with his religion.

  3. Len,
    Thanks for your reply. I am now kicking myself for not asking more questions throughout my comment so I could get a fuller response.
    As for the other Romney “flip-flops” you describe, if you think you are honestly being fair to Romney given the context in which those statements were made (i.e. running for political office in Massachusetts), I will not accuse you of bigotry for holding them against him.
    However, it is much more difficult for me to overlook your silence (so far as I am aware, please correct me if I am mistaken) to the instances of explicit religious bigotry being expressed against Romney by your co-religionists. Like it or not, Len, as the former head of the Center for Arizona Policy and as the former Republican candidate for Governor, I view you as an important evangelical and political leader in Arizona. Because of your position, I do not think it is enough for you to sit quietly by, feeling good that you’re not discriminating against Romney’s religion, while other high profile evangelical leaders are explicitly saying that they are. To get real specific about it, do you subscribe to WORLD Magazine? If so, what action have you taken to express displeasure in Joel Belz’s piece?
    Len, I don’t want to scapegoat you for the conduct and statements of others (if you think I am, please let me know), but if you were to run for governor again without publicly and timely repudiating the religious bigotry being deployed against Mitt Romney in this race, I think I would have a hard time supporting you.

  4. Joe, a couple of thoughts. It’s precisely the context of running for office in Massachusetts that raises questions about Romney’s authenticity. No true conservative comes out strongly for gay rights, abortion on demand, universal health care and repudiation of the Reagan era, no matter where he is and what he’s running for. The fact that Romney did so when it was politically expedient is deeply troubling. I don’t understand why people are so quick to give him a pass on his consistent liberalism in the past. I have a number of conservative, politically savvy LDS friends who are against Romney because they know how liberal he has been throughout his career.
    I think if you go back and look at what I said when I endorsed Matt Salmon in 2002 I am very strongly on record supporting the notion that we are electing officials to implement public policy, not theology. As a result, evangelicals and Mormons should support each other politically when they are in alignment on policy issues, which is almost all of the time. If we don’t, we are absolutely playing into the hands of the liberals who want us to debate and divide over theology.
    Obviously I disagree with evangelicals who view this differently, and have said so publicly. But I respect their views just as I respect LDS members who told me they couldn’t support me because they were uncomfortable with evangelicals. I don’t agree with them, because I think the Mormons who didn’t support me only because of my faith and the evangelicals who won’t support Romney only because of his faith are cutting off their nose to spite their face.
    Again, I am grateful for your support and for your thoughtful dialogue on this issue. I hope it is this type of discussion that will lead to more political alliance between Mormons and evangelicals.

  5. very good dialogue, Joe and Len.


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