Presidential candidate Mitt Romney is expected to address the topic of his Mormon faith in a speech at the George Bush Library in College Station, Texas, tomorrow. The obvious comparisons are being made to President John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, who gave a speech in 1960 to assuage the concerns of American protestants over papal influence in the White House.
How much does Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith play into his recent slip in Republican primary polls? Some polls have pointed to the fact that one in five of all voters would not support a Mormon candidate for president. But Romney has picked up the support of many evangelical leaders, including the very conservative Bob Jones III, president of Bob Jones University. For the record, Jones believes, like many conservative evangelicals, that Mormonism is a cult. While the cult language may be too strong, Mormonism certainly falls outside of Christian orthodoxy.
Theological differences aside, many evangelicals support Romney for his new found conservatism, and as the best conservative alternative to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Romney previously supported abortion as Governor of Massachusetts, and was once seen as a strong defender of gay rights. He has since altered his stances on those issues to better attract more conservative Republican primary voters.
In his speech Romney will probably avoid any serious theological discussion of the Mormon faith, while stressing the shared sense of moral and political values he shares with conservative Christians. It is obviously wise for voters to support the candidate who best fits their world view.
Understandably, conservative Methodists would not vote for Hillary Clinton just because she is a United Methodist. The same thing could be said about left of center United Methodists and their unlikelihood to vote for another fellow Methodist, President Bush.
It’s a process that has continually played itself at the ballot box before. In 1980, evangelicals overwhelmingly supported President Reagan over confessed born again Christian, Jimmy Carter. Reagan’s brand of conservatism resonated powerfully with evangelical voters. While Reagan was also a Christian, he was not as outspoken in his Christianity as Carter. In addition, Reagan was also the first divorced man to be elected president.
Romney should be supported or opposed on the issues, and not for the simple fact that he is a Mormon. Romney can use the speech to highlight similarities with all traditional faith communities in America, and the shared American heritage of religious freedom.
For further information on this issue listen to the radio interview titled Romney, Giuliani, Faith & Politics . The interview is with Acton’s Education Director Michael Miller, who appeared on Mitch Henck’s radio show, Outside the Box. Miller also appeared on John Watson’s radio program to discuss “Romney’s Faith and the Presidency.”
Quote from Romney’s speech today:
“Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.”