The Daily Herald out in Utah is running an editorial entitled “Evangelicals vs. Mitt Romney.” It’s an interesting take intended for a largely LDS audience. I’m not sure Haggard was the monument to evangelicalism the piece makes him out to be, but the bolded portions below are good insights:
One of the supposedly insurmountable obstacles Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney could face in a presidential run is the GOP’s evangelical Christian base. Evangelicals typically do not view Mormons as genuine “Christians” because of doctrinal differences on the nature of God and the rules of salvation. They view them as cultists.
We’re not sure why evangelicals would worry about such labels, especially since no flavor of faith can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Faith is a purely personal matter. Anyone with faith in God has already taken the plunge into the realm of the supernatural and therefore loses any right to criticize others who have done the same.
Yet Mormons who have ventured into the political arena outside Utah have found evangelicals rising in opposition. Pam Roach, a Mormon who ran for governor of Washington in the 1990s, lost a Republican primary after a telephone campaign led by evangelicals urged voters to reject her because she was not a “Christian”–whatever that means to them.
Some fear the same could happen to Romney, despite his impeccable conservative credentials, his personal moral views, his business acumen (notably turning the scandal-wracked 2002 Winter Olympics into a profitable venture) and his economic success as governor of Massachusetts.
The subtext to evangelicals’ objections to LDS candidates is that a Mormon candidate is not worthy of the public’s trust. Only a “genuine” Christian should have the levers of power, many of them argue.
But this weekend, the evangelical Christian wing of the Republican Party lost all claim to moral superiority when Rev. Ted Haggard, former president of the National Association of Evangelicals, admitted that he was guilty of “sexual immorality” with a gay man over several years.
Haggard was one of the leading opponents of same-sex marriage and held considerable sway in Republican circles. He now joins Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart among the ranks of disgraced evangelists who seem to revel just a little too much in melodramatic cycles of sin and public confession.
Haggard’s case clearly illustrates that a person’s profession of Christian dogma does not make him a paragon of virtue. Hypocrisy abounds in every corner of human relations.
And this brings us back to Romney. Another brand of faith in God certainly does not disqualify a person for public service. There are honorable men and women in all religions, along with liars and cheats. Candidates for president should be judged for their ability to run a secular nation in a responsible and moral way, protecting all religious viewpoints while imposing none. James Madison was right when he wrote in 1822 that “religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together.”
Our founding fathers understood the problem of religion in government very well. The Constitution’s Article VI prohibits the use of religious tests or oaths to determine if someone is fit to serve. While there is nothing wrong with voters’ knowing something about a candidate’s religion, even more important is that the candidate supports the Constitution and has a deep commitment to equal protection in all matters of conscience.
John F. Kennedy endured many slings and arrows about his Catholic faith when he ran for president in the late 1950s. Some worried that he would be loyal to the Pope instead of to the Constitution of the United States, a concern which, as it turns out, was badly misplaced. In the end, voters focused on Kennedy’s ability to lead the nation, which he did in arguably admirable fashion.
Should Romney decide to run for president, he could conceivably weather the same storm that Kennedy did, especially if the evangelicals stop to notice how much common ground they share with Mormons, both politically and morally, and how irrelevant their doctrinal differences are.
(I don’t think doctrinal differences are irrelevant, but not all doctrine is relevant to politics, as David pointed out.)
The Haggard scandal, while exposing the embarrassing hypocrisy of an evangelical leader, could open the door for a run by Romney by reminding Americans that no group has a monopoly on virtue.