The EFM Feature

Reader Michael writes in:

There has been a lot of press lately concerning a speech Gov. Romney is contemplating making regarding his faith vis a vie his political life i.e. http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,291104,00.html I tend to agree with the boys over at Article VI, that such a speech would serve no purpose other than to provide fodder for Mitt’s opponents. Those who won’t vote for a Mormon under any circumstance won’t be swayed by such a speech and would use it to try and show contradictions and inconsistencies, and those who don’t care about his faith wouldn’t need to hear such a speech anyway. Mitt has already expressed his belief structure and articulated his values numerous times, what more needs to be said?…Is John over at Article VI the only Evangelical blogger who thinks this way? What say you?

Well, you asked, so here’s one man’s opinion–and of course I invite our co-bloggers to chime in.
I actually disagree with Michael and the guys over at Article VI, not because I don’t respect and appreciate them–I do–but because we operate under some different sets of assumptions. Let me try to explain those.
1. I don’t think it’s fundamentally out-of-bounds to consider a candidate’s religion, but I believe our friends at Article VI do. The Gospel is an incredibly serious thing, and while I don’t think that having a President Romney would serve to confuse it, I don’t think it’s “bigotry” that many evangelicals want to think and pray their way through that issue (as I did) before deciding to support him. I also don’t think it makes them bigots if they make a different decision than I did–although I do think they are wrong in a big way. I’m also not ashamed to say that while I do think Governor Romney is unquestionably the best choice for president, I’d like him even more if he were a conservative Presbyterian, Episcopalian, or Southern Baptist. I don’t think that’s because I’m a bigot; it’s because I think my religion is true and the rest are not. That’s why I believe it. (Note the word “conservative,” as it’s not at all clear to me that Mormon doctrine is any further from what I believe than praying to “mother Jesus,” as the liberal leader of the U.S. Episcopal Church has, or replacing “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” with “Rainbow, Ark and Dove,” as some liberal Presbyterians urge.)
2. I don’t think the target audience of “The Mormon Speech” would be, as Michael puts it, “[t]hose who won’t vote for a Mormon under any circumstance” or “those who don’t care about his faith.” I happen to believe that there are a lot of well-meaning evangelicals out there who are concerned but persuadable–not so much about whether to elect “a Mormon” as president, as the polls always ask, but about electing this particular man as president. And the reason I believe that is because I’ve seen many such folks go from skeptic to supporter after being introduced to this man, the values he holds (which they hold too), and the way he expresses them–which has nothing to do with being a Mormon evangelist and everything to do with being a superb leader who shares conservative evangelicals’ values and is savvy enough (unlike too many of our present leaders) to translate those beliefs into action.
On the basis of these differing assumptions, I do think “The Mormon Speech” would be a good idea.
And there’s another reason–which is the current confusion over what “The Mormon Speech” is supposed to be. Many compare it to the speech President Kennedy made in 1960, but that’s not the kind of speech Governor Romney has to make. Read it. President Kennedy doesn’t just say that he won’t take orders from Rome–as, clearly, Governor Romney wouldn’t take orders from Salt Lake. He basically said his “private” religious beliefs didn’t inform his public conduct–and therefore they had nothing to do with the presidential race. (If you know anything about his personal life, it doesn’t seem they informed that very much either.) Well, that’s not what Governor Romney believes–or what conservative evangelicals want to hear. They don’t want more gobbeldygook about how the separation of church and state means your faith can’t inform your vote–or, as President Kennedy said(!), that religious schools shouldn’t receive state funds. They want to hear how Governor Romney’s faith has informed his political values in ways similar to how our faith has informed ours–which it has–and why the areas where we differ, such as our view of the Trinity, have nothing to do with the presidency.
I think that’s a good message and one that will, in the end, win many–though not all–evangelical hearts. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be spending so much of my Saturdays saying essentially the same thing.

About Charles Mitchell

EFM's resident Yankee, Charles Mitchell, works in the non-profit arena in his native Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Charissa, live near the state capital of Harrisburg with their daughter, Adeline, and are members of a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America.

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