I’ve read several stories recently that included passages like this one, from the Tuscaloosa News:
Winning Southern states will be a challenge for Romney, he said, because surveys indicate that more than 30 percent of Southern evangelicals are skeptical about voting for a Mormon.
But Ronnie Acker, chief spokesman for Mormons in the Tuscaloosa area, thinks Romney’s religion won’t matter to Alabama voters.
“As far as being a Christian man and a family-oriented man and having values that match those of the people of Alabama, you’re not going to find anyone, anywhere that lined up more with our values than Mitt Romney.”
Land disagrees. “Trying to sell Mormonism as an acceptable orthodox Christian faith is a huge mistake. It’s not going to work with evangelicals.”
In 2000, when the Gardendale Mormon Temple held an open house, Baptist protesters handed out leaflets declaring that Mormons are not Christians.
Nonetheless, Austin said that Romney should tell voters that he believes in Jesus Christ, and that he should answer questions about his religion. At the same time, however, she stressed that voters “really shouldn’t care what religion he is.”
There’s a nice contrast to this in a new ABC News story, however:
However, many prominent evangelical leaders say that, given Romney’s conservative positions on abortion and gay marriage, they would vote for him.
“For me it’s about the policy and not the theology,” said Tim Wildmon of the American Family Association. “And I believe I represent the majority of evangelical Christians.”
Many evangelicals also admire Romney for his clean-living lifestyle.
Unlike several of the other Republican presidential contenders, Romney has never been divorced. He and his wife, Ann, have been married for 38 years. And like many Mormons, Romney also refrains from drinking and smoking and avoids caffeine.
But even if they embrace Romney, don’t expect evangelicals to embrace Mormonism.
Commenting on Romney to the National Review in December 2006, evangelical leader Chuck Colson said, “As an evangelical, I’m not troubled that he’s a Mormon. I would have theological concerns about his soul, but not about his competence.”
Why do I highlight this? Because the first approach–”No, really, Mormons are Christians!”–is never going to win evangelicals over, and it misses the point of a political campaign. The latter approach, by contrast, is a winner, and I’m pleased to see leaders like Chuck Colson assessing the situation from a sound perspective.
As we say over and over, the 2008 election is for president, not pastor. And with that in mind, the relevant things to say about Governor Romney when people are uncomfortable with his faith relate to his qualifications to be president (his values), not pastor (his doctrine). The former case is easy to make–look at his record in Massachusetts and the way he communicates today about the subjects that are important to conservative evangelicals. The latter case just ain’t happening, folks. Mormon doctrine is quite different from ours, and not even a communicator like Governor Romney will be able to convince enough evangelicals otherwise to salvage the primary or the election.
And apart from that, it is not relevant. Ronald Reagan’s theology seemed to be a bit off, but he was a great president. On the other hand, no one could contest the sincerity of Jimmy Carter’s evangelical faith, but does anyone but him pine for his days in the Oval Office? Looking back further, as we’ve noted, many of the Founding Fathers do not appear to have been orthodox Christians, but no conservative would contest the goodness of the system they built. Why? Because they–and Reagan–had the right values. That is the case that needs to be made to people who are wary of Governor Romney. It is an easy case to make, given that he’s the only serious candidate talking about family values and that he has led on them in the most hostile of places–not to mention lived them out.