The editors of National Review Online have a great piece this morning called “Romney’s Religion“:
One non-Protestant has been elected president in our history. Mitt Romney is being urged to follow John F. Kennedy’s example and make a speech taking the “Mormon issue” head on. It is bad advice. Kennedy sought to defuse anti-Catholicism by essentially saying that for purposes of public life he wouldn’t be a Catholic. If Romney follows suit, he will be calling his integrity into question. A man so frequently accused of flip-flopping cannot flip-flop about his religion.
Nor should Romney denounce anti-Mormon bigotry. Accusing people who are so far withholding their votes of bigotry is not likely to persuade them to change their minds. Few people who oppose Romney because he is a Mormon are going to come around. Romney’s problem, and his opportunity, is a different group of people: those who are not hostile to Mormons but find Mormonism unfamiliar and strange.
Romney need not go into the details of Mormon theology to reassure these people. He need not persuade them that Mormonism is sensible or even that it is a branch of Christianity. He need only say that, although some aspects of his religion may look odd from the outside, those aspects are irrelevant to governing. Distinctively Mormon views on salvation will not affect, and have not affected, Romney’s conduct in office. But at the same time he should make it clear that Mormon values will have a large effect — and that these values are widely shared.
There’s more. Charles, Dawn, Nathan, and Steve, I’m not sure what you guys think about this — we unfortunately don’t get to hang out in the real world as much as we’d like to have long, philosophical conversations late into the night. However, David and I discussed this very issue at length before his Iraq departure, and his thoughts exactly echo the editors at NRO. He might add that the JFK speech was made before a receptive media, who just loved the idea of people getting over religious bigotry… when it helps a Democrat. If Gov. Romney gave “The Speech,” the headlines would be: ROMNEY GIVES SPEECH: EVANGELICALS STILL DIVIDED or SOME NOT CONVINCED or HE’S NO JFK.
You get the drift.
I would disagree with one aspect of the NRO article:
Few people who oppose Romney because he is a Mormon are going to come around.
In reality, we at EFM see this happen all the time! In fact, do Mormons believe confession is good for the soul? Because when David first told me about Gov. Romney’s religion, I was incredulous. We had long, impassioned discussions about his religion — over the course of weeks and months — that led me to change my mind. But now? Well, I’d have to become a stalker to be a more enthusiastic supporter of the Governor.
And I’m not alone. Steve, I believe, used to argue with Charles. Plus, we’ve gotten mea culpa e-mails from people who used to send us long Scriptural e-mail explanations about why we are wrong in supporting a Mormon, which now basically say, “You were right — after evaluating the candidates, he’s the guy. What can I do to help?”
So, I think there’s much hope in the process, even amongst the unenlightened. But, please, reason with us. Instead of trying to demystify or explain the faith, demonstrate our shared values, explain how Mormons and evangelicals are natural political allies, and tell us how your faith will positively affect your policies. We’ll come around.