The EFM Feature

Well, Governor Romney’s big speech on religion is in just over 24 hours. And amazingly, it looks as if Nancy and I will be able to see it in person. We’ll see about live-blogging, but in the meantime, I thought it might be helpful for us to chat just a little more about what we think he needs to say.
I must admit, I don’t have the heart to read all of the press coverage of this affair in depth, but the media’s consensus seems to be that this is a terrible idea. That’s interesting, since the media have been urging Governor Romney to make this speech for months. Further, reporters seem to be endlessly comparing Governor Romney’s upcoming remarks to President Kennedy’s well-known Houston speech on his Catholicism.
I’ve argued before — and I don’t think others here disagree — that this analogy isn’t as good as you would think. As I read President Kennedy’s speech, he basically said his religious faith was a private matter, and fairly irrelevant to his public conduct.
Well, as little theological affection as conservative evangelicals have for Mormonism, I don’t think they want to hear Governor Romney essentially say, “I’m a Mormon, but not really. Don’t worry about it.” If they want a presidential candidate who says his faith doesn’t “direct” him, there is already another option.
And we also don’t want to hear Governor Romney defend Mormonism’s doctrinal oddities. That’s not his job. Thankfully, he seems to be saying this very thing in the media coverage I’m seeing.
Honestly, I’d like to see the speech reflect a distinction I think we’ve talked about, but not necessarily called out, and that’s the difference between a spiritual leader and a moral leader. As we say all the time, the 2008 election is for president, not pastor. And it’s a mistake to think the president is a spiritual leader — indeed, some of our greatest presidents, such as Thomas Jefferson, had distinctly un-Christian theologies, and some of our worst, namely Jimmy Carter, were undoubtedly evangelicals.
But I think you can accept all that and still say that the president should be a moral leader. Meaning, you shouldn’t be looking to him for theological discourses and advice, but he should have good values that are worthy of emulating and he should be living them out. And so I think Governor Romney’s speech should be about the values his faith — however wrong its doctrine may be — gives him. I think they are the same values conservative evangelicals espouse — and, candidly, I think he also does a better job living them out than most of us. I also think he deserves great credit for seeking — as he said in his FRC speech — to use the presidency as a “bully pulpit” for messages like the sanctity of life and the need for parents to stay together.
Honestly, it’s been a long time since we’ve had someone like that in the Oval Office. President Bush’s values are wonderful, but he doesn’t really do the whole bully pulpit thing — and we all know the eight years of debauchery that preceded him. If Governor Romney can send a message to conservative evangelicals tomorrow, though, that as president he would be a moral leader based on the values that most American share — not “the Mormon president,” based narrowly on some doctrine few people share — I think the day will be a huge win, politically speaking. And, more importantly, it will be a day in which he sets out a way to unify people around shared values — not divide them through an overtly sectarian campaign, as at least one other candidate is apparently seeking to do.

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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