I know that many of you, like me, are following the news media's coverage the all-but-announced presidential candidacy of Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. One recurrent-- and to me, fascinating-- theme has been Romney's religion. It is both shocking and refreshing, in an odd way, to see how frank people have been in expressing their reservations about voting for a "Mormon" candidate. (Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are nicknamed "Mormons.") I've posted about this below here.
The Boston Globe reports that while Romney was in Memphis yesterday, speaking to the Southern Republican Leadership Conference (photo above) , he "looked out over a crowd of about 2,000 mostly Southern Republicans yesterday and declared that he shared their staunch conservative values, even though he leads 'the bluest state in America.'"
That's just the lede. The story wastes no time getting to the religion question in the second paragraph:
But while Romney earned several standing ovations from the delegates to the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, many expressed doubts that a Massachusetts politician, or a Mormon, could win a Southern GOP presidential primary.The up-front candor continues later in the story:
''Obviously, there will be questions," [said one delegate]. ''I don't know much about the Mormon faith, but if people get ugly [about his Mormonism], especially people in the Christian community, that will be hurtful. I hope they listen to the man to see if his values line up with theirs."
Scott Magill, a conservative Christian from Missouri, was blunter. ''I need to hear more from him about the Mormon thing," he said ''Evangelicals are going to have a lot of trouble with it."
This frank acknowledgement that a candidate's religion is a significant factor in many voters' minds is not limited to the Boston Globe. Also today, Tom Bevan of the respected Real Clear Politics blog reports on Romney's SRLC appearance:
All in all Romney’s speech was well received. He came across as very articulate and passionate, and hit all the right notes with the crowd, including the issue of gay marriage, which received big applause. The question mark for Romney, of course, is the issue of his religion. It seemed a bit of an elephant in a room full of hundreds of GOP delegates, a majority of whom are evangelical Christians.
In other words, "Romney's a solid candidate; it's just his religion that's a problem."
This discussion is going on in 2006, in the USA. Does that not at least cause you to raise an eyebrow?
But I enthusiastically welcome the discussion. It will not be comfortable for many observers and participants, particularly Latter-day Saints who will see their cherished beliefs ridiculed, lampooned, misrepresented, and attacked. I am confident that most Mormons do not mind so much the negative attention; what does bother us is when attacks are made on a ridiculous caricature of our beliefs, rather than on what we truly believe. The sunlight of public attention should alleviate that problem.
For those who are curious about Romney's Christian beliefs, I can assure you that if he is a convinced, practicting Mormon (and there's apparently no doubt that he is), Romney's understanding of, and commitment to, Jesus Christ are expressed fully and accurately in this official statement. Again, go ahead and disagree with the official statement and even attack it if you wish; but please attack that statement, not a distortion of our beliefs fashioned by those who are either open enemies of our church or who think they, and not we, know what we really believe.
And where else but in America could such a discussion go on, without even the mention of bloodshed or violence? Such unpleasantness has occurred in the past, of course; but those times are long gone. Just one of the blessings of living in the freest country in the history of the world.