While some readers were upset that I detailed the potential problem of Mitt Romney's religion last week, Kathryn Jean Lopez's article/interview today reaffirms this issue's prominence on conservatives' radars.
Lopez is correct that the juvenile stuff is a non-starter: questions about the temple garments, SNL-style jokes about Romney engaging in polygamy, etc. Her interview subject, Michael Cromarite of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, confirms a few basic points about the issue of Romney's Mormonism:
-It won't be discussed as a public campaign issue, but quietly at dinner parties and among blogs. That buzz will be a sizable challenge for Romney.
-Evangelicals think Mormonism is a cult. Evangelicals are a large part of the GOP. A large part of the GOP will have serious questions for Romney.
-Given the choice between (fairly) pro-life Romney and dyed-in-the-wool pro-abortion candidate X, social conservatives will likely back Romney.
I'm not sure what Cromartie means when he says Romney should explain his faith's relation to politics a la JFK in 1960. In his speech to the Southern Baptists in Houston, Kennedy essentially relegated his faith as "his own private affair" and assured them that he wouldn't be the pope's agent in the Oval Office. I'm not sure this separation of one's faith from his politics really works anymore. Kerry tried it last year and came off as disengenuous about his faith.
Rather, I think the best Romney could do is to say, "There are parts of my religion that I don't expect most of you to understand. Some may even believe we're not Christian, and I respect your beliefs and our differences. Those areas don't affect my job as a civil servant or our roles as citizens. I'd ask you to look not at our theology, but at our families and our morals. We're hard-working citizens with strong families who give back to our communities. We generally believe in the right to life and the self-reliant American. As president, I would apply that same diligence and character that my fellow believers apply to their families and communities on a daily basis and I have applied throughout my life. Those qualities are fueled by my faith. I don't expect you to agree with everything my church teaches, but I would hope that you respect the kind of man my faith makes me."
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