Mitt Romney’s Mormonism has reared its head every once in a while throughout this election season. Recently, more and more people seem to be asking about the Republican nominee’s religion. In an article last week, the Jewish Press compared Romney’s Mormonism to President Kennedy’s Catholicism and Joe Lieberman’s Judaism. Relative to his religious minority predecessors, Romney prefers to keep quiet.
By contrast Romney, the presumed Republican presidential nominee, seems to prefer silence in handling his Mormonism in public. It’s a stark contrast to both Lieberman and Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic who in 1960 famously said he would not take political guidance from the Vatican.
“It’s clear his campaign made a decision that it is not interested in talking about his Mormonism, not its doctrines or theology, his experiences as a church leader, how it shaped his family,” said Patrick Mason, the chair of Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, Calif. “He’s always said ‘I’m not running to be pastor in chief.’”
The article cites various academics and experts on Mormonism opining how Romney should explain his religious point of view to the American public. But the most interesting point, I think, is buried in the last few paragraphs.
The solution, suggested Thomas Terry, a non-Mormon who teaches communications at Idaho State University, a school with a substantial number of Mormon students, was more light. “We all believe in strange things,” he said, urging Romney to emulate Kennedy’s response to personal faith and public life.
Cragun, however, is not so sure Romney can do that without raising even more uncomfortable questions. Kennedy, he noted, was raised as a Catholic, “but he was not orthodox and strict about it. When he came out and said, ‘I can govern without deferring to the pope,’ people could buy that. The same cannot be said by Mitt Romney – Mitt is an observant, devout, committed Mormon.”
That’s a very telling distinction. Kennedy toed the politically correct line about his faith not influencing his presidency and we believed him. Regardless of what you think about Kennedy’s 1960 speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, there was never any real conflict between the Catholic president’s faith and his politics.
But Romney’s situation is both more difficult and more interesting (for us, anyway). Nobody denies Romney’s deep involvement with the Mormon Church throughout his life. As I’ve written before, religious public officials bring their religious values into office; they have to. If Romney denies that, we shouldn’t believe him. Just like nobody should believe a non-religious official who said that the deeply held values that guide his life wouldn’t influence him. So the next question is what exactly are those religious values and how (not whether) they’ll translate into public policy. Mr. Romney, we’re waiting for your answer.