Romney Dodges Doctrine
For months pundits have argued that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney must deliver a Kennedy-esque speech on his Mormonism. What journalists could not provoke, rival Mike Huckabee's surge in the polls apparently required. With Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist preacher, touting himself in ads as a "Christian leader," Romney saw fit to explain how his Mormon faith would affect his presidency. The former Massachusetts governor vowed that as President, he would serve no one religion but rather the common cause of the people of the United States.
His speech echoed some issues he raised in an earlier interview with Christianity Today. "It is important to recognize that while differences in theology exist between the churches in America, we share a common creed of moral convictions," Romney said on Thursday. "And where the affairs of our nation are concerned, it's usually a sound rule to focus on the latteron the great moral principles that urge us all on a common course. Whether it was the cause of abolition, or civil rights, or the right to life itself, no movement of conscience can succeed in America that cannot speak to the convictions of religious people."
David Neff, editor-in-chief of the Christianity Today Media Group, says evangelicals can affirm much of what Romney said about religion in the public square. But Neff also observed what Romney did not saynamely, what does the candidate believe about the controversial aspects of Mormon history? And what does he think about the worrisome particulars of Mormon theology? These particulars include the Book of Mormon, belief that God is both male and female, and baptism for the dead, according to Randall Balmer. The Columbia University professor doesn't miss the chance to rip President Bush as he observes that Mormons believe God divinely inspired the Constitution and Declaration of Independence.
"There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church's distinctive doctrines," Romney said. "To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the constitution. No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes President he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths."
But didn't Romney himself raise matters of theology in the speech? It is a theological statement to say, "I believe that every faith I have encountered draws its adherents closer to God." He raised the question, "What do I believe about Jesus Christ?" And he answered, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind." David Frum sees problems for the Romney campaign. "Once Romney answered any question about the content of his religious faith, he opened the door to every question about the content of his religious faith," Frum said on the National Review website. "This speech for all its eloquence will not stanch the flow of such questions."
In fact, the speech opens a whole set of new questions about the influence of theology in American culture. "In rallying the armies of faith against their supposed enemies, Romney waved away any theological distinctions among them with the brush of his hand," David Brooks wrote in The New York Times. "In this calculus, the faithful become a tribe, marked by ethnic pride, a shared sense of victimization and all the other markers of identity politics."
Particularly problematic for Christians, identity politics blurs pesky distinctions such as theology in a pragmatic power grab. "In Romney's account, faith ends up as wishy-washy as the most New Age-y secularism," Brooks wrote. "In arguing that the faithful are brothers in a common struggle, Romney insisted that all religions share an equal devotion to all good things. Really? Then why not choose the one with the prettiest buildings?"