Last week Mitt Romney gave his long-awaited speech on faith in America, which, despite Romney's insistence to the contrary, was an attempt to allay fears about his Mormonism for Republican primary voters. His speech was directed to all Americans, and all Republican primary voters, but especially to Evangelical Christians. Conservative Evangelicals make up about 30% of the Republican voting block and in some crucial states (like Iowa) they make up more like 40%. Mike Huckabee has been gaining on Mitt's long-held and very strong lead in Iowa for several weeks running. Huckabee, a former Baptist preacher, has been running an ad on TV touting himself as a "Christian Leader" to edge out Romney and gain favor with the religious right. Furthermore, poll numbers continue to indicate that Americans have reservations about voting for a Mormon for president. Given all of this, it was essential that Romney speak up.
I thought Mitt's speech was excellent. Pundits and advisors called it "risky" but he did what he needed to do. He spoke genuinely from the heart instead of being "wonkish", as he has been characterized recently. He declared that he believed Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. He spoke about the travesty occuring in our nation of the slow drift toward state-endorsed atheism. He said that no matter what the political consequences, he would not distance himself from the faith of his fathers! Romney did not address doctrinal differences, which was very wise, that would have opened an irreconcilable quagmire. Instead, he focused on values - values that he shares with Evangelical Christians.
I admit that I have had reservations about Romney. To me he has seemed too apt to political convenience. In the debates he seems to say what the voters want to hear, rather than what is right. Too much tip-toeing. Nevertheless, at town hall meetings when Mitt is alone he is much more articulate and strong. I really do think that Romney is a truly good man, but he hasn't quite developed the ability to connect with people as well as some others. And, I also admit that I have been impressed with Huckabee, who is very eloquent, genuine, and witty. BUT, I am extremely frustrated with recent developments. I am absolutely amazed that in today's world it is okay to discriminate against a Mormon. Frankly, it is despicable that Huckabee is intentionally using his religion to move ahead of Romney - politically brilliant but socially unethical. All of the other candidates are "traditional" Christians and not one of them has played off the misunderstandings and biases of the public by using the religion card for political advantage. How is this acceptable to such a large portion of the American public? The constitution specifically states that there will be no religious test for office! As a nationally syndicated columnist asked yesterday, "Would it be acceptable if the ads were run and the opponent was Joseph Lieberman (a Jew)?" There is not ONE single shred of evidence that being a Mormon or adhering to the doctrines of this brand of faith impairs or even affects the ability of Orrin Hatch, Bob Bennett, Gordon Smith, Mike Crapo, or HARRY REID to do their job - all senators, all Mormons! There is also no evidence that the authorities of the church attempt to intervene in or even influence their decisions. To realize this, one need look no further than the difference between Mr. Reid, the raging liberal Senate majority leader, and Mr. Hatch, a 6-term conservative stalwart.
Given all this prejudice and given the fact that Romney really has nothing to lose at this point, if I were Romney I would have taken the speech just a couple of steps further and made it just a tad bit more "risky" and let the chips fall where they may. It would have included something like this (of course only a snippet of the whole discourse):
I am a man of faith. I was raised in a church-going family and a home of prayer. My ancestors were driven from their homes more than once, their rights trampled, all in the name of religion. They were mobbed and denigrated and raped and killed. I am proud of the faith of my fathers and I will never distance myself from it for political gain. We must be past the days of religious oppression and discrimination. You may call me a Mormon but I belong to the Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints! I have studied the Bible from the time I was just a boy. I interrupted college at Stanford University and left behind my family, who at the time were engaged in a presidential campaign, and served God full-time for two years of my life - everyday, teaching and testifying of Jesus Christ and His message. I endured persecution and nearly died in an automobile accident, but I didn't go home, I fought the good fight of Christ. I have since raised my own family in a spirit of faith and served as a lay Christian leader of a huge congregation in the Boston area. I worship each Sunday and gather my family frequently for study, fasting, and prayer. I read the Bible daily and though I fall short I strive to adhere to its principles. I know that Jesus Christ is not only the Savior of the world, but also my personal Savior, and that only in and through His grace will I be saved. There is no religious grouping or denomination that has a monopoly on that solemn declaration! I know that He is the Son of God and that He will come again. We may disagree about technical definitions of what it means to be a "true" Christian, but you show me a man who believes in Christ and loves Him and obeys him and tries to serve Him and I will show you a TRUE Christian! One's identification as a Christian is not determined by others, it is proclaimed by himself. It is not determined by the creeds of men, it is determined by his life. Had I lived at the time of ancient Rome I would have gone to the lions just like you. If I am not qualified to be president of the United States based off specific doctrinal differences that will have no bearing on my ability to perform the duties of that high office, so let it be! But I say to you that the founders of our nation would cringe at such an idea. I say that is religious bigotry.
Would it go over well with the hard-core evangelical leaders? No. Would it speak to the people and be courageous and bold? Yes. And that's what we need in a president.