(WNS) -- Mitt Romney and every American is free to believe whatever he wants, and religious belief – whether benign or bizarre -- should not prevent anyone from running for public office.
But that doesn’t mean voters shouldn’t take a candidate’s religious views into account. Indeed, a person’s religious beliefs tell us a great deal about both a candidate’s character and the core principles that inform his governing philosophy. When we evaluate candidates for public office, religion matters – and should.
As for Romney, I start with the understanding that Mormonism is not orthodox, biblical Christianity. If this understanding is true, then the promotion of Mormonism would be to promote a false religion. So the real question is whether supporting a Mormon for president would promote Mormonism. My answer to that is “yes.” It is inconceivable to me that electing a Mormon to the world’s most powerful political office would not dramatically raise the profile and positive perception of Mormonism. That is why I cannot in good conscience vote for Romney, despite agreeing with him on a good many social and fiscal issues.
Some argue that we elect a president, not a preacher, but this argument fails to account the presidency as “bully pulpit.” He is a preacher, apologist-in-chief for the American vision. In this vital role, worldview matters. We have a right to expect the president to project a vision consistent with the beliefs, values and ideals we’ve long held as a country.
I sometimes hear the related argument that we don’t ask an airplane pilot his religion, only that he can fly the plane. However, we do ask airplane pilots their religion -- at least indirectly. A theologian friend is fond of saying, “There are no postmodern airplane pilots.” He means that pilots do not merely push levers and twist knobs. They have a core set of beliefs and values about how the universe operates. They believe in the physical laws of the universe. Their behavior in the cockpit directly connects to their beliefs about the world.
Romney’s strategy has been to talk about “values” and dodge questions about religion, as if they were somehow unrelated. He hopes that as America accepted John Kennedy’s Catholicism, so too will America accept his Mormonism. But Kennedy gave a famous speech to the Houston Baptists about religion that explained his views and calmed concerns. Romney’s problem is that if he really believes what the Mormon church believes, he dares not make that speech. The American people will say, “Really? Are you kidding me?” Or, if he says he doesn’t believe what the Mormon church teaches, fellow Mormons will feel betrayed and even those who have trouble with the Mormon church will nonetheless wonder about a man who can’t stand up for his own.
Yogi Berra famously said that “predictions are dangerous, especially predictions about the future.” That said, my prediction is that for Romney these problems are insurmountable and will ultimately bring down his bid for the presidency.
Warren Cole Smith is the associate publisher of WORLD Magazine.
Publication date: July 7, 2011