"Mr. Romney has converted to conservative social positions on abortion, and so on."
REVIEW & OUTLOOK
December 7, 2007; Page A16
In anticipation of Mitt Romney's big speech yesterday on the "religion question," some seemed to expect him to address the meaning and purpose of human existence. He didn't, and the speech was all the more politically admirable and instructive as a result.
Instead of directly pushing back against skepticism of his Mormon beliefs, the Republican Presidential hopeful spoke to the more limited -- though still loaded -- topic of faith and politics in America. There were considerable risks in doing so. He had to allay qualms about his spiritual convictions without also turning off the primary voters who consider religion an important element in selecting their candidate. Another danger was that "the Mormon issue" could dominate the 28 days until the Iowa caucuses.......The Kennedy precedent isn't useful because JFK essentially argued that religion shouldn't matter in politics. He endorsed "an America where the separation of church and state is absolute," and in many ways that speech anticipated all that would follow.
The core of the Democratic Party shifted over time toward secular absolutism -- where any public engagement with religion is tantamount to its public establishment, and maybe even the repeal of the Enlightenment. The Supreme Court also took an active role in making the policy preferences of the secular left the law of the land, beginning in 1963 with its prohibition of prayer in public school.Mr. Romney, then, was addressing traditionally minded voters who have valid reasons for feeling excluded from the cultural, if not democratic, mainstream. He did well to recognize the contributions that faith and religious institutions make to the American civic landscape. And as he noted, the American system is tolerant enough to accommodate the varieties of religious experience.
...He noted that "a common creed of moral convictions" brings him to the same policy conclusions as evangelical Protestants and conservative Catholics. The political church , in other words, is broad enough to include Mormons, even if their doctrines aren't simpatico....
How unfortunate it would be if he were rejected on the basis of such irreducible doctrinal differences. The Mormons seem the very embodiment of "family values," and you couldn't invent a religious culture that lived more consistently with Biblical messages. Broadly speaking, most Mormons have, and come from, big families; they're regular churchgoers and give to charity; they don't drink, smoke, gamble or engage in premarital sex. On the scale of American problems, the Mormons don't even register.
It's particularly ironic that some religious voters are trafficking in anti-Mormon bias, because the secular left has spent years trying to portray these same religious voters as a threat to the American system. Evangelicals have spent decades being ridiculed by the coastal elites -- for the born-again lifestyle, creationism, opposition to embryonic stem-cell research, the "Left Behind" novels. Recall the ridiculous "theocracy" panic after the 2004 election.Now some of those same believers are trying to do the same to the Mormons. We doubt Mr. Romney persuaded those voters, but he probably had more success with, say, Republican Catholics who recall their pre-JFK ostracism from Presidential politics....