Romney’s ‘Mormon Speech’
Mitt Romney has now delivered has much anticipated speech defending his Mormon religion. Some key excerpts:
When I place my hand on the Bible and take the oath of office, that oath becomes my highest promise to God. If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest. A President must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States.
There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church’s distinctive doctrines. 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.
This is rather obviously modeled on John Kennedy’s 1960 speech defending himself from the charge that he would be a pawn of the pope. The problem, however, is that no one is making a parallel charge against Romney.
Instead, Romney needs to persuade evangelical Christians, a significant part of the Republican nominating electorate, that his religion is not a cult and that he shares their basic tenets. He essentially ignores the first concern but does a reasonably good job with the second:
It is important to recognize that while differences in theology exist between the churches in America, we share a common creed of moral convictions. And where the affairs of our nation are concerned, it’s usually a sound rule to focus on the latter — on 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.
These American values, this great moral heritage, is shared and lived in my religion as it is in yours. I was taught in my home to honor God and love my neighbor. I saw my father march with Martin Luther King. I saw my parents provide compassionate care to others, in personal ways to people nearby, and in just as consequential ways in leading national volunteer movements.
My faith is grounded on these truths. You can witness them in Ann and my marriage and in our family. We are a long way from perfect and we have surely stumbled along the way, but our aspirations, our values, are the self -same as those from the other faiths that stand upon this common foundation. And these convictions will indeed inform my presidency.
We’ll see if it works. My guess, though, is that it won’t.
Erick Erickson is “cynical,” believing Romney is both whining about religious bigotry and trying to mute Mike Huckabee’s advantage with evangelicals. Bob Novak agrees and contends it’s “risky” for Romney to be doing this before winning a primary because it smacks of desperation. Jonah Goldberg goes further, saying it “would have been a great speech had he already won the nomination. But there wasn’t a whole lot in there about why he should get the nomination in the first place.”
A Mormon correspondent to Andrew Sullivan makes a more interesting argument: That Romney is downplaying his commitment to that faith — as well as its distinct nature.
Unlike orthodox Christianity, Mormon theology is polytheistic, teaching that the Gods organized the universe from pre-existing, eternal, uncreated chaotic elements. It rejects Original Sin. It rejects Salvation by Grace, teaching that individuals must “work out their own salvation” and “learn to become Gods [themselves] the same as all Gods before have done.” At its inception, with the publication of “The Book of Mormon” in 1830, Mormonism rejected the doctrines of Biblical infallibility and Biblical literalism.
As a Mormon, I was put-off by Romney’s disingenuousness when he was asked on a TV interview to explain how Mormonism differs from other Christian denominations. Romney tried to give the impression that he was unqualified to speak for the LDS Church, referring people to the Church’s website. When confronted with the fact that he has been an LDS Bishop, he tried to give the impression that, in a “lay church,” the calling of a Bishop isn’t important.
This is untrue.
Bishops interview, and must approve every person in their Ward boundaries (aka Parish) who wishes to convert to Mormonism and be baptized. The process by which they do this (the Bishop’s Interview) is the means by which the Bishop finds out if the would-be-convert understands the LDS Church’s theology. If the would-be-convert is ignorant of certain doctrines, it is the Bishop’s job to instruct them in the theology before approving that person’s baptism.
If the opposition takes to calling him “Bishop Romney,” he’s going to have to explain where he stands. Simply saying that he’s a family guy is unlikely to cut it. But Jim Geraghty may be right: There may not be much more that Romney can really say here.
Ed Morrissey gives the speech strong reviews for delivery but doubts it will do much good.
But Matthews isn’t the target audience. Will religious voters in Iowa be more likely to vote for him as a result of the speech? I doubt it.
Photo credit: eCanadaNow
UPDATE: ComedyCentral rounds up some classic clips from the classic South Park episode “All About the Mormons.” Here’s one:
More at the link.