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Romney’s ‘Mormon Speech’

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.

A few, though, gave the speech incredibly high marks. Mona Charen pronounced it “perhaps the best political speech of the year.” Chris Matthews gushes, “I heard greatness this morning!”

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.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Anderson says:

    “I heard greatness this morning”???

    [Vomits on keyboard.]

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  2. [...] Romney’s ‘Mormon Speech’ [...]

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  3. Kent says:

    I suspect Andrew Sullivan’s Mormon correspondent is a troll, because much of what he says about Mormonism is either untrue, incomplete, or distorted.

    Unlike orthodox Christianity, Mormon theology is polytheistic, teaching that the Gods organized the universe from pre-existing, eternal, uncreated chaotic elements.

    I would never put it that way. I believe in one God manifest in many Persons, and I don’t think that fits either the dictionary definition or the connotations of polytheism. However, it is true that Mormons generally reject creation ex nihilo.

    It rejects Original Sin.

    Not exactly. Mormonism teaches that Christ’s Atonement removes the penalty of sin from little children, or anyone else mentally incapable of making moral choices, but all others inevitably sin as a consequence of the Fall and must repent and accept the gospel or be damned. They won’t be punished for Adam’s transgression, but they’ll inevitably have plenty of their own sins, because human nature has become flawed as a result of the Fall.

    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.”

    Most definitely not true. What we reject is salvation by grace alone, which is quite different. Grace is necessary but not sufficient. Works are necessary but not sufficient. While our doctrine on grace and works is at odds with historical Protestantism, it’s quite close to the Catholic view.

    Incidentally, the first quote is a slight misquote of Paul in the New Testament (Paul says “your” rather than “their”). The second is from a speculative sermon by Joseph Smith that has never been accepted as canon, though it probably reflects the opinions of many Mormons.

    At its inception, with the publication of “The Book of Mormon” in 1830, Mormonism rejected the doctrines of Biblical infallibility and Biblical literalism.

    True enough. By way of context, most Mormons reject the infallibility of our own distinctive scriptures, as well. The human hunger for certainty being what it is, some Mormons do insist on believing that our scriptures and leaders are infallible. When they discover otherwise, I’ve noticed a tendency for them to leave the Church and become fundamentalist Christians, finding elsewhere the assurance of certainty they seek.

    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.

    A bishop in Mormonism leads a congregation of up to perhaps 300 persons. It would probably be smaller in an area like Boston. But I’m surprised no mention was made that Romney was also a stake president (“stake” meaning “stake of Zion”, metaphorically viewed as a big tent held down with stakes, if you’re curious.) A stake president supervises five to ten bishops and their congregations. Is that important? I would say yes, but what is the objective metric of importance?

    But neither a bishop nor a stake president is a general officer of the Church; both are local officers and are, indeed, not authorized to speak for the Church. Is Romney right then to say that he’s unqualified to speak for the Church? Yes. That’s not the same as saying he’s unknowledgeable about Church doctrine, of course.

    It’s true that both bishops and stake presidents are lay ministers. Neither is expected to have formal training in theology, which is rare in the Church in any case, and neither is paid for his services. A bishop typically serves for about five years and a stake president for eight, though these are not hard term limits.

    Bishops interview, and must approve every person in their Ward boundaries (aka Parish) who wishes to convert to Mormonism and be baptized.

    Simply untrue. It is true that a bishop interviews children of members when the child turns eight and is eligible for baptism. A bishop also interviews members for temple recommends, as does the stake president. (Both must approve a recommend.) But a bishop does not interview candidates for convert baptism; these are interviewed by the local mission, over which neither the bishop nor the stake president have any jurisdiction.

    Perhaps this is a nit, but it’s a nit that suggests the commenter is, shall we say, motivated by something other than careful attention to the truth.

    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.

    Also untrue. Responsibility remains with the mission. It is true that local members often work with the missionaries to teach potential converts, but these members rarely include the bishop or stake president (who already have plenty on their plate), but the ultimate responsibility for preparing potential converts for baptism remains with the mission, not the local congregation.

    My guess is that Sullivan’s commenter is in fact a Mormon, but one who (probably out of political loyalties) is willing to cast his own religion in the weirdest possible light if this will hurt Romney’s campaign. But he could be a disaffected Mormon or only pretending to be a Mormon.

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  4. anjin-san says:

    Mr. Romney, your no John Kennedy.

    Seriously, not even Ted Kennedy…

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  5. Grewgills says:

    The part that jumped out at me

    Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.

    I guess that explains all those Western European nations completely lacking the freedoms enjoyed by the much more religious and therefor much more free South American nations.

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