Religion and Romney
Posted on December 8, 2011Careful, Mitt
In a new ad, Mitt Romney treads dangerously close to a perilous place for him politically. In an effort to contrast himself to Newt Gingrich, he says: "I've been married to the same woman for 25 – excuse me, I'll get in trouble – for 42 years, I've been in the same church my entire life. I worked at one company, Bain, for 25 years. And I left that to go off and help save the Olympic Games."
Romney needs to be a bit careful on the faith stuff. To evangelicals and more than a few Catholic voters, Romney’s religion is their principle problem with him. Mitt’s steadfast belief in a religion that a huge chunk of the GOP base believes is a cult is no virtue.
And to many Protestants and Catholics, Newt’s migration on faith is no vice.
The fact is that many evangelicals have made their own faith migration. They left more mainstream Protestant Churches (and in many cases, the Catholic Church) to become born again. And Protestants, as a whole, have very little problem moving from sect to sect. It is fairly common for Methodists and Presbyterians and Baptists to migrate to different churches, depending on who the preacher is.
For Catholics, the fact that Newt Gingrich finally decided to do the right thing and join the true faith is a real bonus. Gingrich’s conversion is a sign of maturity and progress. It is not easy to become a Catholic. It is not like a Methodist who decides to become a Baptist. You have to take a bunch of classes. You have to learn the rituals. You have go to Mass, a lot. Becoming Catholic is a whole spiritual and intellectual process, grounded in the Church’s 2000 year history. For Newt to make that faith journey is a big deal, and it should be commended.
For Mitt Romney to make the point that he would make a better President than Newt Gingrich because he has been in the same Church for his whole life is a politically dangerous assertion.
Romney tried this in the last campaign. In his famous speech on religion, he tried to say that he is just like the evangelicals because he really believes in his religion too. It didn’t work, because that is exactly what scared the evangelicals most about him. They see Mormonism not as a benign competitor in the faith marketplace, but as an existential threat to their own religious beliefs. More than a few Catholics feel the same way.
Jack Kennedy, in his famous speech on religion, said this:
“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.”
“I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials; and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.”
Romney, if he wants to ease the concerns of those who have big problems with his religion, needs to say something similar.