At first glance, the one constituency you would think former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney had locked up would be the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormons. Romney is of course a practicing Mormon. But think again. In an excellent freelance piece for Religion News Service, The Salt Lake Tribune's veteran religion correspondent Peggy Fletcher Stack writes that the Mormons Against Romney campaign is gaining some steam.
The crux of the issue is Romney's sharp move to the right (following in the footsteps of President Bush's politics) once he started running for president after he was seen as a potential Mormon Moses leading the church out of the political niche of the religious right. Alas, as documented by Stack, Mormon theology does not exactly line up with the politics of the Bush administration on abortion, stem cells and the teaching of evolution:
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney once sounded like a Mormon liberal.
In his 1993 race for the U.S. Senate, the Massachusetts Republican spoke eloquently of abortion rights, protecting gays from discrimination and the possibilities of stem-cell research. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons), which had disciplined some other church members for taking similar positions publicly, took no action against Romney.
These days, Romney talks like a Southern Baptist.
Jesus is his "personal savior," Romney told a South Carolina newspaper recently. He's recently awakened to how Roe v. Wade has "cheapened the value of human life." And that includes stem-cell research.
The opposition within the Mormon community is clearly based on his move to the right on political issues and not any fundamental theological shift by Romney. This is no surprise. Liberal Mormons shouldn't be expected to support a conservative candidate.
But this article should at least undercut some of the rhetoric that Romney's conservative convictions came out of his faith. As outlined in the article, Romney once was to the left of Mormon orthodoxy and now he is to the right of it.
This brings me to an Washington Post op-ed by editorial writer Stephen Stromberg, who grew up as a Mormon in California. He lays out an argument that Romney's religious views should have no effect on the race and should not be examined:
But regardless of how uncomfortable some of these characteristics make some feel, it is unproductive to focus on Romney's Mormonism. A candidate's faith, like that of an L.A. high school student or anyone else is ultimately a complex and personal phenomenon, even in the context of a highly centralized religious organization. My experience in Mormon congregations across the country has taught me that it is impossible to tell precisely how individual Mormons will apply their religious principles to their professional lives. And beyond encouraging hard work and honesty, the church itself is hardly definitive on the subject. Consider the divergent examples of other well-known Mormons -- those of Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), say.
No one but Romney can know how his beliefs might affect his judgment.
This is all well and good if you're not a reporter, but if you are, attention to Romney's Mormon faith is very relevant. As much as we may wish it, Americans care about a person's religious affiliation, and the Mormon issue will matter to Romney as he continues his run for the Republican nomination for the presidency.
Reporters should not be expected to ignore this aspect of Romney's campaign. In fact, until Romney addresses the subject and explains how his faith affects or does not affect his policies, reporters will continue to write about the confusion, the flip-flops and the shifting positions.