All Romney all the time

romney 02It's the day we've all been waiting for: Mitt Romney Speechifying Day. There are so many stories out there that we are able to look at only a fraction of them. And we'll be sure to follow coverage throughout the days ahead. Yesterday I expressed shock that there weren't more stories about how Mormons feel about the speech. Bart Jones with Long Island's Newsday spoke with Mormon missionaries and laymen, who expressed excitement about Romney's candidacy and who felt it helped their religious outreach efforts:

Romney's run is "shedding a lot of light on" the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the Mormons are known, [Vic] Goepfert said.

He noted, however, that Romney is not focusing attention on his religion -- it is the media and some of the public who are doing that.

[Elder Matthew] Neil's partner in preaching on the streets, Elder Bradley Miller, 21, from San Antonio, Texas, said he hopes Romney's candidacy "helps bring the church out of obscurity. People are saying, 'I want to understand him. Maybe I want to understand his religion.'"

I wonder if the flip side of this coin -- Evangelical concern over the spread of Mormonism rather than any particular concern with Romney as a Mormon -- has been looked at enough. We hear the stats about how Americans in general and evangelicals in particular are reluctant to support unnamed Mormons but we rarely hear enough explanation as to why. The Washington Post ran a story about the speech with this analysis:

To emerge from a crowded and unsettled field of Republican candidates, Romney must convince evangelical voters and Christian conservatives that as a Mormon he shares the same moral underpinnings they have, even if the teachings and traditions of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as it is officially known, are foreign to them. And he must do it, his top advisers believe, without engaging in a point-by-point theological argument.

Romney said Monday that he will not attempt to be a "spokesman for my faith," despite the curiosity of many about the church's distinctive traditions, which are centered around the belief that its founding prophet, Joseph Smith, found golden tablets in Upstate New York transcribed with a sacred text and left behind by ancient Israelites who once inhabited America.

Pictured below! Again, I wonder whether voters who express concern about electing a Mormon are worried about similar moral underpinnings so much as about helping spread Mormonism. I only bring it up because I make sure to ask everyone who expresses skepticism about voting for Mormons why. Some have said it's based on their concerns about Mormon teachings. But the vast majority have said they are concerned it would help Mormon evangelical efforts -- which they consider too much of a negative to counteract having a candidate with whom they largely agree. Other than the preceding link, I haven't seen much discussion of the topic.

Either way, the Los Angeles Times had a very convincing story that argues that religion has nothing to do with Romney's problems. Reporter Peter Wallsten says Romney's faith isn't the problem -- voters' faith in Romney is:

Romney has not overcome a record of shifting views on abortion and other social issues. His failure to present a clear picture of his faith and its role in his life appears to be just one part of a broader challenge: proving to GOP voters that he is being straightforward with them.

Romney's predicament is underscored in the new poll, which found that he ranked last when Republican voters were asked which of the top-tier GOP candidates were "best at saying what they believe, rather than saying what they think the voters want to hear."

According to the story, only eight percent of Republican primary voters in a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll said Romney was best at saying what he believes, compared with 18 percent for former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, the national front-runner, and 20 percent for Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor. Compare that to the 13 percent who said Romney's Mormonism made them less likely to vote for him. That may seem like a lot, but ten percent said his religion made it more likely they would vote for him and 73 percent said it made no difference at all.

Respondent Richard Wilson, 67, a school board president in Harrisburg, Pa., said that Romney's Mormonism "is not an issue to me."

"I look to more how he would handle the country," Wilson said. "I thought he seemed a little wishy-washy, like he's not quite sure what he would do and is trying to be political. It shouldn't be hard for someone to say what's on his mind."

Considering the story is about how Romney's problem isn't religion, it had some very interesting analysis of religious issues, such as here:

At times, Romney has deflected questions about Mormonism, and at times he has tried to highlight what it has in common with mainstream Christianity.

But that has drawn criticism from some who say he should embrace Mormonism, with its reliance on theology delivered by the 19th-century prophet Joseph Smith, as a distinct faith with some views that are very different from those of other Christian denominations.

Romney may have deepened his problems when, during last week's CNN-YouTube debate, he used halting and uncertain language when asked whether he believed "every word" of the Bible was true.

"You know -- yes, I believe it's the word of God, the Bible is the word of God. . . . I mean, I might interpret the word differently than you interpret the word," he said, appearing to walk a rhetorical tightrope between offending evangelicals and more fully depicting his own faith, which accepts the New Testament, but views it as incomplete.

I think this analysis is much better than that from the National Public Radio interview we looked at earlier.

JesusVisitsNativeAmericansOther analysis that might interest GetReligion readers includes former GetReligionista Jeremy Lott's Guardian (U.K.) piece arguing that Romney should pull a Hillaire Belloc and proudly tell Republicans exactly what Mormons believe and Richard Land's appeal to religious liberty.

Kenneth Woodward's op-ed in The New York Times was also insightful. Woodward, a contributing editor at Newsweek, wrote that the circumstances leading to John F. Kennedy's 1960 speech and Romney's speech today are more different than similar:

In 1960, Kennedy had already won the Democratic nomination and, as a Catholic, faced a phalanx of religious groups working publicly against his election. Among them was Protestants and Other Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, which was opposed in principle to any Catholic as president. An Episcopal bishop, James A. Pike of California, was its best-known spokesman. . . .

Mr. Romney, in contrast, faces no organized religious opposition he can allude to, no anti-Mormon campaign he can shame -- as Kennedy adroitly did -- for blatant religious bigotry. On the contrary, most Americans still do not know much about the Mormon Church, and many of them are willing to accept Mr. Romney;s assertion that Mormons are Christians, albeit of a highly unorthodox kind. Unlike Kennedy, he has no ready audience to convince. . . .

Paradoxically, Kennedy was an indifferent Catholic, which is why there really was no reason to fear that he would take orders from the pope. Even the liberal Father Murray thought Kennedy went too far in declaring the total separation of his religion from public life. It was an extreme and ultimately untenable stance he thought he had to take.

Mr. Romney, on the other hand, has been a Mormon pastor and the equivalent of a Catholic bishop. Moreover, he is campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination at a time when candidates from both parties are expected to detail how their religion informs their politics -- and answer to the news media if they refuse. Kennedy was spared having to explain Catholic doctrines that never mattered much to him. Mr. Romney's challenge is to avoid talking about controversial Mormon doctrines that to him matter very much indeed.

I find that interesting that Americans United has changed so much over the years. Anyway, these op-eds and analyses provide some useful context and background for reporters covering the story. Let us know as the day progresses if you see any particularly good or bad coverage.

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