Are Mormons, including Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Christians? Who cares?
The Rev. Robert Jeffress does. The Baptist pastor from Dallas attracted attention last weekend for asserting, shortly after introducing Gov. Rick Perry at the Values Voter Summit, that Mormonism was not a branch of Christianity but rather a “cult.” Perry rushed to distance himself from that comment, saying through a spokesman that he didn’t consider Mormonism a cult.
All weekend long, the “Is he a Christian?” debate raged. But less attention was paid to the implication of Jeffress’ comments: that Christians generally should favor one of their own over a non-Christian.
The Constitution prohibits the imposition of a religious test for office, but that obviously doesn’t bind voters; they are free to consider any religious issue they want in deciding who to vote for. Still, there is something shortsighted and narrow-minded about rejecting a candidate out of hand because he does not share one’s religion, regardless of his politics. Romney himself put it this way in a speech during the 2008 presidential campaign: “A person should not be elected because of his faith, nor should he be rejected because of his faith.”
Sadly, polling suggests that an aversion to a Mormon candidate for president is not confined to extreme evangelical circles. A Gallup poll released in June suggested that 22% of Americans would not vote for a Mormon for president. Twenty-seven percent of Democrats said they wouldn’t support a Mormon for president, compared with 20% for Republicans. It is not clear how many of those who wouldn’t support a Mormon share Jeffress’ view that Mormonism is a cult or his belief that voters should support fellow Christians. It is possible that at least some of the respondents worry, as did many Americans about John F. Kennedy, that Romney would be too deferential to church leaders. Whatever the explanation, the poll results are depressing.
Romney has been more reticent about religious bigotry than he was in the 2008 campaign. He should return to the topic and insist that he be judged not on whether he is a Christian, not on the fact that he is a Mormon, but on the basis of his record, his values and his vision for the country.