When Gov. Romney gives his speech tomorrow, there are certain things that he must say. And there are certain things that he cannot say. The problem is that he cannot do both.
The reason? Mormonism is not Catholicism.
When JFK gave his famous faith speech in 1960, he was doing so as a member of a broadly accepted Christian religion. Yes he had to address the anti-Catholic sentiment that came from certain religious parts of American society, but more than that he was saying he would not be taking orders from the Pope. He said that wasn’t going to happen and that his private faith and his public office were two separate and distinct things.
What Mitt Romney is trying to do is something radically different whether he realizes it or not.
What Mitt Romney is trying to do is to legitimate a tiny religion in a political context. No speech can ever accomplish that end.
In 1960, nearly 30% of Americans were Catholic. Today fewer than 2% of American are Mormon. More importantly, the fundamental tenets of Mormonism are not compatible with 2,000 years of Christian theology. This is NOT a statement of religious intolerance, it is a statement of theological fact. Mormon theology is in opposition to such basic Christian creeds like the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed. Mormonism uses the language of Christianity but it is not a Christian religion.
It isn’t even close. And in church after church this coming Sunday morning, pastors will be giving sermons talking about Mormonism – not because they have any stake in the outcome of the primary battle but because they will want to help their congregations understand the theological realities of this political debate. They will talk about Joseph Smith and about Kolob and Oliblish and, yes, special Mormon undergarments.
That is Mitt Romney’s problem. His faith is his problem.
Mormonism does not have the historic roots of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. It does not have the historic roots of Hinduism or Buddhism. It is a faith that is younger than America. Americans are deeply, deeply suspicious about it.
And Mitt Romney cannot and will not talk about his faith in such details as to convince Americans it is a mainstream faith.
I wish that he make it a moot issue because the core of his message – I hope – will be a statement about the important separation of our faith from our politics…. to protect faith. We have crossed a fearsome line in American public life where a person’s ability to be a surrogate pastor-in-chief matters almost as much as their ability to be an effective commander-in-chief.
We are spending way too much time talking about theological nuances when we should be talking about legal and political and financial nuances. We are a country in a little bit of a stink right now and what we need are effective and impressive (but mostly effective) administrators in elective office. We don’t need to know much about their thoughts on this or that theological issue.
Mitt Romney isn’t giving his “JFK faith speech” tomorrow because his situation is as different as Mormonism is from Catholicism.