Reviews from conservatives of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s speech on religion have generally been good. Former Ronald Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan wrote in The Wall Street Journal that Romney did “very, very well.”
“The words he said will likely have a real and positive impact on his fortune,” she predicted.
Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt called the speech “simply magnificent,” but went even further, immodestly declaring, in a way not intended to encourage discussion or disagreement, that “anyone who denies it is not to be trusted as an analyst. ... On every level it was a masterpiece.”
Notwithstanding those assessments (and some polling that suggests he helped himself with his speech), it’s unlikely that Romney’s speech at the George Bush Library in Texas achieved his goal of convincing skeptical evangelicals that he is a candidate they can support.
Indeed, the gushing reviews once again demonstrate that many observers still don’t fully understand why evangelical Christian voters are having a problem with Romney’s Mormon religion. It’s not merely that they disagree with his church on matters of theology or, as some may believe, that they are intolerant. The issue is far more fundamental than that.
Many evangelicals won’t vote for a Mormon for president of the United States for the same reason that almost all Jews would not vote for a candidate (for any office, I expect) who is a member of Jews for Jesus. For Jews, the Jews for Jesus movement is a deceptive attempt to woo Jews to Christianity under the guise of remaining true to Judaism.
Likewise, for evangelicals, Mormons are not “Christians” in the sense that evangelicals understand the term, and by portraying themselves as “Christians,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is deceptively wooing evangelicals or potential adherents away from Christianity.
Evangelicals see Mormons as trying to blur the line between Christianity and Mormonism, just as Jews see Jews for Jesus as trying to blur the lines between Judaism and Christianity.
In each case, Mormons and Jews would not want to elevate to high office someone who might give legitimacy to a group that passes itself off as something that it is not, and that threatens their own group.
Any president’s religious views are likely to receive attention in the national media, and the authority of the office is likely to translate to added authority and respectability for the president’s religion.
Given this fundamental belief (which is hardly irrational), when Romney said, midway in his speech at the Bush Library, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind,” he was actually reminding evangelicals who are uncomfortable with Mormonism that his election would help erase the lines between what they view as the two very different religions.