As a Mormon who did his missionary work in France, Mitt Romney knows something of uphill battles. Imagine spreading a faith that renounces smoking, coffee and alcohol in the cafes of Paris.
Romney's current task may seem easy in comparison. But his religious beliefs remain an obstacle. About 20 percent of Republicans and 23 percent of Protestants tell Gallup they would not support a Mormon for president. A portion of conservative Christianity is unhinged in its condemnation, regarding Mormonism as a dangerous, secretive cult. Even without recourse to calumny, it is clear that evangelicals will not be reconciled to Mormon doctrines without ceasing to be evangelicals.
Yet, Romney's faith should not matter. Presidents are elected for their policy views, leadership skills and character, not their soteriology. Such theological convictions about salvation may be infinitely important, but they are politically irrelevant. The whole "no religious test for office" idea remains a good one.
But presidential primaries are not always the best place to maintain such distinctions. In interfaith relations, it is the lack of familiarity that breeds contempt -- and portions of America still view Mormonism as a threatening novelty. The last time Romney ran in South Carolina, he was greeted by anonymous fliers attacking his faith. Anti-Mormon attitudes could make a difference in some states, particularly in close races.
Among conservatives, however, this opposition is more likely to fade than build. No primary opponent of Romney's can exploit these sentiments, at least in an overt way. When Mike Huckabee tried during the last election, he was forced to make a very public apology. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is America's fourth-largest denomination; Mormons are one of the nation's strongest conservative voting blocks. …