Magazine article The Christian Century

Romney Speech on Faith May Assure Some, Trouble Others

Magazine article The Christian Century

Romney Speech on Faith May Assure Some, Trouble Others

Article excerpt

Mitt Romney says that he's running for president as an American, not as a Mormon, and conceded that if his religious beliefs cost him the Oval Office, then "so be it."

Was it enough to tamp down evangelicals' skepticism about his faith? That may depend on which evangelicals, and where they stand on the broad spectrum of religious conservatism.

Michael Cromartie, an expert on evangelicals at Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, said Romney may have succeeded with some evangelicals who are not hard-core fundamentalists. "He was trying to assure them that he was not some sort of Mormon theocrat," Cromartie said.

But Shaun Casey, an assistant professor of Christian ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, said Romney may have lost some evangelicals when he admitted that his church has distinct beliefs about Jesus. "I really don't think it does get at kind of the more red-meat specific doctrinal issues that some of those folks in Iowa--and frankly, the Republican Party--are looking for," said Casey, who's working on a book about similar religion dynamics in John F. Kennedy's 1960 campaign.

Furthermore, in using the conservative line that the nation's founders "did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square," Romney gave some citizens cause for worrying that he will blur the separation of church and state.

In his speech December 6 in College Station, Texas, Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, steered clear of defending or defining the unique teachings of Mormonism. Instead, he invoked the familiar evangelical refrain that America should follow the actions of the founders by acknowledging God as Creator.

"I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion," Romney said, "but I will not separate us from the God who gave us liberty.'"

Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church in State, said: "Romney is wrong when he says we are in danger of taking separation too far or at risk of establishing a religion of secularism." He said that Romney "thinks the Constitution is somehow based on faith and that judges should rule accordingly."

Both legal expert Brent Walker of the Baptist Joint Committee and evangelical historian Randall Balmer, writing comments for On Faith, the blog of Newsweek and the Washington Post, noted that Romney made no allusion to millions of nonbelievers and their rights. Instead, he emphasized America's religious diversity: "We do not insist on a single strain of religion--rather, we welcome our nation's symphony of faith. …

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