The strength of Romney's religious conviction now has a dollar
sign attached to it. Will his tithing invigorate the unease that
many Americans feel toward the Mormon church?
As Republican candidate Mitt Romney's voluminous tax returns sink
into the American psyche, some line items stand out for sheer size,
most notably his contributions to the Mormon church.
According to his 2010 tax returns and 2011 estimate, the former
Massachusetts governor donated a total of $4.13 million to The
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints over those years.
Tithing at a 10 percent level of income is required of observant
Mormons. Church founder Joseph Smith wrote that members of the faith
"shall observe this law, or they shall not be found worthy to abide
A slew of poll results over the past year, from Gallup and the
Pew Center to CNN and ABC, have all shown that Americans' attitudes
toward Mr. Romney's Mormon faith may play a decisive role in his
Now that the strength of his religious conviction has a dollar
sign attached to it, the question arises: Will his tithing
invigorate the uneasiness that many Americans, including
evangelicals and some other Protestants, have toward the Mormon
church and its adherents?
Some evangelicals who question the legitimacy of the religion,
doubting its Christian credentials, may warm to Romney's generosity,
says Michele Dillon, sociology professor at the University of New
Hampshire in Durham. Others, she adds by e-mail, "especially some
who are already highly skeptical of Mormonism, will probably use his
generous tithing as further evidence that Mormons, in these voters'
minds, are too much in the clutches of their church, and who knows
what he might do to advance some alleged 'Mormon agenda' if
The eye-popping number may be just the push that the issue needs
to move to center stage in Romney's campaign, says presidential
historian Charles Dunn.
"Romney needs to tackle this issue head-on," says the author of
"The Presidency in the 21st Century." He likens this moment for the
candidate to the question that faced John F. Kennedy in the 1960
presidential race when Baptists and other Protestant groups
questioned whether his Catholic faith would divide his loyalties.
Kennedy opted to take the discussion directly to the Southern
Baptists, speaking at their convention.
"He addressed them directly and told them that he was an American
first," says Professor Dunn, adding that the Democratic candidate
made it clear that he would not allow the Vatican to make US policy. …