In a rare opportunity to watch Sunday morning news programs in their entirety — I’ve got kids; even if Tim Russert’s on, I’m usually interrupted a dozen times during his intro alone — this past weekend, I listened to The Chris Matthews Show uninterrupted and was particularly interested by Mitt Romney’s attempts to bridge the gap between his Mormon faith and that of evangelical Christian leaders.
Romney’s Mormonism has been a topic of debate for months — that’s nothing new. His prior inconsistent statements regarding gay marriage and abortion — implying positions on both issues that he’s since reversed — are of more significance to me as a voter (both the fact that we now disagree and that he reversed himself). But I can’t help but be alarmed by the continuing debate surrounding the denominational details of Romney’s religious beliefs. Why should they matter?
Personally, I don’t think they SHOULD matter, but I understand why they DO matter; evangelical leaders and those who follow them are very exacting in their standards as to who qualifies as a Christian and who does not. Many evangelical Christians view Mormonism as an antithesis to Christianity, rejecting Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority standpoint – urging inclusion of all who share traditional Judeo-Christian values. In this upcoming presidential election, evangelical leaders have been hard-pressed to identify a strong Republican candidate who meets their criteria for Christianity.
And while I disagree with the quibbling over such specifics that remain — like it or not — a matter of opinion, not fact, I understand that it boils down to a trust issue. If a candidate holds the same religious beliefs as voters — beliefs that both the candidate and the voters hold sacred — a bond of trust is established. The voters trust that the candidate will act in accordance with the same values that govern their own actions.
Apart from the incessant news stories about evangelical Christians — leaders and followers alike — who don’t act in accordance with those much-touted values, the basis for trusting Romney himself is shaky, and it has nothing to do with his Mormon faith.
His reversal on two key social issues ought to be enough evidence for evangelical Christians and the rest of the two major parties to be wary of him. Not only was his initial position in direct opposition to that of evangelical Christians, he has now — in an attempt to gain the approval of those voters — adopted the opposite stance, alienating those who supported his initial position. Given such a change on two high-visibility points, no voter, regardless of their party or religion, can be sure of which position he’ll take.
It’s a question of trust. Romney may or may not be a Christian, based on different criteria from different sources, but either way it’s evident that he’s not trustworthy.