This isn't the first column you've read about the role of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney's religion in the 2012 election cycle.
Given the media's fascination with the topic, it might not even be the first today. Romney's membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is among the hottest topics at America's communal water cooler.
Stories about Romney's faith often boast polling data showing an ever-shifting percentage of voters will not vote for a candidate who is a "Mormon." Sometimes the media editorializes that wary voters surely must question how Romney's faith would affect his leadership as president. Pastors of other faiths, bloggers and conservative radio hosts have also posed the same questions.
I have friends and business associates who believe these questions about Romney's faith and how it might affect his potential presidency are unfair, unwarranted and even bigoted.
I couldn't disagree more.
I'm also a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is the only faith I have ever known, and it's all I've ever wanted to know. I suspect the same is true of Romney.
While I agree with Article VI of the U.S. Constitution that there should be no religious test, I do believe it's fair to ask in what ways a candidate's belief system will affect his or her day-to-day decision-making.
If you've ever purchased one of my novels in a traditional retail store, you know they're typically shelved in categories such as religion, religious inspiration or Christian inspiration. If you've actually read one of them, you know that while not overtly religious, my books have threads of faith woven throughout.
Why? Because I'm an active Christian; I think of God daily. I want to grow closer to him and to follow his scriptural teachings. Naturally, everyone who knows me will say I'm far from perfect. In fact, if perfection is the finish of life's long marathon, I haven't even arrived at the starting line. I'm still somewhere shopping for tube socks.
My books are a reflection of who I'm trying to be. I believe in God and I believe there is a plan for us. I also believe strong families are the cornerstones of a strong, vibrant country. These beliefs affect my work.
I am not affiliated with Romney's campaign, and I've only met him once. I am not endorsing or advocating for his candidacy. I cannot claim any inside knowledge into his thinking or strategic vision.
But if I were Romney, the next time I'm asked how my faith could affect the way I would lead if elected president, I would offer three examples:
First, my faith teaches me that families are the cornerstones of society. Whenever possible, children should be raised by a mother and a father who are legally married and fiercely loyal to one another.
Policies of my administration would reflect the belief that God has a plan for families and that the term "family-based values" isn't a cliched slogan; it's the best foundation for implementing public policy. Those who disagree that strong traditional families are America's bedrock are entitled to live differently, but traditional families and marriage will remain the standard and I will fight to preserve it.
Second, my faith teaches me to be prudent in my finances and to save wisely. I believe there's nothing inherently wrong with being successful. But I also believe that any accumulation of wealth must be balanced by ample rainy-day savings.
We should also be charitable with our wealth, but that giving must be encouraged by the government, not mandated. Most importantly, we cannot perform charitable acts when saddled with debt. One of the key goals of my administration will be to put America's financial house in order so we can better care for our own and for those suffering around the world. We need to make painful sacrifices so we can cultivate an environment of frugality.
Third, my faith teaches me that God loves all his children no matter where they live and no matter what church they attend, if any at all. America will defend freedom around the world, wisely and with well-defined purpose.
These may not be the politically correct answers, and it's a safe bet that Romney pays media consultants, image shapers and communications gurus big money to tell him why further addressing the "Mormon issue" is a bad idea.
To be clear, Romney's faith shouldn't dominate the debate, but it belongs in the discussion, just as it does for any other candidate of any political party.
We don't care what religion they claim, but we do care how it impacts their values system.
In Romney's case, to suggest questions about his faith are irrelevant or unfair misses the essence of who he is.
The next time he's asked, Romney should answer, "Yes, my faith affects how I would lead, just as Barack Obama's, Rick Perry's or Herman Cain's faith affects each of them."
The approach might not win any new votes where opposition to his candidacy and faith are well entrenched. But to those on the fence or those reluctantly leaning his way, his candor might make the difference between moving to Pennsylvania Avenue and dusting off his corporate resume.
Let's not be afraid to ask the questions of Mitt Romney or any other candidate for any other office.
May they each have the courage to answer.
Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of eight books, including "Christmas Jars," "The Wednesday Letters" and "The Wedding Letters." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.jasonfwright.com
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