Mitt Romney has a problem, and it isn't his religion. Romney recently decided to speak to his party on the issue of his faith. What Romney and other Republican members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should be asking is why a national speech is necessary at all, and more importantly whether they want to remain affiliated with a party that requires as much.
Romney has found himself in the precarious situation where he must explain to caucus members and primary voters that his faith informs his actions and beliefs and that this faith is legitimate. Simply put, Romney must convince evangelicals that Mormonism is not a cult and that its beliefs are in line with mainstream Christian values a difficult task, to say the least.
Pundits and observers have noted that it seems rather absurd that Romney be forced to confront such an issue in this day and age. That is, characteristics such as one's gender, race, religious belief and (in some states) sexual preference are not supposed to matter when measuring one's political qualifications. For Romney, however, his religion does matter because that is what the Republican Party has decided over the last decade. And this leaves Romney, and perhaps all members of the LDS Church who affiliate with the Republican Party, with a much different question. Do you want to be a member of a party that doesn't want you?
The "Christian right" has asserted itself as a major, if not the ultimate, policy-setting faction of the Republican Party. Mormon voters seem to align themselves ideologically with the largely evangelical Christian right in areas where the programmatic influence of this faction is most evident. That is, in social policy areas such as abortion and same-sex marriage. In addition to its programmatic influence, the Christian right has also pressed the religiosity of a candidate onto the list of qualifications one should possess in order to run for office. As even the most disinterested of observers might presume, the Christian right is interested in electing Christian candidates. This view also seems to be shared by many Mormon voters, to the extent that strong moral character, evidenced through the espousal of Christian values, is considered a necessary precursor for effective leadership. Ironically, it is Romney's Mormon character that is hurting his campaign.
For as much as Mormon voters share in common with their Christian right counterparts, their religious differences prove to be most divisive. The relationship between Mormons and evangelicals has always been strained, to say the least. Mormons continue to align themselves politically with those that genuinely dislike them socially. One can witness this irony firsthand semiannually, as Mormon faithful wade through hostile protesters rebuking the church for its so-called "pro-choice" position on abortion as they make their way to general conference. Indeed, the protesting seems odd, as many would consider the church's position on abortion to be keenly pro-life but apparently not pro-life enough. Now Romney is desperately trying to prove that he is Christian enough.
Evangelicals dislike Mormons and will naturally distrust a Mormon candidate. So, as Romney campaigns, he will try to convince the Christian Right that the LDS Church is OK and that they can remain bigoted and still vote for him.Romney has a problem and it isn't his religion. It's his party.
Michael Young is third-year law student at New York University School of Law. He attended the University of Utah as an undergraduate.