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A person’s faith is uniquely individual and deeply personal. And while some people speak freely and openly about their religious beliefs, having such discussions can prove to be potentially costly if you’re running for the highest office in the land. That appears to be the view held by Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, who has hesitated to speak out about his own Mormon faith.
Romney, a former bishop in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the official name of the Mormon Church, has been careful not to make his candidacy about his religion but more about his ability to serve as commander-in-chief. But the question remains, should voters expect to hear more about Romney’s faith? It can be argued that one’s religious views can provide some indication of a candidate’s beliefs, motivations and positions on social issues. But in the absence of that information, how can voters truly make the most informed decision?
During a recent campaign stop in Wisconsin, a participant brought up a reference in the Book of Mormon that is critical of interracial marriage. When Romney was asked if he thought interracial marriage is wrong, he brushed off the question, simply answering, “No.” But wouldn’t a meatier response serve him and the audience better?
Another potential trouble spot stems from the fact that the Mormon Church used to forbid African-Americans from becoming members. Don’t people deserve to know Romney’s views on that matter and why would he not want to clear up any misconceptions people might have about exactly where he stands?
Perhaps the Romney campaign sees the candidate’s faith as a potential liability in the quest to woo coveted Evangelical Christian voters. But while it may be politically expedient for Romney to stay mum on the issue of religion, other politicians have not been afforded the same luxury to remain silent.
President Obama has faced constant attacks about his faith from questions about whether or not he is a Muslim to his connection to controversial pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright. But Obama took the heat and openly affirmed his Christian faith while drawing lines of distinction between his views and those of Rev. Wright.
President John F. Kennedy made history as a devout Catholic president even though some voters were leery about his faith. Congressmen Andre Carson and Keith Ellison, both Muslims, have also faced questions about their faith during a time when Muslims are under added scrutiny. Still, all of these politicians went on to win elections.
Instead of avoiding the topic of religion, perhaps Romney can frame it as a selling point that actually connects him with the electorate. Maybe his association with a religious sect that was once shunned from the mainstream can give him credibility among groups that are viewed as “on the fringes.” It may also be helpful for Romney to talk about his experience leading a congregation as evidence of his ability to show compassion and serve those in need.
To the extent that religion can provide a window of understanding into the framework that informs a candidate’s policy decisions, I believe religion is fair game. And while it’s often said that religion and politics are topics that should be avoided in conversation, in the high stakes race to the White House, those topics are par for the course.
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