A quote from the Associated Press muddies things up a little:
Romney said Monday his speech will not focus on the tenets of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the formal name for his Utah-based faith. But he's hoping his willingness to discuss religion openly, and put his wife and sons on stage with him, will convince critical evangelical Christians he's worthy of their support in the approaching Iowa caucuses and later Southern contests across the Bible Belt.That makes it sound like he will talk about some aspects of his religion, but not others. That process, I suspect, will make it seem like he's hiding something. And that impression will make the Mormon faith seem more (not less) mysterious to lay Evangelicals in the GOP...
The political situation is fairly simple. Romney wants to win Iowa. He wants to be considered the GOP frontrunner going into New Hampshire and South Carolina. Until recently it was a Romney-Giuliani race, a scenario that made Romney look conservative.
Romney and Giuliani beat each other up so badly in the last GOP debate that one commentator said that they had each achieved their goal of discrediting the other. And in the meantime, Iowa Republicans discovered Mike Huckabee...
Huckabee is a former Arkansas governor and an ordained Baptist minister who seems to recently have become the conservative Christian candidate that the rural Bible Belt has been looking for over the course of the last year. Romney has courted the GOP's Religious Right extensively but has never been able to close the deal. He's spent $7 million in Iowa. That's about 22 times what Huckabee has spent. And now Huckabee leads by a few points even though a short three months ago he was considered something of a vanity candidate who could never actually win.
As the Christians of Bible Belt America gather to listen, what can Romney possible say on the subject of religion that he thinks they will enjoy hearing.
- Will he say that he has lived a good life without drinking or smoke or getting divorced? They will think that he lacks an understanding of concept that human beings are sinful creatures who please God only by accepting His grace. And they'll be right; Mormons believe that Jesus came to set an example, not to make an atonement for sin.
- Will he say that he believes in Jesus? I doubt he'll be that folksy in his choice of words. But if he were to say that, to say something along the lines of "Hey, we both believe in Jesus!" to an audience of conservative Christians, most of them would know that he meant something different than what they do by that statement.
- Will he talk about the Mormom Church's view of Protestants and Catholics? The Mormons teach that other forms of Christianity are apostate, that true Christianity died out centuries ago and was revived only with the Angel Moroni reveal the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith. I'm guessing Romney won't discuss his church's position on that issue - at least not voluntarily.
Heretics were also thrown out of the Church for arguing that God accepted individuals because they tried hard and lived right. In sections of the Bible like Galatians, Christian belief is based on faith in what Jesus did - not the hope that we can be good enough to make God happy. But Mormonism is a religion of good works, not faith.
At the end of the day, Christian leaders will be polite. They'll all shake hands. Some of the more politically oriented will embrace Romney as perhaps being the candidate that can free up the stalemate on abortion or roll back the clock on civil unions and gay marriage. But the laypeople of the Evangelical churches in Tennessee and Texas, Oklahoma and Alabama are going to sit around and try to remember what they were told about Mormon's in Sunday School.
And here's that message, from the pen of Josh McDowell - the poster boy in the minds of Evangelicals for telling true Christian beliefs from heresy and cult theology:
The Mormon doctrine of God is contradictory to what the Bible teaches. The Mormons believe in many gods and teach that God himself was once a man. Moreover, Mormon doctrine teaches that Mormon males have the possibility of attaining godhood.My point is that you don't have to be either a Mormon or an Evangelical Christian to see how this will end. There's not an endorsement that Romney can get that will make the average Baptist churchgoers in the Midwest or Southeast feel like "Oh, well, he is one of us..." And the discussion coming up on Thursday will only make Romney's target audience more aware of their differences, and make them like Huckabee more...
The bad judgment involved in making religion more of an issue in the campaign may by itself be enough to disqualify Romney from being President in the minds of many.