Mitt Romney is not the first Mormon to run for President. Nor is he the highest-ranking Mormon in politics (that would be Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid). Yet his campaign to earn the Republican nomination has triggered endless discussion about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The former Massachusetts governor talked with CT associate editor Collin Hansen about doctrinal differences and common values.
Growing up in Michigan, how did you get along with evangelicals?
In a state like Michigan, there's very little attention paid to the different faiths of different people.
I went to an Episcopal school where maybe 15 to 20 percent of the student body was Jewish. But I didn't really know who was Jewish and who wasn't.
So no evangelicals ever tried to convert you?
No, I don't recall that ever occurring.
How do you think relations between Mormons and Trinitarian Christians have changed during your lifetime?
I don't know that there's been a significant change relating to doctrine. [But] several months ago, not long before he died, I had the occasion of having the Rev. Jerry Falwell at our home. He said that when he was getting ready to oppose same-sex marriage in California, he met with the president of my church in Salt Lake City, and they agreed to work together in a campaign in California. He said, "Far be it from me to suggest that we don't have the same values and the same objectives."
Have you seen changes between 1968, when your father ran for President, and now?
In terms of the relationship between the faiths, I don't see any particular differences. I know the media today focus far more on people of faith. In some circles, the bias against believers is pronounced. There are some people who would like to establish a religion of secularism in this country to replace all others. So people of faith are routinely scrutinized in a way they were not when my dad ran in 1968.
What traits and views do you think evangelicals want in the next President?
I don't know that I'm qualified to suggest what people of other faiths specifically would want. But I think Americans of faith generally hope that the next President will be a person of faith who shares their values and their views on the key issues that the nation faces.
What would those issues be?
There are, of course, the international and economic issues, such as the war against the violent jihad and the need to be competitive long-term with an emerging Asian economy. On the home front, we need to become energy independent. And on values issues, priorities include abortion and same-sex marriage.
Many Christians voted for President Bush out of a feeling of faith kinship. Do you see any drawbacks to that type of voter affinity?
People should be able to vote for who they like on whatever basis they like. I try not to counsel my fellow Americans on how they make their decisions. I think by and large democracy works pretty well.
Many times, people are misinformed about a candidate or their positions, and that's unfortunate. But if they have accurate, complete views, I say let them vote as they wish.
How are voters misinformed about you?
I just don't think many people know me very well at this stage, and that's to be expected. I'm a governor, and therefore not yet a national figure. I anticipate by the time the primary season rolls around next year that I will be very well known and will either be strongly supported or will be someone people don't want to back. I'm pleased that I'm connecting with voters in the states where I've spoken most frequentlystates like Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, South Carolina, and Florida.
Shifting to policy, on what moral ground do you oppose cloning human embryos?
The creation of new life specifically for the purpose of experimentation and destruction crosses a bright moral line. It is literally creating life to destroy it. And for me, whether that is done through embryo farming or done through cloning, both of them are wrong and are unacceptable.
Senators Gordon Smith and Orrin Hatch have made appeals to your church's teaching, but they support embryonic stem-cell research. Do you likewise rely on church teachings such as ensoulment?
My position on cloning and embryo farming is not a religion-based decision, because I think that approach does not fit with a secular leader's viewpoint. In my case, I believe that a civilized society must respect the sanctity of human life. Unquestionably, a scientist will tell you that life occurs when all the dna and genetic material is present and the life is human and conception has occurred. Therefore, from a scientific standpoint, life occurs at conception. As to when the soul enters the physical, that's a matter for theologians, not for people who are running for President.
How do you distinguish between religious values and moral values when making decisions?
There are doctrines that differ from church to church. I don't believe doctrines should figure into the policy of someone leading in a secular position. The fundamental values of all faiths I know well are very consistent, and they have a public purpose. One example would be the Declaration of Independence, guided by a belief in a Creator. The belief that we are all children of the same Creator gives us a desire to care for the poor and the needy. The belief that marriage between a man and a woman is a sacred relationship leads one to protect the sanctity of marriage. These fundamental values are not associated with a doctrine of a faith, but instead are part of the value base of every faith of which I'm aware.
Certainly, Christianity and Islam have much in common. Yet the West finds itself in a conflict with radical Islam. How does your view apply when some are motivated religiously to do harm?
There is a clash within Islam among different streams of believers. And the violent jihadists have quite different values than Muslims I have met and spoken with here in the United States. Violent jihadism has no place in the mainstream of religious values.
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Al Mohler has said that he worries a Romney presidency would bring greater credibility to Mormonism and harm evangelical missions. How would you encourage him to vote for you?
I hope everyone votes for the person they think can be the best leader for America. Each person is entitled to make his or her assessment. But I would note that my church is very demanding in terms of the requirements it places on people who join. It requires tithing 10 percent of gross income; abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and tea; and [chastity] before and [fidelity] after marriage. I doubt very seriously anyone in the world is going to join my church simply because they see a leader who is a member of it.
Even though I was governor of Massachusetts for four years, our chapel did not swell with supporters who wanted to join my church. Joining a faith is a far more serious matter than choosing something fashionable.
But has your candidacy exposed differences between the two religions?
While the doctrines of my church are quite different from evangelical Christian doctrines, the values of our faiths are very much the same. I don't know of a doctrinal difference that would suggest a different policy outcome or that would suggest that a President of my faith would lead in a different direction than President Bush, an evangelical Christian.
When I was governor here in Massachusetts, a number of Catholics wondered what it would mean to have a Mormon as a governor. After some time, one of the leading Catholics in our state remarked to my Catholic deputy chief of staff, "The best friend we have on Capitol Hill (Beacon Hill) is the Mormon governor, not the Catholic legislators." He was joking a bit, but the value base that we share is so pronounced that the differences of doctrine really disappear.
Perhaps it's difficult for some when two faiths have been in the battle place of ideas to say that we disagree on doctrine but share a very strong value base. It's almost like a strong Republican and a strong Democrat have been battling for ideas in America for 50 years, and they suddenly find themselves in a foxhole fighting the Germans. They have no problem working with each other, because whether you're a strong Democrat or a strong Republican, you share the same American hope for the future.
How do you answer evangelicals who want their President to have faith but not your faith?
It depends on what they worry about. Do they want agreement on doctrine, and does that really effect how someone leads as President? Or does someone want a President who shares values and will preserve the values and culture of America? That will only happen if people band together where we share common values.
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Previous Christianity Today articles on Mormons and Romney include:
Mitt's Mormonism and the 'Evangelical Vote' | Can conservative Protestants vote for a member of what they consider a cult? (May 31, 2007)
Q&A: Hugh Hewitt | Conservative blogger, political analyst, and radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt on Romney's bid for the White House. (February 27, 2007)
Marriage Matters | Debate rages even after Senate and House reject federal amendment. (August 1, 2006)
Latter-day Complaints | Mormons and evangelicals fret over movies, politics, and each other. (July 1, 2006)
Health Care, Everyone? | Massachusetts makes medical insurance accessible to allor else. (July1, 2006)
Weblog: Ravi Zacharias, Rich Mouw Speak in Mormon Tabernacle | Plus: Couple attempts to sacrifice children at church altar, the new head of the Catholic bishops' conference, a focus on Dobson, and other stories from online sources around the world. (November 1, 2004)
Mormon scholar under fire | Anthropologist says Latter-day Saints' teaching wrong about Native Americans. (March 1, 2003)
Mormon Film a Lesson in Telling Faith-Based Stories | Little Secrets avoids theological lectures but delivers an engaging story. (November 18, 2002)
Mere Mormonism | Journalist Richard Ostling explores LDS culture, theology, and fans of 'crypto-Mormon' C.S. Lewis. (February 7, 2000)
A Peacemaker in Provo | How one Pentecostal pastor taught his Congregation to love Mormons. (February 7, 2000)
The Mormon-Evangelical Divide | Beliefs that set Mormons apart, and evangelicals' response. (February 1, 2000)
The Mormon Story | Once the most persecuted faith in the United States, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has emerged as one of the fastest growing and most influential religious groups in the country. (Books & Culture, November 1, 1999)
Article VI Blog, "Discourses on The Constitution Religion Public Office," has been discussing Romney's bid for the presidency.
Weblog has collected the many articles on Mitt Romney's presidential bid.
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