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Rick Santorum on Romney & Religion

Here’s Rick Santorum writing on Romney and religion back in 2007. The whole piece is worth a look, both for what it does say and what it does not.

In the following extract Santorum makes the (reasonable) point that a candidate’s religious affiliation is something that should not necessarily be off-limits:

[Romney] also said that “a person should not be rejected . . . because of his faith.” His supporters say it is akin to rejecting Barack Obama because he is black. But Obama was born black; Romney is a Mormon because he accepts the beliefs of the Mormon faith. This permits us, therefore, to make inferences about his judgment and character, good or bad.

He tried to address the questions by discussing Jesus, suggesting that the specific theological tenets of Mormonism are not in any important respect different from those of traditional Christianity. I disagree. However, voters should use extreme caution in factoring theological tenets into their assessment of a candidate’s qualifications, because theological tenets, as opposed to moral tenets of a religion, transcend reason – consider, for example, the virgin birth.

But, it is fair to look at a candidate’s faith from the standpoint of its moral teachings or, as Catholics say, its “social teaching.”

Romney hit on the correct voter question: “Does [the candidate] share these American values: the equality of humankind, the obligation to serve one another, and a steadfast commitment to liberty?” He said “yes,” and provided some examples to bolster his answer. It was Romney’s best argument to Christian conservatives – we may not see God the same way, but we see our obligation to God’s people the same way.

It could have been even better had he acknowledged a fact that can’t help be true for a person of real faith – that the moral teachings of an individual’s faith will do more than shape his character, they will influence his decisions.

I came to not entirely dissimilar conclusions in a post on the Corner in October:

On the wider topic of whether a presidential candidate’s religious affiliations should be something that should be immune from comment and criticism, the answer is no. If a candidate insists that his or her God is central to who they are and what they believe, that’s a fair enough thing to say, but, under those circumstances, it’s no less fair for voters (or political rivals) to ask what that might mean for how that candidate might act as president, and, if they don’t like the answer, to say so or vote so.

But note Santorum’s comment about how “specific theological tenets of Mormonism” do differ in important respects from traditional Christianity. That’s clearly true, but then read what he goes on to say:

Would the potential attraction to Mormonism by simply having a Mormon in the White House threaten traditional Christianity by leading more Americans to a church that some Christians believe misleadingly calls itself Christian, is an active missionary church, and a dangerous cult?

How does a candidate possibly address such concerns?

Assume for the sake of argument that there are valid considerations. Shouldn’t we look at everything about the candidate, including positions on the issues that could have even a more dramatic impact on Christianity than his personal faith? What about the candidate’s willingness to confront the threat of radical Islam’s war against Christianity, or the current efforts to undermine our Judeo-Christian culture and even our religious freedom? Like most voters, my faith matters more than politics, but we are electing someone to the most important political position in the world. I’m more concerned about losing our children to jihadis or a materialistic culture than losing them to Mormonism.

Nothing notably surprising there, but even on a fairly simple parsing of this (together with what preceded it), it’s easy enough to think that Santorum (who must surely view himself as a “traditional Christian”) has difficulties in seeing Mormonism as Christian.

That’s not a view I would share. As I wrote on SR last October:

For my part, I don’t much care one way or the other, but I don’t think there can be a great deal of doubt about it. In the course of two thousand years Christianity has long since come to mean much more than those texts that some of its early leaders chose to regard as definitive. Naturally, there are many outgrowths of this now wildly varied religion that some Christians will find wanting. And they are perfectly entitled to do so. Those, however, are issues best left to the sectarians. To an outsider, at least, Mormonism is clearly a part of the greater Christian family.

Nevertheless, I don’t find it particularly shocking that many Christians might disagree, particularly those (such as Santorum) who appear to regard themselves as custodians of some sort of orthodoxy.

So the question is whether Santorum does or does not see Mormons as Christians. Again, his answer wouldn’t worry me either way, but this is an election year and Mormon voters might be interested to hear what Santorum has to say on this topic.

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From the Center-Left Jon Chait asserts:

The entry of Jon Huntsman into the Republican primary field has created strong competition for what has to be a tiny number of Republican voters who want a nominee who’s both sane and Mormon….

One could observe that culturally Mormons descend from New England Yankees, and so do not tend to have the same affect as Southern or Southern inflected politicians. On the other hand, Ezra Taft Benson was a member of the John Birch Society, so it isn’t as if Mormon conservatism has necessarily been milquetoast.

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