Mitt Romney is not the first candidate to have problems with his religion. Almost 50 years ago, John Kennedy was the Democratic nominee for President, and was facing problems about his faith. As a Catholic, he faced concerns from those of other Christian faiths, many of them were concerned that Kennedy would be more loyal to the Pope than the Constitution, or that he would try and turn church doctrine into U.S. law. These concerns were largely cleared up when Kennedy made a speech in Texas regarding his faith, remarking “I do not speak for the church, and the church does not speak for me.” Kennedy won that election, and both parties have since seen several Catholics seek their respective nominations.
Today, Romney faces a similar problem. Like Kennedy, his faith has become an issue, and, like Kennedy, the concerns are, once again, coming from members of other Christian faiths. So, Kennedy, Romney should make a speech about his faith, right?
Well, I’m not so sure. I don’t know if it is wise for Romney to shine the spotlight on his own Mormonism. For one, that makes it an issue, and allows anyone who want to use it against Romney to do so. For two, I’m not sure that he would get the same benefit out of making a Kennedy-style speech. While the role of a candidate’s religion is worthy of discussion , I’m not sure Romney wants to center that discussion around his campaign.
I think the smarter route for Romney is to emphasise his values, rather than his actual faith. If Romney wants to connect with Christian Evangelicals, and if he wants to do it though a major speech, I think he needs to emphasise his respect for life, family, and free practice of religion. Rather than saying “This is what Mormonism is”, I think Romney would be well advised to say “This is how my values are similar to your values”. That, I think, is the winning strategy.