Columnists > Voices

Trifling with the truth

Campaign 2008 | Mitt Romney's Mormonism may shed light on his sudden policy changes

Issue: "Saving Isaac," Nov. 10, 2007

If some political experts are right, the race for the Republican nomination for president is already down now to Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney. I don't personally think it's quite that simple-but if it is, it's time for evangelical Christian political activists to face some tough realities.

I've got a few faithful friends, loyal WORLD subscribers among them, who for several months now have been investing in Giuliani's campaign and proclaiming the necessity of backing the former New York mayor. Yes, they say, they understand how wobbly he is on issues like life for the unborn and marriage. But they think that overall he's the tough-minded man the presidency requires-and they think he's a straight-shooter whose word can be trusted even if you don't like some of what he says. Such trust, they say, is especially critical with reference to Giuliani's promise that he would appoint Supreme Court justices in the mold of Roberts and Alito.

I haven't been persuaded.

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But a whole lot more of my friends and acquaintances have surprised me by swearing their early allegiance to Romney. Yes, they concede, they wish his eager pro-life and pro-traditional-marriage commitments had been part of his record for 15 years instead of just 15 months. But they like it (shouldn't we all rejoice?) when a person admits he's been wrong, and then embraces what's right. And no, they're not put off by the fact that Romney is a Mormon. If we don't want our opponents to hold our religious connections against us, how can we hold his against him?

On this front, too-maybe more than on the first-I haven't been persuaded.

I watched firsthand a few weeks ago in Salt Lake City while nearly 50 evangelical leaders said they'd go just about anywhere-maybe even to third-party mode-to avoid backing Giuliani. And of that group, a growing number (maybe even a majority) is signing up for the Romney cause. That concerns me.

When it comes to politics, I'll admit that God doesn't call His people to be theological nitpickers or perfectionists. I agree with those who regularly remind me: "We're not electing a pastor or a theologian; we're picking a president." But if in letting ourselves off that hook we also head for the first time in our nation's history toward electing someone who is a committed lifelong member (in Romney's own words, "true blue, through and through") of what we Christians have always called a "cult," we ought to know what kind of bargain we're striking.

By theologian Norman Geisler's count (he's written two books about Mormonism), Mormons reject more than half the 16 main tenets of historic Christianity-held jointly by Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and traditional Protestantism. So we're plowing brand new ground when we talk about electing a Mormon as president.

What's the problem, in practical terms? Just this.

It's not a trivial matter that Mormonism, as a cultic movement, has a bad reputation when it comes to getting its own story straight. Check out the public record, if you will, including fairly recent interviews with Mormon officials in venues like Larry King Live, 60 Minutes, and Newsweek. Do these officials hold to the fantastical 1827 golden tablets of Mormon founder Joseph Smith-or not? Well, they seem to say: We believe it when we want to, and we don't when it's less convenient. Where Mormonism isn't shrouded in deliberate secrecy, it is covered with confusion.

So when folks tell me they're satisfied that Mitt Romney won't try to drag his Mormonism into his politics, and that he would never ever impose his theology on the American people, I have to worry whether that's exactly what he's already done. When, in a relatively short space of time, he seems to be on both sides of the same issue-and when such a deviously confusing approach seems to be consistent with his faith rather than counter to it-that sets off alarm bells for me.

Only a few weeks ago, I sat a dozen feet from Romney as he compellingly spelled out his convictions and credentials. He was winsome and persuasive. On the surface, he said almost everything I want to hear my candidate say. On the issues that matter (except for choice in education), he was as convincing as any politician I've heard in recent years.

But still.

More than anything, I want a president who tells the truth. And I worry deeply when people are overly ready to believe a man whose religious upbringing, of all things, suggests that the truth is a negotiable commodity.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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