ABC’s Jake Tapper asserted on the network’s This Week today that if Romney wishes to run as a man of faith, he should be expected to explain exactly what his faith requires him to believe. He raises the example of the Mormon beliefs regarding Jesus’ eventual Second Coming to the earth. If Romney wishes to be taken seriously as a religious candidate, why can’t he tell us exactly how the specific tenets of that religion inform his world view?
This position has a nice logical ring to it, but breaks down on examination. First of all, it is not entirely accurate to say that Romney is running as a man of faith. Rather, he has asserted that he is a religious person in line with the mainstream of America only as a defense to attacks that his Mormonism should disqualify him from office. This is not an affirmative talking point, but a defense against the anti-Mormon crowd. The fact that he is forced to highlight his religious values in order to stay in the race should not be read to open the door to discuss all of Mormon doctrine in a political campaign.
Secondly, note the example Jake Tapper brings up. So Romney is a man of faith, but why should that mean he needs to explain complex doctrines regarding the far off return of Jesus Christ? Surely John McCain, Mike Brownback and Mike Huckabee, if they take their brands of Christianity seriously, have their own beliefs about the mode and meaning of Jesus’ return. Mitt Romney has been no more emphatic about his own religiosity than any of these men, so it should follow that we are entitled to hear their own thoughts on this “important” issue.
To imagine John McCain being forced to expound his beliefs on the Second Coming highlights the absurdity of the argument in the first place. Why on earth should voters care what John McCain thinks about how and where Jesus might someday appear on the earth? Is Mitt Romney any different?
Tapper’s argument rests on the idea that voters are entitled to understand the basis for their candidates’ claims. If you say you’re a conservative, you should have to prove it, and if you say you’re religious, you should have to back that up too. But there is a certain line to be drawn as well. Mitt Romney’s belief about the location of Jesus’ return will not inform his administration of the country in any way. His ideas about integrity, fidelity in marriage, and Christian kindness might. Ask away on those topics. But before you can expect him to discuss his beliefs on more obscure points of doctrine (on which topics all religions have their own positions), you’d better explain why those questions bear any relevance to voters.
So, the ball’s in your court, Mr. Tapper– as soon as you can explain why voters should care about Mitt Romney’s beliefs on the Second Coming of Jesus, Romney can be expected to detail exactly those beliefs. Deal?