One of the most difficult and contentious questions surrounding the matter of Mitt Romney’s faith is the question of whether he is a Christian. While you might think the simple truth would be easy to get at, it’s an incredibly difficult question to answer because it is fraught with so much sectarian weight and political consequence. It’s like asking someone if a hanging chad should count as a vote– a relatively simple question with a pretty limited set of surrounding facts, but if the question is asked of a party operative in late 2000, it becomes far, far more complex than just the objective facts at the core of the inquiry.
That’s why it’s fascinating to hear Mitt Romney himself answer the question. Here he is, in an interview with NRO’s Byron York. He’s responding to a question asking his reaction to people like Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) who said that “You cannot equate Mormonism with Christianity; you cannot say, ‘I am a Christian just like you.’ If he does that, every Baptist preacher in the South is going to have to go to the pulpit on Sunday and explain the differences.”
“You know, the term ‘Christian’ means different things to different people,” Romney told me. “Jews aren’t Christian. That doesn’t preclude a Jew from being able to run for office and become president. I believe that Jesus Christ is the savior of the world and is the son of God. Now, some people say, well, that doesn’t necessarily make you a Christian because Christian refers to a certain group of evangelical Christian faiths. That’s fine. That’s their view. Others say, no, anyone who believes in Jesus Christ as the son of God and the Savior should be called Christian. That’s fine, too. I’ll just describe what I believe and not try to distinguish my faith from others. That’s really something for my faith to do and for the churches amongst themselves to consider.”
This is a masterful answer. Besides the fact that it finds a way to consider each side’s viewpoint and finesses the contention in the middle, it has the added benefit of being unassailably true. Further, if I’m right that the vast majority of Americans agree that “Christian” refers to a follower of Christ, without regard to the belief checklist definition posited by many evangelicals, this explanation should appeal to most readers, who will conclude that Romney fits their own definition of “Christian” just fine.
You have to respect Romney for being willing to walk this fine line, confessing his own belief in Jesus Christ without the need to rely on needlessly battle-worn labels.
UPDATE: Looks like the Article VI guys agree with me.