Evangelicals and Romney

Mitt Romney’s speech yesterday on the place of religious values in politics was, by most accounts, a political, intellectual and philosophical home run and its theme was one with which most Americans agree.

He had to deliver the speech, however, for reasons that go more to the ways in which the major media views people of faith than because of a realistic fear that his candidacy might be rejected by millions of religiously active voters for doctrinal reasons.

Many in the media believe that religious voters are, by their nature, narrow-minded and intolerant when, in fact, the opposite is usually the case. This is not to say that there aren’t some voters who might refuse to vote for Romney because he’s a Mormon, just as there are some who might reject Hillary because of her sex or Obama for racial reasons. But very few voters today are driven by such considerations. If these candidates lose, it won’t be because of their sex, race or religious beliefs but for other, more substantive and more legitimate, reasons.

The fact is, however, that many in the media believe as an article of their own secular faith that religious belief is almost definitionally a sign of intolerance and that evangelical Christians are as a group bigoted against almost everyone else. It was this bias among those who cover politics that John McCain was exploiting back in 2000 when he attacked Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson as agents of intolerance.”

Those who accept this caricature would naturally assume that evangelical Christians will automatically reject someone of another faith, and particularly a Mormon like Romney, in spite of the fact that many evangelical leaders seem to find him perfectly acceptable.

The voters who should be offended by all this are the evangelicals who are being dismissed as simple bigots both because the charge is foolish and because they’ve been through the same attempted political demonization themselves.

And they should be most upset by the fact that some within their own ranks who should know better are trying to do to Romney what others have in the past tried to do to them just because they support other candidates.

As is often the case, The Wall Street Journal got it right this morning:

“It's particularly ironic that some religious voters are trafficking in anti-Mormon bias, because the secular left has spent years trying to portray these same religious voters as a threat to the American system. Evangelicals have spent decades being ridiculed by the coastal elites — for the born-again lifestyle, creationism, opposition to embryonic stem-cell research, and the ‘Left Behind’ novels. Recall the ridiculous ‘theocracy’ panic after the 2004 election.”

I happen to support Romney for reasons that have nothing at all to do with the church he attends, but much to do with the values he demonstrably brings to the table. I know very few who oppose him because he’s a Mormon, but I do know a few in other camps who dismiss his candidacy because, as they put it, “evangelical Christians won’t vote for him.”

That’s not a knock on Romney, but on evangelical Christians by many who should know better.

Keene is chairman of The American Conservative Union, whose website can be accessed here.

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