Implications of a Mormon president should not be dismissed

No matter how hard Hugh Hewitt, a conservative talk radio host and author, pushes the idea that Mitt Romney’s Mormonism isn’t of concern to evangelical voters in a Republican primary, I believe there remains a great deal of curiosity among these voters about the Mormon faith and what having “A Mormon in the White House” (to give Hewitt’s book a mention) would mean to America.

Romney supporters like Hewitt are quick to throw out the term “religious bigotry” whenever those on the left — or the right — question the meaning and implementation of the Mormon faith for a presidential candidate. I find that response entirely too impatient. Such curiosities should be engaged, not discouraged.

In 1999 at a Republican primary debate in Iowa, George W. Bush announced that the philosopher/thinker he most identified with was “Christ, because he changed my heart.”  It was a show-stopping moment for born-again Christians and atheists alike, albeit for different reasons. That moment offered voters a very personal glimpse into the man who would be president.

Democratic political strategist Garry South wrote an article last week entitled, “Ask Romney about Mormonism’s Intolerance,” which earned him the “religious bigotry” trophy on Hewitt’s website.

South, who is quite well versed on evangelical theology, raised a number of interesting questions about Mormonism that seem worth exploring, as they could give us a deeper, more meaningful glimpse into a man who wants to be president. The primary question South poses to Romney is whether or not he “personally believes, as does his church, that every non-Mormon Christian he would govern was invalidly baptized in an illegitimate church.” Were Romney a Muslim, it seems likely someone would be asking the exact same question.

I don’t suspect it’s a question that tonight’s debate moderator Chris Matthews will put to the former governor of Massachusetts. But surely, there will be some sort of direct question to Romney about his religion and how it affects his leadership.

Bush’s unexpected response in an Iowa debate nearly eight years ago generated a number of headlines, editorials and opinion pieces. Romney, who barely breaks 12 percent in national polls, may yet make headlines with tonight’s debate and make himself a household name.

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