Mitt’s Mormon Speech

I think Mitt Romney needs me.

In an attempt to get hired by the Romney campaign, I drafted my own version of the big “Mormon speech” that everyone expects Mitt to eventually give. Many recall JFK’s speech to the Baptists where he allayed fears about a Catholic, in the White House, and most pundits assume that Mitt needs to follow suit with a speech of his own.

Well, two things have happened since I wrote this. First, Mitt is saying that he probably isn’t going to give a big Mormon speech after all. And secondly, it’s increasingly unlikely that Mitt’s going to hire me. Which means my lengthy speech will languish on the shelf unless I do something about it.

So, without further ado, I give you Part One of The Mormon Speech Mitt Should Give, as interpreted by yours truly. Imagine the following being spoken by someone much wealthier than I am.

___________

Many people have mistakenly labeled me as the first Mormon to ever run for president. That honor does not belong to me. It does not even belong to my father, who was a candidate for president in 1968. No, the first Mormon to run for president was the Church’s founder, Joseph Smith, Jr., who was a candidate in the presidential election of 1844.

Back then, membership in my church was not the colossal political asset that it is today. Mormons were feared, hated, and vilified, due in large measure to their formidable force as a political voting bloc. At the time of his candidacy, Joseph Smith was the mayor of the second largest city in the state of Illinois. We’ll never know how successful a politician he could have been, as he was brutally murdered by a bloodthirsty mob just months before the presidential election.

Those who have studied the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have viewed Joseph Smith’s candidacy for president as something of a cultural oddity. He had no real chance of winning, and he was under no illusions that his candidacy would be anything but a futile one. Why, then, did he bother to run?

The answer to that question may lie in Smith’s visit to the White House several years earlier, when he took a group of church members to visit then-President Martin van Buren. He had hoped to receive redress for the persecutions that the Latter-day Saints had suffered in the state of Missouri. They had had their property confiscated and their homes burned to the ground, solely because of their religious beliefs. Many had seen their wives raped and their children murdered before their eyes. Things were so bad that Lilliburn Boggs, the Governor of Missouri, issued an infamous Extermination Order, which read, in part, that “the Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary for the public peace.” This Order was the law of the land until it was repealed – in 1976.

With that as history, Joseph Smith traveled to Washington and pleaded with the government to take action. Martin van Buren responded with a political calculation. “Your cause is just,” he said, “but I can do nothing for you.” Helping the Mormons was political suicide, and any candidate willing to stand with the Mormons faced certain defeat at the polls.

I believe that Joseph Smith ran for President because the political climate at the time ensured that Mormons wouldn’t have felt comfortable voting for anyone but him.

And today, I’m running for president at a time when my faith means that some people would be comfortable voting for anyone but me.

Now, that’s not particularly surprising. Many people associate my faith with some fairly bizarre ideas, notably the practice of polygamy, which has been grounds for excommunication from my church for the past century. Believe me, no one in this race finds polygamy more abhorrent than I do. And, as president, no one will defend traditional marriage with more ferocity than I will.

I’m well aware that there is much about my faith that seems to breed misunderstanding and suspicion. In my political career, I’ve been asked to defend my church’s stand on just about every controversial issue of the day. I believe I’m also the first candidate since Bill Clinton’s “boxers or briefs” moment to be asked about my underwear. Still, most of the queries are well-intended, and the vast majority of them boil down to one simple question at the root of it all:

Can I really trust a Mormon to be President of the United States?

The answer is yes. And here’s why.

Voters are not going to be electing a Pastor-in-Chief next November. Hopefully, they’re going to be electing a President who shares their values and their vision of the future. I can’t speak for every Mormon or even most Mormons, but I can speak for Mitt Romney. It’s my name that’s going to be on the ballot, not the name of my church. And I will be the one who will be making decisions on the governance of this country, not my church.

That’s why I have no intention of discussing theological issues on the campaign trail. If you want to discuss lower taxes or a secure border or the life-and-death challenge we face from international jihadists, I’m ready and willing to join the battle. If you want to know about Mormon concepts of baptism or family home evenings, I’m not the guy you want. A presidential campaign is not the place to hash out doctrinal differences. If you’re truly anxious to learn more about my church, I’m sure you’ll be able to find two nicely dressed young men on bicycles who will be happy to visit you to have those discussions.

Still, some may still be uneasy because they are unsure about how my faith will color how I will govern. It is to them that I wish to address the remainder of my remarks.

Joseph Smith, near the end of his life, was asked by newspaper editor John Wentworth to condense the beliefs of the church into a single document that could be understood by the average reader. He did so in what is now known as the Wentworth Letter, which recounts the early history and many of the central tenets of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The letter concludes with thirteen short statements that my church has adopted as its official Articles of Faith. Young children are taught to memorize these statements in Sunday School; they give as concise and simple recitation of my faith as can be found anywhere. The first ten are theological in nature and are not germane to this campaign. However, I would like to share the final three of them with you.

The Eleventh Article of Faith reads as follows:

We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.

This will be the lodestar of a Romney Administration with regard to religion in the United States. At no time will anyone’s religious faith call into question their ability to serve their country. And at no time will a Romney Administration make any attempt to alter, dismiss, or belittle any American’s religious faith.

I have had the opportunity to visit with good people of faith throughout the country. I want them, and the rest of America, to know, that I will fight to defend your ability to practice your faith, no matter how different it may be from my own. The freedom to worship according to the dictates of your own conscience is enshrined in the United States Constitution. I believe it is one of the unalienable rights with which we have been endowed by our Creator. It is also one of the central tenets of my faith.

Many who disagree with me theologically recognize that my political positions are entirely in harmony with their own values. David French, an evangelical Christian and one of the contributors to the website EvangelicalsforMitt.com, said the following about what a Mormon president might mean:

“From a policy perspective, I think we should view the Governor’s religion not as something to be concerned about but, actually, as an asset. When the Governor speaks about the culture of life or about the traditional family or about any of the social issues we care about, he is not pandering but instead speaking from his own personal, moral convictions…If you look at the Governor’s record, you will see that he has never used his public prominence to boost the Mormon church…he simply does his job, and does it well.”

Now, perhaps not everyone would agree with Mr. French’s glowing assessment of my job performance, but even my most vocal critics would be forced to acknowledge that I have never compromised the public trust by using my position to proselytize. Many said that a Mormon was unelectable in a state that was predominantly Catholic, yet my religion did not prevent me in Massachusetts from working with people of good will, regardless of their faith.

To be continued…

Preserving a Teacher's Right to Suck
Mitt's Mormon Speech: The Conclusion

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