Romney responds to polls with address on his Mormon faith

Lindsey Parietti

In a speech designed to quell voter uncertainty about his Mormon faith, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney mentioned his religion by name only once while repeatedly reaffirming his faith in God and prayer Thursday.

“I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it. My faith is the faith of my fathers. I will be true to them, and to my beliefs,” the former Massachusetts governor said Thursday morning at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas.

“Some say that such a confession of my faith will sink my candidacy. If they’re right, so be it, but I think they underestimate the American people.”    

Romney peppered his speech with the words freedom, liberty, God and faith, citing the practices of Catholics, evangelical Christians, Baptists, Jews and Muslims that he admires.  

“Any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me.  And so it is for hundreds of millions of our countrymen. We do not insist on a single strain of religion - rather, we welcome our nation's symphony of faith,” he said to applause.

Romney made the speech after polls showed that he has lost his lead in Iowa and is now tied with Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister bolstered by evangelical Christian support.

Throughout his speech Romney both echoed and overtly referred to John F. Kennedy’s 1960 Texas address about his Catholic faith.

“Like him I am an American running for president,” Romney said. “I do not define my candidacy by my religion … let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions.”

Romney affirmed his belief in God, Jesus Christ and separation of church and state, but did not discuss any of the tenets of the Mormon Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

According to Adam Christing, a documentary filmmaker and scholar of Mormonism, many conservative Christians do not recognize Mormonism as a branch of Christianity because it teaches that God was once like man, among other differences.

There are nearly 13 million Mormons worldwide and an estimated 6 million in the United States.

David Foster, a Mormon from Marlborough, Mass., said the religion is too widespread for misconceptions and doubts of its legitimacy to continue.

“The outcome I hope for is that people will come away convinced that (Romney) really is a legitimate Christian, period,” Foster said Wednesday evening.

“There’s a legitimate role that religion can play, not officially, but in our culture and the way it informs peoples values,” said Foster, who has known Romney through the church for 25 years. “(Political candidates) don’t have to neuter themselves in terms of religion.”

Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, a Louisiana Baptist minister and president of the Interfaith Alliance, said that Romney fell short only in addressing people who don’t subscribe to any religion.

“I saw nothing in the speech that should disturb evangelicals. I’m confident that Gov. Romney did not say all that they wanted to hear, but he said enough of his commitment to a level playing field,” he said.

“(Some) would like to have specific statements connecting the dots between his religious convictions and their public policy concerns and he did not do that. And I am glad he did not do that.”

MetroWest (Mass.) Daily News staff writer Lindsey Parietti can be reached at lindsey.parietti@cnc.com