With Mitt Romney's presidential candidacy, we, as an electorate, are asking ourselves the question again that we have asked many times before. It’s one that has often led to argument and sometimes prompted, if we let it, that rare thing called thought: Is a candidate's religious belief relevant to our choice to vote for him or her?
For many of us here in Utah, Romney's membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints makes us more inclined to vote for him. His values align with our own. We trust him as a result. So, yes, his religion is relevant. It may not be the entirety of our decision making process, but it's relevant.
For someone in South Carolina, Romney's Mormonism may be similarly relevant with an opposite result. That person may be less inclined to vote for him because of his beliefs. It may not be the whole of their thought process, but it causes them to lean a certain way with all other things being equal.
Does this feel right to you? Should a candidate's religious status be relevant to your voting decision? After all, as Romney said, we would not be electing him to be the pastor in chief, but the commander in chief.
The decisions he would make in that role would not determine our faith, but our future as a nation. We need him to be well versed in foreign policy, economics, law . . . but scripture? Do we need him to know scripture in order to elect him president? And if so, which scripture?
I put the question to the women on A Woman's View.
“People love to have issues, and this identifies him (Romney) as somehow different,” said Dr. Victoria Burgess, a psychologist, author and retired colonel. “Religion is a part of us, even if we don't go to church. I consider myself a culture Mormon. It's a part of me. When people call me and ask for an appointment, Mormons make an appointment because they know I know who they are, and non-Mormons make an appointment because they know I won't try to convert them. I win by telling the truth.”
“I love that,” said Raelene Davis, director of marketing for Ski Utah. “You win by telling the truth. A candidate who lives the values he or she believes in is of value to me — whatever religion or no religion — I want to know they hold true to their values.”
She said religion . . . or no religion. I have to pause for a moment.
Is that true for you? Would you vote for a candidate you knew to be an atheist? Would his or her lack of religious belief disqualify him or her from that most important of jobs in your mind?
“I would be more inclined to vote for a religious person because they have certain standards they live by,” said Anne Tuttle Brown, a fashion and beauty expert with www.dressingyourtruth.com. “Not are they going to church so much, but do they have morals, values. Someone who believes in something bigger than themselves.”
“If he (Romney) doesn't win, I would hate for religion to be the reason,” Davis lamented. “I remember Joe Lieberman running. I was so saddened to hear so much debate over his religion. It's part of who he is. As long as his values are sound, I think he could run this country.”
So here is my question: Can a person's values be sound whose religious beliefs differ from your own? Can they be sound if the person has no religious beliefs? If by values, we mean the obvious — love of family, community, truth, integrity, honesty, etc. Can all of those values, adhered to with allegiance, be enough to get our vote, or do we need the candidate to share our specific religion as well?
It would appear Romney is about to find out, and we right along with him.