As an American, a Republican, and a fiscal and social conservative -- and though I have endorsed no Republican candidate -- there is one thing that would disturb me greatly if Mitt Romney were not the Republican nominee: if Romney's Mormon faith were a factor in his defeat.
Many evangelical leaders have said that if Romney is the Republican presidential candidate, they would not vote for him in the general election. What is implied -- and sometimes explicitly stated -- is that his Mormonism prevents them from voting for him in the primaries.
Most evangelicals label Mormonism a cult, and many accuse Mormons of being dishonest for calling themselves Christians.
Let me explain where I'm coming from on this issue. First, all I care about with regard to the forthcoming election is that a Republican wins. It is difficult to see how the United States could survive as anything but another Europe between Mexico and Canada (while Europe itself is not surviving as Europe) with another four years of the most left-wing president in American history. Just the prospect of Barack Obama appointing one or more Supreme Court justices should focus every non-leftist's mind.
Second, as a Jew, I have no religious pony in this race. I believe that American Christianity has been the greatest force for good in the modern world and that evangelicals are at the core of America's backbone. And I have enormous respect for Mormons. Third, none of my favorite candidates -- Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio, for example -- are running. So I do not write this column on behalf of Mitt Romney or against Newt Gingrich.
Having said that, let me offer three observations on Mormonism and evangelical views of it.
Observation No. 1: Regarding Mormonism being labeled a cult, my study of religious history has taught me that just about every religion is seen as a cult in its formative years by the religion from which it sprang, or it gets labeled a cult by the older religion in order to delegitimize it. Jews and others regarded Christianity as a cult in its early years. Sunnis regard Shiites as a cult. The Catholic Church saw the early Protestants as a cult, while Protestants regarded the Roman Church as a cult. And Christians regarded the early Mormons as a cult.
Over the course of time, as a religion establishes itself and its members act more or less like members of the older religions, the charge is usually dropped. Jews hardly regard Christianity as a cult, and few Catholics or Protestants regard the other as members of a cult. After nearly 200 years, Mormons are an integral part of American society, with impressive reputations for family life, integrity and other values. The "cult" label just doesn't seem appropriate.