Michael Gerson

Questions remain about the role of Mormonism in depressing evangelical political enthusiasm. Some religious conservatives are concerned that a Romney presidency would provide theological legitimacy for a rival, proselytizing faith. But it is unclear how silence from Romney on religion would mitigate this fear. And a portion of the evangelical enthusiasm gap is explainable for another reason entirely: the suspicions of social conservatives about the authenticity of Romney's social conservatism.

Romney's pressing need to inject some authenticity -- or at least some personality -- into his campaign is the primary reason he should talk more about his faith. Take away Romney's religion and you are left with Harvard, Bain and various corporate boardrooms. Mormonism has been one of the main stages for his leadership, as well as the main setting where he has displayed humanity. He has been a missionary, a lay minister, a spiritual guide. He has delivered sermons, counseled couples and worked with leaders of other faiths. Mormonism is the reason for Romney's rectitude, the explanation for his wholesomeness, the key to understanding his persona. Without it, he would merely be a stiff, able management consultant. Romney's reticence on religion leaves a large personal and biographical gap.

This does not mean Romney should quote from the Book of Jarom in his convention speech. It is constitutionally improper for a president (or prospective president) to be sectarian. But it is constitutionally appropriate -- and politically advisable for Romney -- to tell his whole personal story, which is uninteresting without his faith. Romney needs to tether his character and values to an immovable stake. And he has every cause to praise the generosity of a country where no group need be an "out-group" forever.

In the process, Romney would accomplish for Mormonism what others achieved for Catholicism and Judaism -- the incorporation of a new tradition into American civil religion. This does not involve theological acceptance, just a recognition of common values and common citizenship. And it may come easier for Mormonism than many imagine, because no faith is more distinctly American.


Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
 
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