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Douthat on Romney's Big Religion Speech

My post on Romney's impending speech dealing with his Mormonism drew the ire of Ross Douthat at The Atlantic, who judged my suggestion that Mitt stress the successful LDS model of cultural conservatism as "exactly wrong."

Douthat strongly subscribes to the theory that the most important reason for evangelical Christian hostility towards Mormonism is competitive pressure: Mormons "tend to offer a similar sociological appeal to religious seekers, and thus are in direct competition for converts." Thus, he concludes, anything that reminds evangelicals of the similarity of that appeal to their own--much less that celebrates Mormon moral values--will horribly backfire.

Gee, I dunno. Douthat's a lot closer to evangelical opinion than I am these days, but I suspect this competition factor is more prevalent among religious leaders than among the rank-and-file in the pews. But even if your typical Southern Baptists look at your typical Mormons and see zealous members of a rapidly-growing cult that's stealing souls, they also inevitably see deeply conservative, godly folk who are renowned for clean living, patriotism, an intense devotion to family, and who dislike abortion, homosexuality and booze and drug use to a fault. You'd think that anything Mitt Romney could do to elevate the latter perception as opposed to the former would be helpful to the cause of conservative evangelical tolerance for Mormons, who after all, are comrades-in-arms in the larger fight against liberal Protestants and secularists.

If, on the other hand, I'm "exactly wrong" and Douthat is "exactly right," then Mitt Romney is truly screwed. What is he supposed to say about his religion? He can't do the JFK separation-of-church-and-state bit; he's in the wrong party at the wrong time of history for that approach. He can't educate evangelicals about the tenets of the LDS church; aside from being a complex endeavor, that would probably alarm listeners even more than their current vague suspicions about the Mormon "cult." So if he also can't even appeal to the deep cultural conservative consanguinity of Mormons with evangelicals, he might as well cancel the speech and hope for the best.