There are those who want Mitt Romney to explicitly address questions and concerns about his Mormonism. I think this advice is both mistaken (when it’s not altogether cynical, rather in the style of Shakespeare’s Iago) as a matter of practical politics and, in fact, deeply wrong.
It’s deeply wrong because there should never be a litmus test of theological orthodoxy for public office in the United States, and because making details of practice and doctrine into issues for press conferences would effectively constitute such a test. To impose one would be to create a hierarchy of acceptable religions and merely tolerated “heretical” minorities. And that has no place in American society.
It’s mistaken (or worse) as practical politics because it would introduce endless, irrelevant, and ultimately destructive religious wrangling into the presidential race, and because doing so would distract from the serious issues we face that are within the constitutional scope of legislation and public policy.
However, I do believe that Mitt Romney and his campaign would be wrong (for instance, in the bio-pic that will inevitably be featured at the Republican convention) to say nothing at all about his life of faith and service. To leave that important element of his story altogether out of the narrative would be not only to leave a weird gap in his biography but to solidify the picture that some have of him as an out-of-touch, hollow, and uncaring man concerned only with money and profits, unaware of the troubles of ordinary people.
Ross Douthat has a very good piece on this in the New York Times.
Some years back, John Delulio (formerly of Princeton and now at the University of Pennsylvania) argued in his book Godly Republic that America is neither a secular nation nor, really, a Christian one. It has always, since its founding, espoused a kind of public “civic religion” — sub-Christian, perhaps, but, while uneasy with vocal unbelief, compatible with Christianity (and with Judaism, and, though still maybe a bit awkwardly, with other faiths including Islam). I agree with Dilulio, and believe that an open affirmation by Governor Romney of the generalities of his faith and faithful service, without distracting attention to doctrinal details and peculiar practices, would be entirely in keeping with that “civic religion.”