Three Course Corrections – An Open Letter to Mitt Romney

Dear Mr Romney,

We’ve only met once, but we have mutual friends — and in the strange and often surprising interconnectedness the internet provides, I write in the hope, however humble, that this letter will actually find its way into your hands.  I’ve admired you ever since the SLC Olympics.  I supported you throughout your governorship.  I still desperately wish that you had won the nomination in 2008, and I’ve done what little I can do to support you through Evangelicals for Mitt.  So I write this letter as a supporter.

I believe you will win the nomination.  If the polls are correct, today you will win Florida.  From there, you will be tough to beat.  There are three points on which I want to encourage you.  You may well win the nomination — and even the White House — whether or not you do these things.  But I believe they increase the likelihood of your nomination, and of your election, and that they’re important for you personally and for us as a nation.

Point #1: It’s never, never “all about the economy.”

It’s practically a ritual every two years for Republicans to suggest that this election will be all about the economy — and it’s certainly a pattern every two years for Republicans to rediscover just how important social conservatives really are to their coalition.  It’s by and large the social conservatives who have caused the wild swings from Bachmann to Perry to Cain and now to Santorum and Gingrich.  Most of them are not ardently opposed to you.  They’re just not yet convinced — and you can convince them.

Of course, it’s no mystery why you chose to focus on economic matters.  Fixing the economy is the most important issue for American voters right now, and it happens to be your area of greatest expertise.  You also know from previous races that your credentials as a social conservative are viewed with some skepticism.  Besides, much of the opposition you face amongst conservatives is simply cultural.  You’re a northeastern elite, and, well, can anything conservative come from Boston?

Of the remaining candidates, you will most effectively represent social conservative values.  Why?  For one thing, no politician can represent social conservative values in the White House if he cannot win the White House, and not a single one of your remaining opponents stands a realistic shot of winning the general election.  For another, your friends tell me that you are sincerely committed to the cause.  You will support pro-life and pro-family legislation, and name judges to the bench who support the same values.  But it’s hard for me, as your supporter, to make the case that you really do care about protecting the unborn and preserving the traditional family structure when you rarely reference the issues, and then only perfunctorily.

Don’t get me wrong.  Your campaign team, not unreasonably, believes that when the conversation is focused on the economy, you win.  And as you’re attacked for your wealth, your overseas investments, and your many years as a leader in venture capital and private equity, you can and must become an explainer and defender of capitalism itself.  Americans by and large (and through decades of attacks on capitalism in the academy) have forgotten the virtues of the free market and have let the “economic virtues” that support the marketplace deteriorate.  In private settings, you radiate a Reagan-like optimism and confidence in the power of the free market.  You need to show you’re a Reagan and not a Rockefeller Republican, that you want to transform our political picture and not merely manage the mess a little better.  So, yes, you can and must sound a clarion call to industry and creativity, responsibility and self-reliance, thrift and stewardship, even as you build a movement for limited government and a private sector less burdened by the tax- and regulatory-structure.

But you also need to deliver a signature speech on abortion — and make it the best pro-life speech in recent memory.  The speech should begin by explaining why, in the light of the death of your dear relative (Ann Keenan) to an illegal abortion prior to Roe v. Wade, your mother and your family in general took a “personally pro-life but not willing to impose that view on others” position; then it should confess the error of this position (as you have done before).  Evangelicals love confessions, but few know the context of your earlier stance.  Then the speech should explain your conversion in 2004 and the strengthening of your pro-life convictions in the years that followed; it should walk us through your reasoning on the tougher life-related decisions you faced as Governor; then, most importantly, it should set forth a stirring vision for an America that is good and decent and compassionate enough to protect the most innocent and vulnerable of human lives.

This is not asking you to pander.  It’s asking you to give a thoroughgoing account of your deepening conviction that we must defend the unborn, and a vivid demonstration of your passion and your willingness to lead on these issues.  When it comes to rallying religious conservatives, now and in the general election, abortion is the single most crucial issue.  As long as there is a clear contrast between you and Obama on abortion, you will win the support of many religious moderates for whom abortion is the one non-negotiable issue.  Muddy that contrast, lose the election.  Make a profound pro-life case, and many religious conservatives who want to support you will be relieved that they can do so in good faith, and they will swell your ranks swiftly.

Point #2: Don’t give up on evangelicals.

Some very public evangelicals have very publicly denounced you and your faith.  Your cherished religious community, the community in which you were raised by loving parents, in which you’ve raised your own children, the same community that you have served so tirelessly over decades, was slandered as a “cult” by an influential pastor.  You, ergo, were portrayed as a cult member.  Many evangelical leaders defended this choice of wording, and few have spoken out even against the more obvious efflorescences of anti-Mormon bigotry.  To make matters worse, an entire generation of conservative evangelical activists/leaders gathered in Texas to rally around some candidate other than you.  So it would be perfectly understandable if you felt that you had little incentive — or no stomach — for further engagement with evangelicals.

This, however, would be a mistake.  Even with Santorum, Perry and Gingrich in the race, you won over 40% of evangelicals in New Hampshire, and you’re on course to win over thirty percent in Florida.  Of those evangelicals who oppose you, few do so passionately, and most are compelled not by prejudice but by misinformation about your record and your positions.  In other words, many evangelicals support you now, and many more are willing to support you if they can be convinced that your stances on abortion, the family and religious liberties are sincere and impassioned, and not simply assumed for political convenience.

Yet your outreach to evangelicals has to change.  While a signature speech on abortion would go a long way, evangelical leaders will feel more comfortable with you when they spend some time with you.  Young evangelical leading lights, president and deans of seminaries and colleges, pastors of mega-churches–I know many who want to see you win, many who are willing to lend their assistance if only you would ask.  Your campaign is leaving an awful lot of assets unemployed in the evangelical world.  I’d encourage you, in as many states as possible, to hold informal, off-the-record gatherings with religious conservatives where they can earnestly express their concerns and you can show them the sincerity of your convictions.  Will there be some leaks and uncomfortable conversations?  Yes.  But the more comfortable with you they become as a person, the more they’ll trust you as the steward of their values and principles in Washington.

Point #3: Own your faith.

This may be the most important point of all.  Your discipline is the stuff of legend.  And after your father’s campaign for the presidency ran off the rails when he referred to a “brainwashing” on the Vietnam issue, the exercise of an extraordinarily meticulous self-control has become a pervasive theme in your family.  But these things are largely responsible for the “Romneybot” moniker.  Your behavior seems a little too programmed, too scripted, and therefore artificial.  It makes it hard for many people to connect with you.  And although Richard Land meant it in a different (and incorrect) sense, I believe he was inadvertently onto something when he said you’re “not Mormon enough” for many evangelicals.

You love God.  You strive to follow God’s leading in your life.  Although we would differ on the metaphysics of Christ’s nature, in practice your personal relationship with Jesus Christ looks an awful lot like the one that evangelicals enjoy.  These are not things that northeasterners typically wear on their sleeves, and your campaign is understandably reluctant to shine a spotlight on your Mormonism.  Evangelicals would grow more uncomfortable with you if they thought you were going to be making an argument on behalf of Mormonism throughout your presidency.  So you should not engage in apologetics.  But they will grow more comfortable with you if they see the depth, the vitality, and the heartfelt authenticity of your relationship with God.  They will grow more comfortable if they better understand your pastoral experience (let’s call it what it is) as ward bishop and stake president.  You have rich experiences in missions and preaching and pastoral counseling, and in all these ways you connected with ordinary people, ordinary workers, in the struggles of everyday life.

I think you need to let go.  There is wisdom in self-discipline.  But there’s wisdom also in simply being who you are and trusting the consequences to God.  It’s time to let your faith flag fly.  Be clear that it will not be your role to defend Mormonism or advance its interests.  But be clear too that you love God sincerely and strive to follow His will in everything you do, sometimes failing, sometimes succeeding, sometimes bringing healing into broken families and communities.  These things humanize you.  They make you relatable.  And the people will not support you with fervor unless they feel that they know you, heart and soul.

I’m praying that God will guide and sustain you, as well as all of the GOP candidates and our current President.  This is a tough country to lead, and we need a leader of humility, integrity and wisdom now more than ever.  I believe that you are the right man for precisely this time.  Time will tell.  Sincerely,

Timothy Dalrymple

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  • > “[Evangelicals] will grow more comfortable with you if they see the depth, the vitality, and the heartfelt authenticity of your relationship with God.”

    You might as well say:

    > “[Evangelicals] will grow more comfortable with you if they see the depth, the vitality, and the heartfelt authenticity of your relationship with [Baal].”

    Do you *really* believe that Mormonism has a different God? You seem to send mixed signals about this.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      See my response to Charles Cherry.

      Out of curiosity: Have you ever closely observed the faith lives of Mormons?

  • Rick

    Add a 4th: Don’t be outspoken with negatives towards others. Give positives by explaining your own solutions.

    • Captain Dg

      This is perfect advice. If you lead with the positive it will be more difficult to make gaffes like the “don’t care about the poor stuff.” Though misconstrued it still sounds bad. Instead, answer with your first priority, don’t get bogged down.

  • Charles Cherry

    You talk to Mitt Romney as if his god and the Christian God (your God, I presume) are one and the same person. Do you actually believe this?

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      I believe there’s only one God. God revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ. I think Mormon theology gets several important points about God wrong. But I do believe they’re trying to understand, relate to, and obey the same God.

      • Mr. Dalrymple, your understanding of Mormon theology is woefully inadequate. By its own admission, the LDS Church believes that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are three separate Gods in essence. The pro-Mormon website explains that, in Mormon theology, Jesus is not El Elyon, the Most High God who is mentioned in the Old Testament. Instead, Mormons believe that Jesus is a separate God called Yahweh. Polytheism is at the core of Joseph Smith, Jr.’s teachings. In Volume 6 of Journal of Discourses, Smith says, “In the beginning, the head of the Gods called a council of the Gods; and they came together and concocted a plan to create the world and people it.”

        In contrast, Christianity is a monotheistic faith. Christians believe that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are the same God in essence. In Christian theology, Jesus is El Elyon, the Most High God (also called “Yahweh”) who created the heavens and the Earth and who later came in the flesh. Contrary to the polytheism taught by Smith, Christians affirm the monotheism taught in Isaiah Chapter 45.

        I don’t believe that Mitt Romney’s status as a Mormon should disqualify him from the Oval Office. However, I reject the claim that Mormons and Christians have the same God, because Mormon theology reveals the opposite.

        • Timothy Dalrymple

          Nothing you’ve stated here is news to me, David. I’ve spent an awful lot of time studying theology, and I’ve done a fair amount of research into Mormon theology. But you misunderstood me. I did not say that Mormonism and orthodox Christianity have the same view of God. I said that there is one God and both Mormonism and orthodox Christianity are attempting to understand that God. My standard for the right understanding of God is what’s revealed in the OT and NT scriptures, and especially the revelation of God in Christ. Given the ways in which Mormon theology has developed since the time of Joseph Smith, I think they’re much closer to a right understanding of God than they used to be, but I still have substantive disagreements.

  • G. Kyle Essary

    You have changed your wording quite considerably since the Jeffres mess. By the way, we disagree on much more than the metaphysical nature of Christ, and you know that well. This letter (which was posted first and foremost for your evangelical readers) seems like its trying to soften them as much as support them.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Actually, I dislike it when people post “open letters” that are really intended for everyone except for the person addressed. I tried to write this as if Mitt Romney were going to pick it up as soon as I finished — and then I passed it along to friends in his campaign. If it were really intended for evangelicals, it would have had more clarifications and qualifications, more…well, it would look more like the things I’ve written for evangelicals.

      Mormons and orthodox Christians disagree on many points. I was just talking about Jesus at that point, so I made that point. If I had been talking about other aspects of Christian theology, I would have been specific there. The purpose of the letter was not to flesh out all our differences.

  • G. Kyle Essary

    Do you think it would have been less slanderous had Jeffress followed your suggestion and called him unChristian or a false Christian? I think those, and especially the latter, would have caused more uproar.

    • Matt

      From what I have read of Tim’s views, that is not what he would suggest.

      A person makes no substantive point when he tells a person who is trying to follow Christ that they are not Christian, because there is not universally accepted definition of the word “Christian.” So all you are really doing when you take this approach or call another religion a “cult” is putting up obstacles that obstruct meaningful communication with that person. No one is benefited from that.

      I believe Tim has made the point before, and I agree, that, especially in inter-faith communications, it is critical to be mindful of how what we are trying to say is affected by how we say it.

  • Well done Timothy. There is no perfect candidate, Politics is the art of the possible. We have to ask what is possible – who is electable? Idealism, even in theological orthodoxy and praxis, is practically impossible. We are not electing a pope for a theocracy but a dealmaker who will right the ship of state and preserve our future. Your suggestions are right on.

  • Larry Ray

    This is very nice, thoughtful article. You correctly observe that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not “wear their religion on their sleeves.” I am a member of the LDS Church, and this culture is not merely a northeastern thing, but generally throughout the Church. Our commitment is more personal, private, and quiet, discussed in reverential tones. This may not be the experience of other Christian communities, but it does not mean that members of the LDS Church have less religious committment, or that they do not worship Jesus Christ.

    Personally, I know that Jesus is my Lord and Savior. I have received personal confirmation many times over. This has helped me live my life in harmony with the Gospel. It is disheartening that there are many who condemn me simply because of my Church affiliation. I believe that there is only One who is qualified to judge, and I place my faith in Him.

  • JL Fuller

    When a person has connected to God throught eh Holy Ghiost, they are changed inside. That change is felt by anyone. It is not limited by relgious tradition. That is what I beleive and am taought as a Mormon. I have expereinced it as I know others have. It is called by many, including me, as have God i n your heart. If He is truly there you cannot feel hatred towards any other human being or ther ideology. It is not possible. YOu may feel angry or hurt or sad but not hate. YOu may be fearful and you may find certain behaviors disgusting but you cannot hate. If at anytime you cannot feel love towards another human being I suggest God is not in you. if at any time you cannot find some truth some beauty or some goodness in other faith tradtions I suggest God is not in you.