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I must admit Romney’s statement – “Freedom requires religion, just as religion requires freedom” – sounds like a political slogan, not theology. After all, religion has been around since before God told Abraham to leave Ur and go to The Promised Land; it survived the Pharaohs, Romans and The Dark Ages when there was little more than a glimmer of what we call freedom. But, that aside, I’d like to hear Romney take a moment and talk a little more about the Mormon Church.

A month ago Romney’s campaign was humming along like a well-oiled machine – then he woke up one morning to find himself trailing Mike Huckabee in Iowa by 22 points. What happened?

Well, he told us himself (with his speech in Houston): His religion became an issue. In Iowa evangelicals started flocking to Baptist minister Mike Huckabee – who soared past Romney. It’s not that they dislike Romney. In fact, polls show the opposite. But Huckabee fits the evangelical mold like a glove, and there has been enough speculation about what Mormons believe – like when Huckabee asked, “Don’t Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?” – to raise doubts.

Romney tried to address those doubts (in his speech) by saying judge me by my marriage and family and personal life – those are my values. It’s a good argument. But it’s also an evasion and it left the doubts in place.

Romney’s second solution was political. He attacked Huckabee. His theory seems to be if evangelicals dislike Huckabee’s stand on giving illegal immigrants in-state tuition as governor, they will vote for Romney despite their doubts. But, again, the solution begs the question.

At the start of this campaign I was under the impression there wasn’t much difference between other Protestants and Mormons, except Mormons had a few extra beliefs (like including the Book of Mormon in their Bible). But then I talked to a friend (who is well-versed in theology) who said, “Well, no, it’s more complex than that.” He thought Mormons are more of a sect or a cult than a denomination. So I set about trying to learn what Mormons believe – which turned out to be surprisingly difficult.

For instance, I read (on a website sponsored by PBS) that Mormons, unlike most Protestant churches, do not believe in the Nicene Creed. But I couldn’t find out why. I read Mormons believe in what they call the ‘Great Apostasy’ – which says the Baptists, Catholics, Episcopalians, etc., have all fallen into heresy and Mormons are the one true church. But, again, it’s hard to say exactly what the Baptists and Catholics believe that is heresy.

Mormons also recognize a rite called ‘Baptism of the Dead’ – which apparently means just what it says – and believe men may progress in the afterlife until they become sort of like gods themselves. I can’t say how much of this is accurate – or a fair depiction of Mormon theology – but the point is the confusion about Mormon beliefs has raised doubts.

And it is puzzling Romney has evaded rather than addressed them. If Mormons, as he seems to be saying (for instance when he says Christ is his Savior) are simply another denomination with a few doctrinal differences from other churches – why not just take a moment to explain them? The result would probably be a big yawn that would put all the doubt and confusion to rest.

It’s easy to understand the last thing Mitt Romney wants in the middle of a presidential campaign is a debate on theology. But he’s running in a primary election where a lot of voters care deeply about religion – and he’s running against a Baptist minister. Like it or not, his religion is now an issue because many people don’t understand it – so he ought to take a moment to explain.

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