Mitt Romney wants to run on his religion in 2016. Please do.

In an apparent run-up to a third presidential bid, the Washington Post reported yesterday that Mitt Romney will likely feature his Mormon faith far more in 2016 than he did in his previous two presidential runs.

[UPDATE: It turns out this was something of a trial balloon and Mitt will not seek the presidency in 2016.]

Romney has generally avoided discussing his Mormon faith for fear of it being used to attack him. As there’s a debate within the Evangelical community as to whether Mormons are really Christians — many Evangelicals don’t think Catholics are Christians, so imagine their opinion of Mormons — and as the Mormon church has embraced extreme social conservatism in recent decades, advisers to Romney’s 2008 and 2012 runs (correctly) assumed that their candidate’s religion would be a liability with both primary and general election voters.

However, a would-be Romney ’16 campaign would flip that script, with a more “authentic” Romney openly-discussing his faith.

As his son, Tagg, said to the Post:

If he were to run again… I believe he would be much more willing to open up and share who he is — not by asking others to learn the doctrines of his faith, but by speaking of the values of love and service that it has taught him.

Should Romney make it out of the crowded GOP primary field (which he currently leads, but it’s probably too soon for that to mean anything), this would be great for whichever Democrat he faces for two reasons:

1. Mormon metaphysics are bad politics

If Mitt Romney wants to make his faith fair game in a 2016 run, he won’t necessarily have to answer for every verse in the Book of Mormon. He will, however, have to answer for church doctrine and policy that he has endorsed, both directly and indirectly, during his time as a member.

For starters, it wasn’t until 1978, when Mitt Romney was 31 years old, that Mormon leaders had the “revelation” that black people were in fact equal to whites, and could therefore fully participate in the religion’s rituals and traditions. When pressed by Tim Russert in 2008, Romney expressed personal relief that the policy was changed in 1978, but refused to say that the Church’s pre-1978 stance was wrong:

Romney makes three important assertions in his answer:

  • He has always believed that people of all races are equal.
  • He was happy (to the point of tears) when the Mormon church adopted its enlightened view of African-Americans, long after he was an adult member.
  • He is proud of his faith and is “not going to distance [himself] in any way from [his] faith.”

In order to believe all of these things at the same time, and to refuse to say that your religious institution was wrong to hold a doctrine that you disagreed with and was later reversed, one has to believe that the Church is always right, even when it’s wrong. That’s a dangerous belief for a President to have — especially about racism — and we should expect a more elaborate answer from Mitt Romney in the event that he brings his faith into the foreground of a 2016 campaign.

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This expectation should extend to other aspects of Romney’s Mormon faith over which he has so far avoided serious scrutiny. As silly as it sounds that the Mormon church regularly baptizes the souls of the dead — including scores of Holocaust victims, Joan of Arc, Anne Frank, Elvis, Princess Diana, Ghandi, Pope John Paul II, Hitler, and even Barack Obama’s mother (without his knowledge). The Romney family alsop posthumously baptized Ann Romney’s atheist father. This was largely ignored during his prior presidential runs because Romney was intent on making his faith a non-issue. But if he wants us to engage with his faith in a 2016 run, questions as to whether or not he believes in this brand of metaphysics have to be fair game.

2. Mormon values are progressive values

On the rare occasions when he has been pressed on the nature of his beliefs, candidate Romney has typically pivoted to a discussion of Mormon values, as opposed to dogmas. And if Tagg Romney’s quote in the Washington Post about “the values of love and service” is any indication, that’s the frame in which Mitt’s re-rebooted campaign will present his faith. And this makes sense; it’s much more comfortable to talk about “love and service” than it is to talk about racist doctrines and forcible mystical conversions.

However, the more you talk about Mormon values with respect to love and service, the closer you get to everything Mitt Romney has stood against for the last eight years.

I’d imagine that when conservative Mormons hear Harry Reid say “I’m a liberal because I’m a Mormon, not in spite of it,” they get a similar nails-on-chalkboard feeling to the one atheists such as myself get when we hear that we might be baptized against our will after we die. But if you take the dogma and Puritanical social regulations out of Mormonism, you’re left with a demonstrably progressive worldview with respect to social welfare and engagement.

That’s dangerous for Romney, who’s currently trying to etch-a-sketch his way into being the candidate of the poor and downtrodden despite nearly a decade of talking down to the kinds of people these Mormon values would suggest are deserving of the most respect. As far as Mitt Romney is concerned, “the values of love and service” open him up to more uncomfortable questions than the doctrines of racism and magic.

For starters:

  • How do “the values of love and service” square with doctrine of self-deportation, where we don’t bother to forcibly remove illegal immigrants from our country; we just make life so miserable that they leave on their own?
  • How do “the values of love and service” square with the doctrine of rugged individualism, like that time Romney told students who can’t afford to pay for college to “borrow money from your parents” as an alternative to lowering interest rates on student loans?
  • How do “the values of love and service” square with the doctrine of hate-filled opposition to marriage equality, which Mitt Romney officially endorsed when his PAC donated $10,000 to the National Organization for Marriage’s campaign for Prop 8?
  • How do “the values of love and service” square with the doctrine of Reaganomics, slashing the social safety net while cutting taxes for the people who need the least help getting by?

If being a Mormon means loving your neighbor, lending a helping hand and embracing your social responsibilities as a member of a community, then Mitt Romney has failed his own religious test. If he wants to roll out these values as the centerpiece of a 2016 campaign, he’ll have a full career to answer for before America believes that those values translate into conservative doctrines.

Please proceed, Governor.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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