Romney Hopes to Sway Evangelicals with Speech Concerned that questions about his Mormon faith are hurting his presidential campaign, Mitt Romney will give a speech on "Faith in America" on Thursday. The situation recalls that faced by John F. Kennedy in 1960, when he gave a historic speech two months before he was elected the first Catholic president.
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Romney Hopes to Sway Evangelicals with Speech

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Romney Hopes to Sway Evangelicals with Speech

Romney Hopes to Sway Evangelicals with Speech

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

Tomorrow, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney plans to make what he calls a statement about faith. He will try to dispel concerns about his adherence to Mormonism. That speech and a visit to Texas A&M University. The statement is being compared with John F. Kennedy's speech on his Catholicism when he ran for president in 1960.

NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports.

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: Last week during the YouTube-CNN debate, Mitt Romney was asked an awkward question for a Mormon: "Does he believe every word of the Bible?"

Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Republican, Massachusetts; Presidential Candidate): You know, yeah, I believe it's the word of God, the Bible is the word of God. I mean, I might interpret the word differently than you interpret the word, but I read the Bible and I believe the Bible is the word of God. I don't disagree with the Bible. I try to live by it.

HAGERTY: He did not say he believes the Bible is inerrant, which evangelical Christians do, nor that he believes the Book of Mormon is a new revelation from God, which Christians reject. Such theological shoals are difficult to negotiate in sound bites. So tomorrow, Romney is offering a summary of his faith on his own terms - uninterrupted - in a speech in Texas.

Shaun Casey, an expert on religion and politics at Wesley Theological Seminary, says Romney will be talking to the people he needs in order to win the Republican nomination: the nearly 40 percent of white evangelicals who hold an unfavorable opinion of the Mormon faith.

Professor SHAUN CASEY (Christian Ethics, Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington, D.C.): He has to show that his Mormon values are equivalent with evangelical, Christian values. The difficulty is he really can't drill down very far doctrinally or theologically because of some of the historic differences and the historic animosity between evangelical Christians on the one hand and Mormons on the other.

HAGERTY: You could hear that ambivalence at Bob Evan's restaurant in Springfield, Virginia this morning, where a group of men met to study the Bible. While Mormons insist that their faith is Christian, consultant Lou Preebee says Mormons hold different views of the role of Jesus, salvation, the afterlife, the Trinity. He says electing a Mormon president would send a signal to the world.

Mr. LOU PREEBEE (Consultant): It gives a validation of Mormonism as a legitimate Christian denomination, which it is not.

HAGERTY: Computer programmer Eric Hughes is willing to consider Romney, and he says Romney's speech could win or lose his vote.

Mr. ERIC HUGHES (Computer Programmer): Probably the biggest deal breaker for me would be if he were to go up there and claim that fundamental Christianity and Mormonism are identical.

HAGERTY: Why would that be a deal breaker?

Mr. HUGHES: There are so many chameleons. I would love to see somebody who can be completely open and honest about their faith.

HAGERTY: Ralph Weitz, a lay minister who meets with the group, says he, too, is troubled by the doctrines of Mormonism.

Mr. RALPH WEITZ (Lay Minister): On the other side, the Mormon faith does bring certain values to the table, just like Kennedy's Catholicism did. And he needs to clarify how much he will be controlled by the denomination versus a faith that brings value.

HAGERTY: In September 1960, then-Senator John F. Kennedy made a speech to Evangelical leaders in Houston Texas, which can be seen on Like Romney, Kennedy faced questions about whether he would follow the wishes of his church in public policy. He declared he would not. And he warned about religious intolerance.

President JOHN F. KENNEDY: For while this year, it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed. In other years, it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew, or a Quaker, or a Unitarian, or a Baptist.

HAGERTY: Or a Mormon. But much has changed in nearly a half-century. In 1960, political candidates were not expected to wear their faith on their sleeve, as many do today. Kennedy also represented a religion followed by nearly one-third of all Americans. Mormonism claims about 3 percent. And yet, some evangelical leaders have been receptive to Romney's message on religion.

Albert Mohler at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville has not endorsed Romney, but he says…

Dr. ALBERT MOHLER (President, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary): I find him attractive in terms of his policy positions. And I think along with many evangelicals, I would find Mitt Romney very attractive in terms of who he is as a man, as a husband, as a father. And I think you're looking at someone who really does have the kind of experience, who carries himself like a president, and one that evangelicals could see in that office.

HAGERTY: Mohler says evangelicals who say they won't vote for a Mormon may reconsider.

Mr. MOHLER: If, for instance, there is a liberal Democrat at the top of the Democratic ticket, I think there are an awful lot of evangelicals who'll discover, well, you know, a week ago, I didn't think I could vote for a Mormon. But now, I think I will.

HAGERTY: Mitt Romney hopes to make that easier for them starting with tomorrow's speech.

Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News.

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