Michael Novak has graciously responded to my post from yesterday about his endorsement of Mitt Romney. He clarifies that he does not mean to suggest that there is a Christian duty to support Romney because his Mormonism has become a subject of the campaign. Phew!
But in his clarification, Novak does suggest that Romney’s Mormonism is not a valid subject of political discussion:
. . . Mormonism is a suitable issue for one’s own decision about whether or not Mormonism is the true religion, which compels one’s own mind. It is a suitable issue, too, for philosophical and theological discussion. But to make the case that of differences of religious faith among candidates is a useful discussion in choosing a President of the United States, one needs to make a number of distinctions and to make explicit a series of assumptions.
It seems to me that the number of distinctions and assumptions needed aren’t all that great. As I noted yesterday, Father Neuhaus summed up why Romney’s Mormonism is a valid question for voters quite nicely here:
I believe that many Mormons are Christians as broadly defined by historic markers of Christian faith. That does not mean that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christian. It is indisputably derived from Christianity and variations on Christianity, but its distinctive and constituting doctrines are irreconcilable with even a very liberal construal of biblical Christianity. It is, as Rodney Stark and many others have argued, a new religion and, by the lights of historic Christianity, a false religion. It is true that there are Mormon scholars who are working mightily to reconcile the LDS with Christianity, and one wishes them well, but they have their work cut out for them.
It is not an unreasonable prejudice for people who, unlike Alan Wolfe et al., care about true religion to take their concern about Mormonism into account in considering the candidacy of Mr. Romney. The question is not whether, as president, Mr. Romney would take orders from Salt Lake City. I doubt whether many people think he would. The questions are: Would a Mormon as president of the United States give greater credibility and prestige to Mormonism? The answer is almost certainly yes. Would it therefore help advance the missionary goals of what many view as a false religion? The answer is almost certainly yes. Is it legitimate for those Americans to take these questions into account in voting for a presidential nominee or candidate? The answer is certainly yes.
Perhaps Novak disagrees with Fr. Neuhaus on this score.
In a related matter, a friend from National Review writes in to point out that the magazine’s endorsement of Romney did not label him the “‘most viable’ conservative candidate,” as I wrote, but rather the “the most conservative viable candidate.” A fair point, and I’m grateful for the correction.