One of my friends in college had a part-time job selling shoes. His entrepreneurial philosophy was: when you’ve sold the shoes, shut up. Once a customer has agreed to buy a pair of shoes, he reasoned, you can’t sell the shoes any more. If you keep talking, you only risk killing the sale altogether.
Mitt Romney is selling shoes, which is why he says next to nothing about most everything, including his religion. Jonathan Merritt of Religion News Service tells us that Romney does not have an “evangelical problem.”
The supposition that evangelical voters cannot bring themselves to vote for a Mormon candidate, writes Merritt, is just “not true.”
Indeed, the numbers show that evangelical Christians are just as solidly behind Romney as they were behind McCain four years ago. Faith-based voters of the evangelical Christian bloc are not “faith-based” at all, apparently, but are driven by political exigencies. According to Merritt, “Conservative Christians were always going to support the Republican candidate no matter who it was.”
No wonder that an entrepreneur as savvy as Romney has shut up. The evangelical bloc has bought the shoes. He’s not going to convince them any more that he’s the Republican nominee.
On the other hand, Romney still has customers wandering about the store. Recent numbers from the Pew Research Center show that Catholics and mainline Protestants were more enthusiastic for McCain eight years ago than they are now for Romney.
The media punditry continue to wonder what lies in the foundation of Romney’s character, and the fairly tepid feeling about Romney that polls consistently reveal suggests that everyday voters whose commitment isn’t first to a political ideology haven’t yet found a good reason to identify with Romney. If Romney wants to make a sale to these customers, he’ll have to abandon his policy of uneasy silence. Some authentic indication of a sound, religious foundation in Romney’s identity could go far in convincing the voters for whom a political agenda is no substitute for a deep, fervent commitment to the world.
In addition, for instance, to citing “shared moral values” (the non-confrontational euphemism that the Romney campaign has substituted for a genuine declaration of faith), Romney could explain something of the scriptural imperative in his religion to care for the poor without passing judgment on their poverty.
He might explain how his religious heritage values industry when it is in the service of building the communities in which everyone lives.
He could open up about the way his church trains its adherents to pay tithing without interrogating the collective good those funds support (and a flat 10 percent tithing rate, too, for rich and poor, together).
He could show how the core of his religion values education—in languages, history, international relations, even geology.
He could address the ways in which his religion demands environmental responsibility.
He could say something about the way his religion insists on a commitment to pursue wisdom before pursuing money.
He might even discuss the way his faith understands all of humanity—here in the U.S., in Estonia, in China, in Gaza, in Iran, and everywhere else—as a divine family, whose members have the same claim on the love, compassion, respect, and forbearance that we extend to the people in our own homes.
As long as he is content with selling shoes to evangelical voters—sales consummated by avoiding religious discourse entirely—Romney will have his Republican base and, in exchange, will have no claim on the genuinely faith-based voters who are sidling towards the candidate for whom religion is not an uncomfortable, embarrassing worldview that sells better when smothered.
David Mason is an associate professor at Rhodes College in Memphis. He is the author of “Theatre and Religion on Krishna’s Stage” and “My Mormonism: a primer for non-Mormons and Mormons, alike.” Follow him on Twitter: @fatsodoctor .