Hugh Hewitt gave a presentation last week at the ETS conference about the wisdom Christians need to use to engage issues and question in the media forum. The example he gave is Mitt Romney's upcoming presidential campaign and the issue of his Mormonism. As Hug has gauged Christian reaction to his candidacy, the reactions are often very strong and negative and he's tried to understand the nature of the objections. He's writing a book on the general subject due out next year.
The primary appeal he made to the audience is not to confuse the question of Romney's suitability for presidential office with the question of the validity and truth of Mormonism. He believes that much of the strong negative reaction is a confusion of these two separate questions - both legitimate. But the former belongs in the media spotlight of politics; the second does not because it will be used against Christians in the future.
If Christians respond to Romney's candidacy by discussing Mormonism, it will be interpreted by secular media as a religious test for the office. Secular media, for the most part, doesn't know how to distinguish between Christianity, Mormonism, or Islam in any pertinent detail. Hugh warned, and I think he's absolutely right, that assaults on Romney's religion will trigger inquiries about Christianity. If we question whether he wears strange underwear, the next evangelical that runs will be asked if he really believes the Bible, and the next Catholic will be asked if he goes to confession. It will open the door to biased tests against religion for candidates.
Secular media doesn't want religion, especially those who take it seriously and believe its true, n the public square because they think we're ignorant and uneducated. They think our viewpoint is illegitimate for public debate. If we introduce the weapons against Romney, we will end up arming those who will use them against the next Christian who walks into the public square.
I'm not for or against Romney or any other candidate at this early date Boosterism is irrelevant to the legitimate concern over this warning. Hugh was speaking to an audience of professionals who care deeply about the important distinctions of theology and authority in religion. The validity of Mormonism is an important discussion to have, but the arena of a presidential campaign isn't the right venue for it. In the media and campaign, Hugh said that it's the candidates values that matter, not the doctrine the values flow from.
Let's have the right discussion in the right venue and avoid lending legitimacy to religious tests that will come back to haunt us. I think it's a wise warning.