Opinion: Will the GOP's Standard on Faith Trip up Romney?

Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney discusses jobs and the economy with workers and guests at the Missouri Valley Steel factory on December 16, 2011.

Mitt Romney, Faith and a Very American Christmas

As we emerge from the holiday weekend - rested, well-fed, warm from time spent with family and friends, perhaps even glowing from new gifts - we can also be happy that we survived, once again, The War on "The War on Christmas."

As a secular Jew, I can promise you Christmas is alive and well.  I was invited to Christmas parties and dinners, spent a weekend evening singing carols with my neighborhood association, listened to the all-carol station on a Christmas day drive, and partook in annual screenings of "It's A Wonderful Life" and "Love, Actually."

In a way, the real concern might not be that people are turning their back on Christmas; rather, that Christmas is becoming so welcoming that people like me look forward to celebrating it with family and friends, old traditions and new. Christmas became something that belongs to everyone.

That's part of what America does well: It shares and blends cultures, expands rituals in ways that are always evolving, including more Americans in institutions that were once limited.  To the extremely religious, it may look like a diluting of religious meaning; to the extremely atheistic, it may look like too great an incursion of religion on public life; too most of us, it feels OK.

That happy balance of a softer, Americanized religious identity is being challenged right now in the Republican Primary.  As John F. Kennedy needed to do in 1960, MItt Romney now needs to reassure the voters that his religion is not in conflict with his ability to serve his country.

The principles and rituals of the Church of Latter Day Saints is sufficiently different that certain evangelical leaders, and thus a significant number of their parishioners, consider it a cult.  Thankfully his rivals don't state that view -- they are all too proudly American, and part of our national pride is non-discrimination on religious grounds -- but some of their supporters do. 

Of course, the other main criticism of Romney is that he's a flip-flopper with no set beliefs.  Yet, one of the few things Mitt Romney has been consistent about -- aside from his own drive to promote Mitt Romney -- has been his Mormon faith, from his days as a missionary through increasing leadership roles.  In any other church, those would be selling points.  But Romney is in the uncomfortable position of not knowing whether voters will vote for or against him because of his faith.

I wish it were irrelevant, but then I'm not a GOP primary voter.  There are many of us who don't care about a candidate's faith at all and are uncomfortable basing our views of a candidate on his involvement with his church.  There are many others who simply value that a candidate believes "in something" and that's enough.  Romney better hope there are more people like that among primary voters than pollsters indicate…or that he gets to the rounds where those voters get to show up.

But maybe the primaries will surprise us.  Maybe Romney will be judged on his principles or lack thereof, not his Christianity.  Maybe he'll be accepted or rejected for his inconsistent policy prescriptions not the words of his church elders.  Because in this country, a person of any faith should be able to run for President… just as a person of any faith should be able to watch "It's a Wonderful Life" and celebrate Christmas.