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Other opinions on Romney's faith talk tomorrow

December 5, 2007 |  1:44 am

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney makes his big speech on religious faith Thursday morning, designed to obliquely address the whisperings and mailings about his Mormon religion in the tightening Republican race in Iowa and elsewhere.

As detailed here yesterday, Romney intends to tell a select audience at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library in Texas more about his concept of faith and its role in his life than about some obscure tenets of Mormon doctrine.

But not every Mormon thinks this speech is a good idea. "The consensus that has emerged is one of great trepidation," Ryan Bell, a Salt Lake City attorney and Romney backer, told The Times' Stephanie Simon. On the one hand, said Bell, who runs a website called Romney Experience, the church could use the exposure the speech will bring.

But on the other hand, he added, "There are plenty of people out there who are upset about the mainstream-ization of the Mormon faith" that Romney has sought to present in campaign appearances. "As Mormons," Bell adds, "we're proud of our differences."

Mike Parker, another Utah Mormon who happens to support Ron Paul, doubts the speech will do any good. "I don't think anything he says is going to change the minds of evangelical Christians who are afraid of him," says Parker, a credit union analyst. "Once you get to that point where the well has been poisoned, there's nothing you can do to change minds."

The Mormon blogosphere has been abuzz in recent days over the speech with some resenting Romney's stump efforts to downplay the religion's differences with other faiths. "My ancestors didn't leave Kirtland and Nauvoo and cross the plains and suffer because they were 'just like other Christians,' " one commenter said on MormonMentality.org. Another commented: "I fear Romney is going to going to pass off his Mormonism as this non-threatening lifestyle and suck all the 'weird' out of it."

Others expressed sympathy for anyone trying to explain Mormonism in short sound-bites for television news coverage.

At the evangelical magazine Christianity Today, Tim Morgan, deputy managing editor, said: "My own opinion is that Romney's speech is going to be too late to make that great first impression on evangelicals and it's likely to be too defensive in tone."

Scott Gordon, who's president of a Mormon research group called FAIR, said: "It would probably be the best for Romney if he got up, said I'm affirming my faith and sticking to my values, and then moved on from there."

On the third hand, maybe the speech isn't even necessary. A new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll yesterday revealed that 73% of Republican voters said they didn't care that Romney is Mormon.

(UPDATE: For a revealing look inside the Mormon church, its teachings and tenets, check out this PBS site and documentary.)

--Andrew Malcolm

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