TAMPA, Fla. -- As the parade of witnesses to the godliness, charity and grace of Mitt Romney at the Republican National Convention Thursday night reminded us, Romney was a leading bishop in the Mormon Church. If he wins in November, he would be the first high-ranking religious official to become president of the U.S. in modern times.
The one-time president of the Boston Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Romney is thus part of a presidential candidate trend that began in the modern era with Jimmy Carter, a lay preacher in the Baptist Church; television evangelist Pat Robertson; and Mike Huckabee of Arkansas.
Before the nominee's own speech on Thursday, the Romney campaign gingerly unveiled a new emphasis on Mitt Romney's Mormon faith and service -- an important, inescapable and perhaps helpful thread in the effort to turn him into a sympathetic, empathetic figure.
"Mitt taught faith in God, self-reliance and service to humanity," said Grant Bennett, who succeeded Romney as president of the Boston Stake.
Advisers have long urged Romney, who felt burned by the response to his talk of Mormonism four years ago, to return to the theme. "You'll learn more about Mitt as a person tonight," predicted speechwriter Stuart Stevens before the big speech.
There's no way that can happen without Romney's talking about his deep involvement in the church and his commitment to its teachings.
The GOP has become in essence a faith-based party. Ironically, the best evidence of that is the nomination of a man whose church is viewed as an anti-Christian cult by many voters in the party.