I think Mitt Romney's upcoming "JFK speech" on his faith is likely lead to more discussion of the LDS church in the media and more questions for Romney about his faith. So, what should Romney say when reporters ask him about specific questions of Mormon doctrine?
Several months ago, George Stephanopoulos asked Mitt Romney, "In your faith, if I understand it correctly, it teaches that Jesus will return probably to the United States and reign on earth for 1,000 years . . . Have you thought about how the Muslim world will react to that . . . . ?" Mitt's response was "Well, I'm not a spokesman for my church . . . that doesn't happen to be a doctrine of my church . . . Our belief is just as it says in the Bible, that the messiah will come to Jerusalem, stand on the Mount of Olives and that the Mount of Olives will be the place for the great gathering and so forth. It's the same as the other Christian tradition." Then ABC contacted an LDS spokesperson, who clarified the LDS belief: "One appearance will be to the new Jerusalem and another will be to the Jerusalem of the old world . . . It is our belief that the new Jerusalem will be established within the state of Missouri."
I know nothing about this doctrine or the accuracy of George's description of it. But given the LDS church's statement, Mitt's answer looks dishonest and evasive. If a Catholic politician were asked a basic question about a strange but well-established Catholic doctrine (say, transubstantiation), and he answered, "I'm not a spokesman for my church" or "We celebrate Christ's sacrifice in communion. It's the same as the other Christian tradition," I would be annoyed. Those answers suggest either ignorance or shame. It's a basic tenet of the religion--own it.
Now, I don't think issues like this affect a candidate's qualifications, nor do I think a candidate should have to be a spokesperson for his religion. But given that Romney is inevitably going to get these questions, how should he be answering them? Some options:
a. "If you want to talk about the specifics of my church, you'll have to ask the church."
[but can he really do this if he IS willing to talk about the easier-for-Protestants-to-swallow specifics of his religion, like the Mount of Olives stuff above?]
b. Answer honestly, explaining if necessary how the reporter has the doctrine wrong.
[but it could be politically risky]
c. "I'm not sure."
[my sense is this would work only for an obscure or debatable doctrine]
d. Evade and pretend that your doctrine is "the same as the other Christian tradition."
[makes you look like you lack integrity; plus, wouldn't this make LDS supporters mad? Also, if arguably the most publicly visible member of your church is saying it's just like other Christian denominations, why should anyone convert to it?]