Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has repurposed an argument recently made in the Huffington Post by Greg Prince, who, like Mr. Reid, is a Mormon: Mitt Romney's dismissive comments about the 47 percent of Americans who pay no income tax do not adequately represent the spirit of a faith "whose official mantra is 'to take care of the poor and needy throughout the world.' "
Mr. Prince and Mr. Reid expose a fascinating tension in modern Mormon culture. Utah is perhaps America's reddest state; more than 60 percent of the vote went to John McCain in 2008. Yet Mormons are extremely communitarian. The church operates an impressive welfare program. Every Mormon has a role, or "calling," which often includes seeing to less fortunate members. All are expected to pay 10 percent of their income in tithing, which helps finance the church's charitable operations.
At the first national meeting of the LDS Democrats Caucus last month, many Barack Obama-backing Mormons argued that the church's veneration of charity encouraged them to support goals such as universal health care. Mr. Reid is perhaps the most prominent representative of that "face" of Mormonism.
But reverence for charity and good works does not necessitate a belief in a robust welfare state. One can regard charity as a mainly private virtue, best left to voluntary organizations that see to the needs of their communities without encouraging "dependence" on government. If this is Mr. Romney's position, it's not necessarily at odds with his church's teachings.
Even if Mr. Romney's words on the 47 percent didn't cohere with his faith, his real problem is not that he has violated Mormon values. When he pulls Mr. Obama's quotes out of context and makes them predicates for his campaign, that's dishonest. Evading questions about how he would alter the tax code and calling it leadership isn't necessarily lying, but it's not truthful. Beyond his 47-percent remarks, Mr. Romney has violated universal values, which should concern Mormons and non-Mormons alike.