Did prejudice doom Mitt Romney's campaign?
Here's a report on the death of Mitt Romney's candidacy that has some pretty interesting claims (emphasis mine):
Mitt Romney isn't the only casualty in his failed presidential bid. The Mormon church, yearning for broad acceptance, also took a beating.
Extremists denounced Romney's campaign as a Mormon plot to take over the country. Some Evangelicals feared that a Mormon in the White House would draw more converts to his faith.
Mormon practices were picked apart, even ones that had been abandoned long ago such as polygamy. Romney tried to focus on politics, but was often asked about sacred Mormon undergarments.
"It is prejudice," said Richard Bushman, an emeritus professor at Columbia University, who is a leading historian and devout Mormon. "Underlying all these questions is that these beliefs are basically crazy so you've got to explain them to us."
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints anticipated some of the backlash and tried to get ahead of it. Well before the former Massachusetts governor officially announced his candidacy, Mormon officials started traveling the country, speaking with reporters and editorial writers about the LDS church and its political neutrality.
The goal was to protect the church. But nonpartisanship handicapped the denomination when it needed a vigorous defense.
"I'm not questioning the policy of neutrality. That's not in any doubt," said Michael Otterson, the church's media relations director. "But I think the very reality is that we've had to be very careful about choosing our words and not appearing to either be supporting or not supporting a particular candidate."
Before Romney ran, Mormons thought they were generally accepted in the mainstream, especially after their previous success in the world spotlight: the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics.
Yet, in November, half of respondents to an Associated Press-Yahoo poll said they had some problems supporting a Mormon presidential candidate. Among white evangelicals, more than half expressed reservations about backing a Latter-day Saint.
"I was surprised at the level of intensity and sometimes flat out animosity," said Lowell C. Brown, a Los Angeles attorney who is Mormon. "I had no idea. I'm in my 50s, I've been a Mormon all my life, I've lived in L.A. for 25 years, and it floored me."
Many Christians said they were raising legitimate theological concerns, not Mormon-bashing.
The news service of the Southern Baptist Convention, which considers the LDS church a cult, ran a six-part series through December explaining why they don't consider Mormonism to be Christian. (They also profiled a distant Romney relative who is Protestant and manages a Southern Baptist-affiliated bookstore in Salt Lake.)
In just one example of the practices that set Mormons apart, LDS church founder Joseph Smith revised — and in his view corrected — parts of the Bible.
Brown said it was "nonsense" to consider questions about Romney's faith simply a dialogue about religion. Mormons were especially outraged when GOP presidential contender Mike Huckabee, a Southern Baptist pastor, asked whether Mormons consider Jesus and the devil brothers. Latter-day Saints say Huckabee's question is usually raised by those who wish to smear the Mormon faith rather than clarify doctrine.
"If you're making a decision about whether or not to vote for someone because of their religion, you're flirting with bigotry," said Brown. He monitored the commentary on his blog Article VI, named for the constitutional provision barring any religious test for public office....
Mormon leaders posted videos on YouTube explaining their faith. A church elder, recently speaking to Mormon college students, urged young people to post about the Latter-day Saints on blogs — a major move for a denomination with a history of quietly answering its outside critics. After Romney's Dec. 6 speech in Texas defending his faith, a Mormon leader went on al-Jazeera television, the Quatar-based network, to discuss the church.
"Gov. Romney has, perhaps without intending to do so, rendered the church a service," said Robert Millet, a scholar of the church and professor at the LDS-owned Brigham Young University. "It's served as a kind of wakeup call for Saints themselves to the fact that we're not as well understood as we think we are. How can it be the case that Gov. Romney and his feelings about Christ and his feelings about religion have been so little understood?"
Hmm. How can it be that "Governor Romney and his feelings about Christ and his feelings about religion have been so little understood?"
Well, coming from someone who is NOT in any way a fundamentalist but who takes her faith pretty seriously, let me just say: Maybe because he kept dodging questions about his faith. Most people do not have either the time or the interest to read the Book of Mormon themselves (I did read it once after my mother got fascinated with something called Family Home Evening or something and we visited the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City.) If Romney hadn't acted like he had something to hide, a lot of suspicion could have been dispelled.
In his December 6 address on his faith, Romney said the following (boldface mine):
""There is one fundamental question about which I often am asked. What do I believe about Jesus Christ? I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. My church's beliefs about Christ may not all be the same as those of other faiths. Each religion has its own unique doctrines and history. These are not bases for criticism but rather a test of our tolerance. Religious tolerance would be a shallow principle indeed if it were reserved only for faiths with which we agree.
"There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church's distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution. No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes President he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths.
"I believe that every faith I have encountered draws its adherents closer to God. And in every faith I have come to know, there are features I wish were in my own: I love the profound ceremony of the Catholic Mass, the approachability of God in the prayers of the Evangelicals, the tenderness of spirit among the Pentecostals, the confident independence of the Lutherans, the ancient traditions of the Jews, unchanged through the ages, and the commitment to frequent prayer of the Muslims. As I travel across the country and see our towns and cities, I am always moved by the many houses of worship with their steeples, all pointing to heaven, reminding us of the source of life's blessings.
"It is important to recognize that while differences in theology exist between the churches in America, we share a common creed of moral convictions. And where the affairs of our nation are concerned, it's usually a sound rule to focus on the latter – on the great moral principles that urge us all on a common course. Whether it was the cause of abolition, or civil rights, or the right to life itself, no movement of conscience can succeed in America that cannot speak to the convictions of religious people.
"We separate church and state affairs in this country, and for good reason. No religion should dictate to the state nor should the state interfere with the free practice of religion. But in recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America – the religion of secularism. They are wrong.
"The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation 'Under God' and in God, we do indeed trust.
"We should acknowledge the Creator as did the Founders – in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places. Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our Constitution rests. I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from 'the God who gave us liberty.'"
That's pretty vague, and is more about the interpretation of the Constitution than about religion. The problem is, Romney and his supporters wanted to have it both ways: they decried any "religious test for public office" while repeatedly using religion and religious impulse as an absolute means to attract voters to candidates who would otherwise be excluded as standing for platforms that are absolutely at odds with most citizens' self-interest and basic values. The Religious Right would not exist if it did not absolutely utilize a very narrow religious test for public office. So complaints about this standard being applied across the spectrum are just absolute nonsense. Even if you accept his claims about "secularism," Romney is guilty of the very thing he decries: he is deciding what is and is not a legitimate belief system or basis for behavior.
And unfortunately, for many of us who take religious principles seriously while eschewing fundamentalism, it all just seems like a smokescreen anyway. Those inclined to support politicians of Romney's ilk talk and talk about Christian values. Even a cursory examination of scripture demonstrates that there is often a focus on snippets of verses on marginal issues while entire emphases are ignored. Witness, for instance, the lack of discussion or substantive proposals for how to deal with the problems of poverty in this country or throughout the world. Exodus 23 and Leviticus 23 both command that the poor receive deliberate provision. The Book of Job inveighs against those who oppress the poor. The Psalms and Proverbs resound with warnings to do justice to the poor or face dire consequences. The Prophets warn that calamities befall those who crush the poor. Matthew and Mark tell the story of the rich young man who was commanded thusly: "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." And it continues beyond these few paltry examples. However, regardless of how you feel about the tragedy of the practice, there is not one mention of the term "abortion" in the Revised Standard Version of Holy Scriptures. But you could never tell that by the emphases each of these topics receive at the hands of those who definitely do wish to impose their religious beliefs upon others.
As to Mr. Huckabee's question about whether Satan and Jesus are considered brothers by Mormons (which was a common belief in dualistic cults that threatened the early Church such as Arianism), all I can say is that in the Book of Mormon, there are several places where Satan claims to be a son of God-- but apparently just as all people are believed to be sons and daughters of God. In the Book of Mormon's Book of Moses, chapter 6, verse 22 it is explained, "Behold, thou art one in me, a son of God; and thus may all become my sons. Amen." So that question seems a bit mean-spirited and leading. But then again, a bit more transparency on the part of Romney would have allayed suspicions. After all, Mr. Romney has served as a Mormon bishop, and he certainly has appeared to be a sincere and intelligent person.
It was Romney's own discomfort with discussing the tenets of the very faith he attempted to highlight as a qualification for office that led to suspicion regarding the singular character of that faith. You can't be like Casablanca's Captain Renault claiming to be "shocked-- SHOCKED!" that religious questions are being used to vet you as a candidate as you yourself use religious values as a test against your opponents.