A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Friday, February 15, 2008

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.

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At 2/16/08, 12:44 AM, Blogger Winghunter said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 2/16/08, 12:50 AM, Blogger Winghunter said...

Since article VI of our Constitution vividly states religion is not to be used as a litmus test for office, it is therefore directly disloyal to our country for imbecile religious fanatics who would use it as the sole justification and/or a detraction in consideration for the highest office of our land.

In fact, the Huckster has proven that even a small measure of religious association is to establish whether a candidate understands right from wrong as he has spent decades in religious training yet he doesn't have a moral compass to guide him but, he sure learned how to run his mouth in promising what he knows he can't deliver;

Mike "The Huckster" Huckabee

Willard Mitt Romney

AND we wouldn't want to forget the third of the four stooges;

John "Juan" McCain

Nor should we forget the idiots who endorsed two of the mental midgets running on the republican ticket;

GOP Leads Astray

Still even more reasons we're in this mess and how we can fight to get out of it;

How the Republican Party Committed National Suicide By JB Williams

Who Hijacked the Primaries? by Brett Winterble

At 2/16/08, 3:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear "Ms. Cornelius":

The Mormon church teaches that Jesus and Satan were brothers:

"And I, the Lord God, spake unto Moses, saying: That Satan, whom thou hast commanded in the name of mine Only Begotten, is the same which was from the beginning, and he came before me, saying—Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor.

"But, behold, my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning, said unto me—Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.

"Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down;

"And he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice" ("Pearl of Great Price," Moses 4:1-4).

Sincerely in Christ,
Bud Press, Director
Christian Research Service

At 2/16/08, 9:00 AM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Thank you for your informative response. I find myself in the bizarre position of appearing to defend the Book of Mormon, which just goes to show that you NEVER know in this world. But anyway....I exegete the passage in this way:

Satan says, "I will be your son;" God doesn't say that Satan is his son. A lower-case "s" is used to describe Satan as a son, just as humans are described as children of God, especially when they submit to the will of God. In this passage, Satan (falsely, but nonetheless) offers to act as a son (or child, if you will) of God by performing a task for God. Satan was lying, of course, but that has nothing to do with the exegesis of this passage.

Jesus is referred to as "Only Begotten" and as "Beloved Son," (note the capital letters) which isolates him within creation as something singular and unique within creation.

And since the Book of Mormon was written in English, I believe those capital letters are not a matter of translation (as with all of the different versions of the Bible).

I think there are plenty of characteristics and beliefs of the Mormon religion with which Christians disagree-- for instance, their interpretation of the afterlife and baptism by proxy. But we don't have to twist their scriptures to do it.

Thank you very much for your comment.

At 2/16/08, 3:45 PM, Blogger Mormons Are Christian said...

Mormons are not Creedal Christians. However, they do believe in the Jesus Christ of the New Testament:

The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) is often accused by Evangelical pastors of not believing in Christ and, therefore, not being a Christian religion. This article http://mormonsarechristian.blogspot.com/ helps to clarify such misconceptions by examining early Christianity's comprehension of baptism, the Godhead, the deity of Jesus Christ and His Atonement.

The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) adheres more closely to First Century Christianity and the New Testament than any other denomination. For example, Harper’s Bible Dictionary entry on the Trinity says “the formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries is not to be found in the New Testament.”

One Baptist blogger stated “99 percent of the members of his Baptist church believe in the Mormon (and Early Christian) view of the Trinity. It is the preachers who insist on the Nicene Creed definition.” It seems to me the reason the pastors denigrate the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) is to protect their flock (and their livelihood).

At 2/16/08, 4:31 PM, Blogger David Stoker said...

I'll weigh in a couple issues. I'm a believing Mormon and although I didn't vote for Romney myself, I've been a Ron Paul guy from the beginning. I do think his Mormon background was a major factor in the ultimate outcome of the Republican nomination.

I agree with you Ms. Cornelius that Mitt at times "dodged questions" about his faith which could be interpreted "with suspicion." I remember this most distinctly in a YouTube debate early on in which a viewer asked if the candidate believed "every word in this book (holding up the Bible)"--which I think is an absolutely stupid question to ask in a presidential debate and I think CNN should be ashamed for giving the kid any airtime--but with that question Romney looked like a deer in headlights on the defensive as opposed to Huckabee who answered the question quite naturally.

I think the most insightful analysis for why Mitt struggled with those line of questions was Noah Feldman in the NYTimes in which he goes through a bit of the historical complexity of the Mormons relationship to government and being on the public stage. It seems like the Mormons and the wider world are still struggling to know how to engage with each other.

I also agree that Mitt was trying to have it both ways as far as not having a religious test for the president and also wanting to show his Christian values to appeal to the conservative Christian voters. But I don't know if he could have done it any other way. I have heard that Mitt's best speech was his speech when he announced his withdrawal because he was more true to himself, honest and relaxed as opposed to trying to 'say the right thing' or 'do the right thing' as was politically expedient. Overall, I thought he ran a horrible campaign and his campaign advisors must have been absolutely terrible for such a man so qualified and capable to come out with such a tarnished public image.

As for Huckabee and the Jesus and Satan are brothers issue, I think it is more of a statement about Huckabee's character and civility than anything about Mitt Romney or Mormonism. Bigotry is tied into the question by its structure and tone. If we were to say Gandhi and Hitler were brothers in the great human family and somehow that should insinuate a smear to the character of Gandhi is absolutely ridiculous.

And for the record Mormons believe all spirits are begotten sons and daughters of God with Christ being the Firstborn and Only Begotten in the flesh (and whether the Firstborn speaks of literal first offspring or referring to Christ inheriting all that the Father has, is up for interpretation). Mormons have a very distinct understanding of the pre-earth life and the nature of independent spirits and freedom. In Mormon doctrine Satan became Satan through choice, namely in open rebellion towards the Father, and Christ became Christ "grace for grace" until he stood side by side with the Father at the beginning of this great plan that involved the creation of this earth and our coming to it. Christ and Satan are different to the extremes of extremes in Mormon understanding.

At 2/16/08, 7:58 PM, Blogger NYC Educator said...

I didn't care much that Romney was a Mormon. However, he seemed to be a smarmy slimeball, and I had serious issues with that.

At 2/16/08, 10:53 PM, Blogger Fleeting_Thoughts said...

You said, "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."

I agree that Romney was uncomfortable discussing his faith. However, I think if he would have started allowing questions about his Mormon faith the whole press would have gone crazy. There is too much misinformation about Mormons and there is a lack of civility when discussing Mormonism.

When JFK spoke before the protestant ministers nobody asked him why his Catholic faith murdered people, if he really believed the Eucharist became the body of Christ, if he really thought that priests shouldn’t marry, or why babies go straight to the hot place if not baptized right away.

You see, those protestant ministers demonstrated restraint, but today can you imagine what would have happened if Romney opened the door to everyone’s questions? Pastors would have shouted at Romney, “That’s not what you believe!” even after he answered their questions. Mormons are just one of those groups that you can still get away with treating pejoratively. You can imagine all of the other questions as well; I don’t have to teach them to you. You’ve heard them in your “cult class” taught in your religious services.

I think it was wise of Romney to keep the issue off the table while societal-approved vitriol is still so abundant. Thank you for a well reasoned blog.

At 2/17/08, 12:22 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Great discussion, everyone!

But here's the point: Mr. Romney cannot be a Republican candidate for office in this country and keep the issue off the table, especially if he's trying to lay claim to support for the religious conservatives (who are absolutely necessary to gain the nomination) by talking about how he's a good Christian. Up until the politicization of fundamentalists in the 1970s and 80s, few candidates ever of their own accord brought up their religion, and in those simpler and naive times the press left it alone too (just like the left the sex lives of public figures alone).

The one exception I can think of is Thomas Jefferson being smeared as an atheist when he ran for president, but once again that is because he put the topic out there with his publishing of the "Jefferson Bible," which attempted to expunge any sort of material that indicated that Jesus had a divine nature.

Interestingly, Ronald Reagan rarely went to church as an adult. Dwight Eisenhower also. Richard Nixon was nominally a Quaker (although with the foulest mouth of any Quaker I have ever met). Poppy Bush was a member of my own Episcopal Church, and notice that he rarely talked about that, since it is not fundamentalist. Barry Goldwater was Episcopalian, as well, with Judaism in his family's background (and strangely, he had shifted on a lot of social positions by the time he passed away). The most religious person we've had in the White House in terms of trying to live a principled life was Jimmy Carter, and look at all the vitriol he attracted, and he was openly mocked for his faith as being a naive hick. He didn't use his religion to score political points. He also is not considered to be a very successful president.

But there's a lesson here: If you're gonna climb onto the back of an alligator and try to ride it, you have to expect it to try to bite you. When candidates, particularly those on the right, seize every opportunity to ally themselves and their policies and their reasoning to a very specific fundamentalist religious viewpoint, they cannot be surprised when this ends up becoming a litmus test for public office. They themselves injected the topic onto the political stage-- they wrote the darn test!

And for Mr. Romney, that was especially dangerous, since his religion IS singular in its beliefs and creeds, and he ended up trying not to be too specific with people who, as I have pointed out, take the most strictly parsed religious positions of all. It just didn't work.

But to then decry any religious test being used for public office strains the credulity of any thinking person.

I, personally, would love to see a candidate who quietly, without self-aggrandizement, lives and acts by Christian principles, especially the obvious ones, not just but scattered fragments of verses plucked here and there to suit their political needs. In America, religion-- not faith, but religion-- is used as a political weapon. Sometimes weapons blow up in your hands.

At 2/19/08, 11:15 AM, Blogger Jessica said...

Hi "Ms. Cornelius":

Great post and great discussion by the way!

I too feel that Mitt could have done a little bit of a better job explaining his faith and beliefs genuinely and comfortably, but then again, would he just have received more backlash and negativity? It is a very delicate issue don't you think?

Article VI says that no religious test will ever be required to run for office, but it does not say anything about someone withholding their vote due to someone's religious affiliation, correct? Isn't this article subject to interpretation? And haven’t we seen it interpreted several different ways?

At times during this 2008 election, I have been taken back by the questions candidates have been asked. Do you believe in every word of the bible, do you believe in Jesus Christ, what is your allegiance to the head of your church, etc? In a way, aren't these religious tests. At times I have wondered, “Are we voting for a pastor of some church, or for the President of the United States of America?” And with Romney out of the race, we have to wonder why he didn’t garner more support on Super Tuesday—was it his religion?

I do not expect anyone to take religion out of the equation. But it is not unreasonable to ask, or rather, expect people to vote on the issues, to take a person’s religion for what it is and recognize that they are electing the leader of this country—someone who will serve a nation of many different faiths. Someone who will become “The President of all Americans.”

I have worked hard to to put affinities aside and focus on the issues. We can only the nation as a whole will study out the issues and keep things in the proper perspective.

There is an independent film that just came out titled: "Article VI: Faith. Politics. America." The film was directed by Bryan Hall and Jack Donaldson. It is an intense discussion of the role of faith in politics. The title is taken from Article Six of the United States Constitution: "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." I not only found this film very thought provoking, but I enjoyed how it did not seek to answer questions, rather it simply raised them.

If you haven't seen the trailer I suggest you check it out:



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