Ask the casual observer of politics what Mitt Romney believes in, and, if they’ve been reading the Romney coverage in the mainstream press, they will likely list the following: Jesus Christ will return to Missouri, alternative scriptures, possibly some polygamy, maybe a bit of racism, perhaps a pinch of support for Hamas.
You can ask the same question about Hillary, and you’ll likely get a very different answer. Those that read the New York Times will respond that Hillary believes in forgiveness, charity, social consciousness, and personal redemption.
That is because the Times has published an article dealing with Hillary’s faith in exclusively glowing terms, with not a doubtful or negative word about this woman that is portrayed as extraordinarily faithful and Christian. In fact, after the first few paragraphs, when one gets the feeling that a bit of balance has to be thrown in, writer Michael Luo introduces his first bit of negativity:
The intersection of faith and politics can be perilous for candidates. One of Mrs. Clinton’s chief rivals, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, talks often of embracing Christianity as an adult and the power of faith to transform lives (okay, you’ll have to wait for the negativity until after Obama leaves the stage). But Mitt Romney, a Republican presidential contender, has struggled to overcome concerns among many Americans about his Mormon faith.
Besides that paragraph, and a few quick mentions of conservatives who dubiously question her devotion, this story has only one message: Hillary Clinton is a woman of faith whose religious beliefs lend her strength and improve her character (notably, Obama’s faith has received a very similar softball treatment by the New York Times as well).
For Republicans of faith, especially those that support Mitt Romney, this is frankly very frustrating. It’s not that the stories aren’t credible–I actually believe what the story has to say about Hillary Clinton. I have no reason to doubt that she believes the things she says she does, and it’s very plausible that she has relied on God for strength in her times of need. That’s a very good thing in my opinion, and not hard to believe at all. I’m sure she has been and will be blessed for this devotion.
What is troubling is the fact that six months into the campaign season, and after literally hundreds of articles written about Mitt Romney’s faith, no mainstream voice has deigned to paint a picture of Romney that even approaches the positive treatment given to Hillary by the Times. Judging from the stories written, Hillary believes in great principles and values, where Mitt believes in some historical oddities and a few outmoded prejudices.
The reality, completely ignored by thousands of people talking specifically about what Mitt Romney believes is that his is a faith that places enormous emphasis on love of neighbor, on service, on redemption, repentance and forgiveness. I don’t know Romney personally, but given that he served as a Bishop of his congregation, I know that he has spent countless hours counseling individual people about how to overcome their challenges through reliance on Christ and gospel living. Given that he raised five sons in the LDS Church, it’s virtually certain that he spoke to them about the importance of family, prayer, and sacrifice. The fact that he served for two and a half years as a missionary in France, later as a Bishop, and then as a President of his Stake (a regional collection of congregations) tells me that he has given literally thousands of hours over his life- some of them in the prime of his career- to serve his fellow men as a religious minister, without compensation. Given the way these things work, it is a near certainty that there are many people in the Boston area whose lives have been deeply touched by Mitt Romney’s religious ministry. There is simply no reason to distinguish Romney’s core religious values from Clinton’s.
But does anyone care? Perhaps this is just more evidence of the oft-cited bias of the “liberal” media, so popular among right-wing commentators. More likely, it is a flaw in the system– that reporters give the people what reporters think the people want, and when it comes to Mormonism, reporters think the people want the weird stuff. The problem is that reporting only on the “weird” stuff omits all of the elements of Mormonism that each Mormon, most likely including Mitt Romney, holds most central to his belief system. As long as Hillary gets stories on her ennobling commitment to Christian values (told mainly from her viewpoint and often in her own words), and Mitt Romney gets only pieces asking about the specifics of Mormons beliefs on the Second Coming (and never told from his viewpoint, or with the intention of showing what his faith means to him), this imbalance can only continue. Funny how the press thinks its role in moderating and elevating the political discussion is so crucial, while it so frequently shirks its duty to do so.