Striking a blow for open-mindedness and quality reporting, smaller newspapers around the country are publishing a new kind of story in recent days- one that gives actual Mormons a chance to comment on all the commotion being caused by Mitt Romney’s candidacy. While it may be the job of reporters at larger national papers to pontificate from the distance of their respective coasts on polls and zeitgeists and broad trends, there’s a much more authentic, source-rich feel to the reportage coming out of the heartland. And it’s refreshing. Try this piece from the Peoria Journal Star, which juxtaposes one professor’s dubious statement that “there is an unspoken, tremendous rejection of the Mormon religion,” with everyday descriptions of Mormons at their church houses– talking, corraling children, and joking with one another– the very picture of typical religious America. Or this story from the Norwich (Connecticut) Bulletin, which quotes several members of the LDS Church as viewing the exposure brought by the Romney candidacy with a mix of trepidation and enthusiasm. (Accompanied by this op-ed by the writer of the above story, arguing against religious tests in elections). Similar stories coming out of Galesburg, Illinois and Wellesley Massachusetts. Each of the stories gives the mic to a Mormon or two, who invariably come off as alarmingly personable, slightly cautious, and . . . well, normal. Continue reading The Open Mind of the Small Town Press
ABC’s Jake Tapper asserted on the network’s This Week today that if Romney wishes to run as a man of faith, he should be expected to explain exactly what his faith requires him to believe. He raises the example of the Mormon beliefs regarding Jesus’ eventual Second Coming to the earth. If Romney wishes to be taken seriously as a religious candidate, why can’t he tell us exactly how the specific tenets of that religion inform his world view?
This position has a nice logical ring to it, but breaks down on examination. First of all, it is not entirely accurate to say that Romney is running as a man of faith. Rather, he has asserted that he is a religious person in line with the mainstream of America only as a defense to attacks that his Mormonism should disqualify him from office. This is not an affirmative talking point, but a defense against the anti-Mormon crowd. The fact that he is forced to highlight his religious values in order to stay in the race should not be read to open the door to discuss all of Mormon doctrine in a political campaign.
Secondly, note the example Jake Tapper brings up. So Romney is a man of faith, but why should that mean he needs to explain complex doctrines regarding the far off return of Jesus Christ? Surely John McCain, Mike Brownback and Mike Huckabee, if they take their brands of Christianity seriously, have their own beliefs about the mode and meaning of Jesus’ return. Mitt Romney has been no more emphatic about his own religiosity than any of these men, so it should follow that we are entitled to hear their own thoughts on this “important” issue.
To imagine John McCain being forced to expound his beliefs on the Second Coming highlights the absurdity of the argument in the first place. Why on earth should voters care what John McCain thinks about how and where Jesus might someday appear on the earth? Is Mitt Romney any different?
Tapper’s argument rests on the idea that voters are entitled to understand the basis for their candidates’ claims. If you say you’re a conservative, you should have to prove it, and if you say you’re religious, you should have to back that up too. But there is a certain line to be drawn as well. Mitt Romney’s belief about the location of Jesus’ return will not inform his administration of the country in any way. His ideas about integrity, fidelity in marriage, and Christian kindness might. Ask away on those topics. But before you can expect him to discuss his beliefs on more obscure points of doctrine (on which topics all religions have their own positions), you’d better explain why those questions bear any relevance to voters.
So, the ball’s in your court, Mr. Tapper– as soon as you can explain why voters should care about Mitt Romney’s beliefs on the Second Coming of Jesus, Romney can be expected to detail exactly those beliefs. Deal?
Good Morning America ran a feature on the religion issues surrounding Romney’s candidacy yesterday. Video is here. While this story does not add a great deal of new material, it does make much of the tightrope Romney is walking in attempting to hold off searching questions from the press and also keep his Mormon flank placated.
For example, GMA cites Romney’s statement (also highlighted in a recent New York Times piece) that he cannot imagine anything more awful than polygamy. It appears that “some” (again, note the looseness of that word) Mormons felt betrayed by that admission- despite the fact that the Mormon church has not condoned or allowed the practice for over a century.
What do Mormons really think? Well, if there are any Mormons within the mainstream of the church that long for a return of the days of plural marriage, I’ve never met them, and they would not fit within the norm of Mormon culture. What you will find in the church is the idea that polygamy was divinely instituted, for a brief moment in the nineteenth century, combined with great relief that it ended a long time ago. From what I can tell of those critical of Romney’s statement on polygamy, they feel betrayed because he appeared to disapprove of the practice (which they feel was implemented for a reason at the time), not because he doesn’t think it sounds great. Commentator John Dehlin alludes to this point on the video clip– it’s about honoring heritage, rather than keeping fingers crossed that this might come round the bend once more. To repeat: To the extent the Good Morning America piece leaves the impression that Mormons view polygamy as a fondly-remembered, desirable practice, it is completely incorrect.
But there’s a larger point implicit in the Good Morning America coverage. That is that Mitt Romney is beholden to Mormons in all that he says. On the contrary, Mitt Romney is allowed to think polygamy sounds awful, and it’s not going to be fatal to the Mormon church (and neither is it an incorrect portrayal of the position of a significant number of Mormons). What’s really at stake is that members of the LDS church want Mitt to speak about the faith exactly as they would, because they feel not only that he’s on stage, but they are.
While this sentiment resonates with me in the sense that I hope the LDS church does not take too much of a beating over this campaign, I would remind other Mormons that this is Mitt Romney’s race, not theirs. And if they want a more perfect representation of their faith on the national stage, they’ll just have to run for president too.