"I don't believe that conservative Christians in large numbers will vote for a Mormon but that remains to be seen, I guess," Mr. Dobson said on a syndicated radio program hosted by a conservative commentator, Laura Ingraham.
Coming from Dobson, this is most definitely not a rephrasing of "The Question." One must remember a bit of history. In 2004, Dobson's wife specifically excluded Mormons from participation in the National Day of Prayer. This blog was born from a Robert Novak piece not-quoting "Prominent, respectable Evangelical Christians" saying something that sounds remarkably familiar to these statements by Dobson. (I have suspected Dobson as Novak's source all along, and while this still is nowhere near evidence, it sure does confirm my suspicion.)
Interestingly, Dobson goes on to say a lot of really nice things about Romney – but given the context, how can this be anything other than:
- The application of a religious test ("he's right on everything, but he's Mormon"), and
- A veiled threat of opposition.
I do not find it coincidental that Mohler tackled this last week and we hear from Dobson now, as Romney's fortunes in the race have risen so dramatically in the last months. Mohler's comments struck me as a genuine, if poorly executed, examination of legitimate questions – but Dobson, I think, is crossing a line here.
When a man in Dobson's position says something like this, it is more than merely uttering an opinion. His "flock" will listen to or read this and they will act accordingly. His appearance on the Ingraham show was widely touted on his organization's website yesterday, but it is missing today.
What is troubling here is not that Dobson opposes Romney's near-candidacy, but that he appears to do so on purely religious grounds.
"He's a nice guy. He's a very attractive man. He's got a beautiful wife and a lot of his principles and values are consistent with ours," Mr. Dobson said.
What else is left, but religion?
This, for one thing, opens Dobson up to charges of wanting to build a "theocracy." I also think it causes him to part ways with others with whom he usually finds common cause like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and National Association of Evangelicals President Ted Hagels. All have been cited on this blog, not endorsing Romney, but saying there should be no problem voting for a Mormon. I think Dobson may have just spent more of his political capital than he really wanted to.
Dobson can oppose Romney reasonably, but to do so in a fashion that appears to be purely religiously based simply paints him as every liberal's worst Evangelical nightmare. Dobson, with these statements, has done no favors for conservative politics, let alone Evangelical politics. He paints his own constituency as small-minded and bigoted. As one Evangelical, I am insulted by his comments.
I have called his office for comment – did so yesterday when I heard of his comments but had not yet been able to confirm them. I have not received a response to post time. Trust me, we will post if we hear from them.
Update from Lowell: I happened to be listening Laura Ingraham's show this morning during the second hour, about 40 minutes ago. In an interview with Robert Novak, Laura brought up Dobson's comments yesterday. Going from memory, here's what I recall:
Laura expressed shock at Dobson's comments. She said she had received a great deal of e-mail from conservative Christians expressing strong disagreement with Dobson, saying "we love Romney."
She mentioned Novak's column. Novak said that there were a number of "respectable," well-known, and prominent evangelical leaders who are privately telling him the same thing Dobson was saying. I do not recall if he said those evangelicals told him that they personally would have trouble supporting Romney. Nor did he say if those statement were recent, or dated back to his April 27 column. I believe he used the present tense, as in, "they are telling me." Novak said those people "would blow your head off" if you revealed what they had privately said about evangelical support for Romney. Novak said rather forcefully that he thinks this is "un-American."
Novak also opined that Romney needs to address this issue– something we have also said many times.
Laura said that "we can't have this," or words to that effect. Novak said that with George Allen faltering, Romney was shaping up to be the conservative Republican standard-bearer for 2008, and that the campaign must not be a "theological debate." Laura heartily agreed.
That's about it. We will work on getting a transcript or the equivalent.
I agree fully with what John says above, and have very little to add, except that if religious prejudice or bigotry really do exist among evangelical leaders, but beneath the surface, it is very healthy that people like Laura Ingraham and Robert Novak are talking about it openly. Now's the time, it seems to me, to air this subject out and for conservatives of all stripes to decide how they feel about religious tests for the presidency.
It's a worthy subject. If leaders on all sides — evangelicals, Mormons, libertarians, Catholics, and the unchurched– behave well, the debate can be a historic turning point in deciding how religious conservatives will function within the GOP (or any other American political party). If those leaders do not behave well, they have a lot to lose. I personally believe that evangelicals have more to lose in this discussion than anyone.
So this is not a problem that will be solved by Mormons. If it is solved at all, that will be done by courageous evangelical leaders who will stand up and say, "Stop." Whoever does that must be willing to take considerable heat, as my blogging companion John has learned. Who will be the leader? Dr. Dobson? Al Mohler? Charles Colson? Or someone else?
We will wait to see.
Update from John: Evangelicals for Mitt appears to disagree with our analysis. There is little doubt that Dr. Dobson tried to parse his statement carefully, but the historical context really matters here.
One must also ask why he would say it if others are not? It looks like others, as Novak asserts, may think such prejudice exists, but as leaders they recognize the importance of what they say. Thus in their comments that there should not be an issue based on his faith, they attempt to guide their consituencies to consider Romney's candidacy on other bases, while Dobson appears to reinforce the religious consideration. Dobson is not a political comentator – he is a leader, there is a difference in roles.
Lowell: John and I were just discussing this on-line and realized that we should clarify what is the real problem with Dobson's remarks. By themselves, they are not offensive: "I don't believe that conservative Christians in large numbers will vote for a Mormon but that remains to be seen, I guess." What John and I think is missing are the words, "but that should not be so; they should not let his religion be a factor," or words to that effect. To me, that's what leaders do: they lead.
Update from Lowell: Here's a comment on RedBlue Christian that disagrees with us. It's a well-articulated example of the Mohler argument. We disagree, of course, but it's always helpful to see the opposing argument stated clearly.
[tags]Mormon, Evangelical, James Dobson, Robert Novak, Laura Ingraham, Al Mohler, conservative, Republican, religious test[/tags]