There were two wire service stories that made huge rounds over the weekend.
The first was a Reuters story, "Pressure on Romney to firmly address Mormon faith" The story is ostensibly an overview of The Question, but the headline and the angle are something very different. They again talk about the JFK speech as "addressing" it, but the rhetoric calls for something more – and that is a huge problem. First of all, if Romney gave a speech like JFK, "My religion won't affect my governance," he'd be, as best as I can tell, lying, and faith voters would immediately discard him as a phony. If he discussed it in detail he would be forced to engage in Mormon apologetics. NO CANDIDATE IN AMERICAN HISTORY HAS BEEN FORCED TO ENGAGE IN APOLOGETICS FOR HIS/HER FAITH! This would be disastrous for the United States. It would destroy the very concept of religious pluralism.
It is one thing to have a majority religion, as we do, but it is another thing altogether to make those of minority religion defend it to qualify for a vote. Such becomes a de facto established religion.
There was a bit of related discussion on The Corner when they were talking the Founders and religion the other day. I found this interesting. John Derbyshire says:
I'll go the whole distance here and say that when Christian apologists do acknowledge the skepticism of the Founders, it often drives them into something close to anti-Americanism.
There is real wisdom in that particular statement. Apologia, the argument that a particular religion is true and correct will, by definition, exclude other religion. It is great for philosophy class, seminaries, and Sunday School, but not for elections. Such discussion in the context of a presidential race would be very un-American.
Lowell: Hear! Hear! I also liked Derbyshire's comment that "this business of 'recruiting' historical figures to one's pet cause is deplorable."
Speaking of which, a brief aside. I have been told in private communication that I "sound like a Mormon apologist." I am not, I am a level playing field apologist. This does mean that I will have to, from time-to-time, defend Mormonism against false accsuations, or point out that charges levelled at Mormons can be levelled at my own faith as well. You will, however, likely not ever hear me argue for Mormon doctrine or faith. I don't believe them and do not see myself ever changing my mind on that. I am creedal Christian through and through. I realize that is a fine distinction for many to make, but it is a key distinction on which this nation has been built.
The other, and far bigger in terms of outlets that picked it up, wire service story was this AP story on Romney's polygamous ancestry. This story is, I think, really Lowell's to respond to, but I want to provide a few interesting responsive links. Captain Ed appropriately wisecracks at its nonsense. A prominent Godblogger that we have previously accused of bigotry proclaims this a non-story. When honor is due, never accuse this blog of not granting it. Finally, well, you draw the connections.
Lowell: Where to begin? I find it shocking that anyone is being held to account for the behavior of his or her ancestors. It's astonishing that the AP is taking that tack. Moreover, by all credible accounts the early Mormons who practiced polygamy were pious people who engaged in the practice as a matter of conscience and because they believed it was a commandment from God. It is not as if they were horse thieves. Besides, any modern Mormon who has ancestors from the early days of the church (including me) is likely to have polygamous ancestors several generations back.
Notably, this is also true of many non-Mormons who have Mormon ancestors. I have a law partner, for example, who is a staunch Catholic, but who is also a direct descendant of an early (polygamous) president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Is he to be haunted by his ancestry also? Or is such "haunting" to be confined to those who still profess Mormonism? If I'm not mistaken, Jimmy Carter's ancestors owned slaves; is that to be held against him as well?
Modern Mormons do not pine for the days of polygamy, but are frankly glad they are past; and we constantly wonder how those people were able to live that way. Are we all supposed to apologize now for, or explain, the actions of people who lived over 100 years ago? As Captain Ed asks, "My paternal great-grandfather was a drunkard; does that disqualify me from driving, too?"
NRO gives Romney some advice. They point out that Romney is following a well worn path, one described by Nixon, "move right in the primaries and towards the center in the general." However, in Romnay's instance the moves are being used to declare him a flip-flopper. Something they learned in part from Karl Rove because it worked so well against Kerry. But why does that attack have traction this time when it did not against Reagan and Bush II? Sadly, I think because it is playing on an inherent, whispered mistrust of Mormons.
Lowell: I actually think NRO's editors' advice makes sense. They seem supportive, and comment that they "believe he can have a significant and healthy role in this race, but probably not by simply checking all the conservative boxes." They're just saying his campaign needs an overarching theme. So far, thanks to the MSM, the theme that comes through to many observers has been (a) he's got a religion problem and (b) he's seen as a flip-flopper. Is he getting closer scrutiny than candidates who don't face The Question? Are those memes based on unspoken assumptions about Mormon "weirdness?" I don't know, but those are fair questions.
Consider what Joseph Kelly, chairman of the Department of Religious Studies at John Carroll University, is quoted as saying in this piece.
"If the problem comes up, Mr. Romney can emphasize that nothing that the Mormon church teaches goes contrary to American law. His problem may be that the issue will not arise openly so that he can answer it, but that it will just remain unspoken in people's minds and thus work against him."
Bigotry is by definition almost impossible to argue with. If open, no evidence will matter, and more insidiously if unspoken it is unchallengeable. Bigotry is defeated, in the end not by argument, but by outstanding individuals proving the bigotry wrong. But even that may not always be enough - any group will have good actors and bad actors. The very deeply bigoted will choose to focus only on the bad actors. Time and again in private communication, I am told stories about bad actors from the Mormon community, with the inference that good ones simple don't exist.
I hope my creedal Christian brethren think about that for just a minute. The crimes committed in the name of our church are legion and heinous. If someone chooses to focus only on our bad actors, we will not stand up well. For every William Wilberforce there are numerous sexually-predatory priests and plate-stealing circuit preachers. I think both Mormons and creedals know about Jesus saying, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."
Here is an interesting take on religious identity politics. Some of it I agree with, some I don't and some is just flat-out wrong
To illustrate my point, consider the fervor that surrounded Al Gore receiving funds from a Buddhist Temple in California during the 1996 campaign. In 2000, there was no fury over Gore receiving the blessing and endorsement of Bishop T.D. Jakes and the money that such an endorsement entailed.
I seem to recall that the Buddhist Temple thing had little to do with religion and much to do with the fact that the Temple was used to launder illegal off-shore contributions.
Hugh Hewitt interviews Rudy Giuliani. Key exchange for this blog:
HH: Now the other outsider in this race, Governor Romney, is also getting some Evangelical blowback, because he’s a Mormon. What do you make of that issue?
RG: I think that the Governor’s religion is not an issue in any way in the campaign, and any more than John Kennedy as being a Catholic was an issue, or Senator Lieberman as being Jewish when he ran for vice president. I mean, these things … I think we’re way beyond that, and I don’t think it’ll be an issue. I mean, obviously, by an issue, people will comment on it, but I think the American people have gone way beyond that, and they’re willing … what they want to do is look at the person, and what kind of … how have you performed in public office, what have you done, have you acted as a fair, impartial person in dealing with people of all different religions or whatever. And if that’s the case, those are the issues, not is what is someone’s religion, but how have they acted.
That's a very classy thing for Mr. Giuliani to say – I applaud him. I just hope he is sure to instruct his supporters to maintain such an attitude. Some candidates seem forgetful about that aspect.
The NYTimes cannot help itself. When they talk about religiously motivated political action, they just make us all sound like a conspiracy. Secrets, exclusivity, etc, etc. etc. I'm telling you, folks, when viewed from the left, we have a awful lot in common with the Mormons.
Dean Barnett on "Target Romney." Dean tries to explain the focus on Romney which is out-of-proportion to his polling. I think he misses one important point. Because Romney is Mormon, they expect "weirdness," which will make great ink as far as they are concerned. They are, as Dean points out, panting for the salacious and they think his faith will make that easy to come by. Hence the ancestry story spreading so far, so fast. But then, as Dean also points out, they are going to find it pretty hard to come by in reality.