This is the transcript of along and fascinating discussion as part of the the Pew Forum's "biannual Faith Angle Conference on religion, politics and public life." The speaker is Richard Lyman Bushman, Governeur Morris Professor of History emeritus, Columbia University and a Mormon; his questioners include Kenneth Woodward (whose work we scrutinized here); E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post; John Wilson of Books and Culture; Anne Kornblut of the Washington Post; Mike Allen of Politico; Barbara Bradley Hagerty of NPR; Sally Quinn of the Washington Post; Rome Hartman of CBS News; Delia Gallagher of CNN; John Fund of the Wall Street Journal, and many others. It's a veritable "who's who" of MSM types. It's impossible to excerpt; suffice it to say that for anyone who is interested in The Question, it's an absolute must-read.
No, not by me, by a preacher named Bill Keller. I hesitate to bring any more attention to someone like Keller, who deserves so little, but decided this story is worth mentioning. I think there are three lessons here:
1. Crazy statements attract MSM attention. I imagine 95% of evangelicals are embarrassed by this man's crazed rantings, and yet he gets plenty of ink. I suspect Keller is crazy like a fox, and loves to watch the news media dance to his tune.
2. Romney (and others like him) get caught in the crossfire between irresponsible, over-wrought preachers like Keller and dedicated secularists like Barry Lynn and Americans United.
3. In the end, it is useful to everyone of good will to be able to contrast statements like this one, by Keller:
"This message today is not about Mitt Romney," he wrote. "Romney is an unashamed and proud member of the Mormon cult founded by a murdering polygamist pedophile named Joseph Smith nearly 200 years ago. The teachings of the Mormon cult are doctrinally and theologically in complete opposition to the Absolute Truth of God's Word. There is no common ground. If Mormonism is true, then the Christian faith is a complete lie. There has never been any question from the moment Smith's cult began that it was a work of Satan and those who follow their false teachings will die and spend eternity in hell."
With this one, from the Church's president, Gordon B. Hinckley:
Let us never act in a spirit of arrogance or with a holier-than-thou attitude. Rather, may we show love and respect and helpfulness toward [those with different beliefs]. We are greatly misunderstood, and I fear that much of it is of our own making. We can be more tolerant, more neighborly, more friendly, more of an example than we have been in the past.
If you're interested in the legal background to this, you'll find some here.
Elsewhere Around the Web
Interfaith Radio offers a podcast of "Mormon Beliefs and the Candidacy of Mitt Romney," an interview with Blake Ostler, who is described as "a Mormon, a lawyer, and author of a four-volume series, Exploring Mormon Thought." (One Mormon reviewer described the latter series as "the most important works on Mormon theology ever written.") I've listened to the podcast and recommend it as an interesting, respectful, and thoughtful discussion of many of the Mormon doctrines frequently raised as examples of "weirdness" that should give voters pause in considering Romney's candidacy.
Interestingly, there's a lengthy discussion of why Mitt Romney's religion is raised as an issue at all. Ostler concludes "by noting that the current public questioning of Mitt Romney’s Mormonism by some evangelicals is alienating many Mormons, and if it continues, it may lead to a severing of alliances on the Christian Right." In my view, that's an overstatement of the current tensions, but I can imagine such a "severing" and hope it does not occur. (HT: Mormon-Chronicles.)
Frank Pastore insists his views on Romney and his Mormonism are not bigoted. You be the judge. We'll probably have more on this later.