On NBC’s Easter Sunday edition of Meet the Press there was an extended discussion of the role of religion in the 2012 presidential election cycle. Here’s the transcript of the April 8 program. Participants were:
- Democratic Congressman of Missouri and United Methodist Pastor Emanuel Cleaver
- Daughter of the Reverend Billy Graham, Anne Graham Lotz
- Bishop William Lori, archbishop designate of Baltimore
- Jon Meacham, executive editor of Random House and author of American Gospel, God, the Founding Fathers and the Making of a Nation
- Raul Labrador, Republican Congressman Idaho and “a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, commonly known as the Mormon Church.”
Of course The Question came up. The key transcript excerpts, with emphasis language bolded:
All right. I’m gonna come back to this expectation of faith and– and– among our leaders in a moment. But Congressman Labrador, let me get you into this. We– we are on the precipice of– of an historic moment– for Mormons in this country. And that is that Mitt Romney is a Mormon. And somebody was– you know, very significant role in the church looks like he’s going to become the republican nominee.
And– Congress Cleaver talked about the need to take religion off the ballot. But here you had Orrin Hatch from Utah– Senator Utah– saying that the Obama administration– the campaign is gonna throw the Mormon Church at Mitt Romney and make this an issue. Do you agree with that and how would he do that?
REP. RAUL LABRADOR:
I think the media is gonna do that– for– for the Obama campaign…. everyone in– in politics is gonna have some sort of role– i– is gonna be influenced by their faith whether it’s Emanuel by his faith, whether it’s me by my faith. And I think we can’t talk about having– s– politics void of any religious faith because then what you’re saying is you have– you’re asking people to not be who they are.
But I’m asking you about this very specific charge. You have the– senior Senator from Utah saying that the Mormon Church is gonna be thrown at the republican nominee who is a Mormon. In what way? And you just said you think the media’ll do it. I mean, let’s talk–
–about what– what you mean.
REP. RAUL LABRADOR:
–you– you look at your own network. MSNBC, you have Lawrence O’Donnell, it’s– just saying some really nasty things about the Mormon religion, about the founding– of– of our religion. That it was based on– on some guy just waking up some morning and deciding that he– that he wanted– that he had– an extramarital affair and that– that– that’s how the r– religion was founded.
There– there’s some really nasty things already being said by– by your own network, by NBC. There’s– there’s many other people that are gonna be talking about these things. And … what we need to realize is that everybody’s faith origins are– are peculiar i– if you look at any one of– of– of us.
And we need to realize that what you need to look at is the man– the man, Mitt Romney. I have endorsed Mitt Romney. But it clearly looks like he’s gonna be the nominee– for– for the republican party. We need to look at his life and the things that he has done. And he’s had– a very, very good life….
All right, but you– you’re arguing– Archbishop [William Lori], you’re arguing still this issue of contraception and the Obama administration’s rule which they, of course, would argue w– there’s an exception provided for and an accommodation– provided for that the insurance would pay for it directly.
But rather than go down that road which I– I don’t think will convince you, I wanna stay on this sort of broader question– Congressman Cleaver, which is in the case of Mitt Romney– but more generally, about someone’s faith– as a person of faith that Romney is and as a Mormon, it’s the core of who he is.
As a missionary for two years, as somebody who was a bishop in the church which is the– correct me Congressman, I’m wrong– the equivalent of being– a priest because it’s lay-led. Very close association with the church. He doesn’t really talk about what guides him so powerfully. Isn’t it fair for both scrutiny, questions– because there’s so much ignorance about the Mormon faith– but also to understand the man, to understand his religious journey.
REP. EMANUEL CLEAVER:
Well– look, I– I think all of us– who claims some kinda connection to religion– and– and if we are in government, we are informed by that region. And we are in many instances regulated by it. We don’t have to make an announcement– every day and– and– and go out and wave a flag.
It comes out of our (UNINTEL). And, you know– but I have to talk about it. When I was Mayor of Kansas City we had– a– our church opposed– the Methodist Church opposed gaming. I said from the very beginning if– if I’m going to do what my church says, then I shoulda campaigned on the Me– as– as a Methodist running for– for mayor. I did not.
And so therefore– I– eventually signed– that into law. I– I’m– I’m not gonna vote for– Governor Romney. But I am more concerned about– Washington’s religion of confusionism than I am Governor Romney’s religion about the– Mormonism. So I– I– I think w– we gotta stop this. It’s not healthy for the nation. We’ve com– completely forgotten article six, paragraph three– which says there shall be no religious test. And I think we got to try to prevent our country from doing that (FOREIGN LANGUAGE NOT TRANSCRIBED)–
I understand that. But we live in the real world here. And evangelicals– which you are one– are deeply suspicious of Mormons and the Mormon faith and do not consider them to be Christian. To– you– you– and you have– p– the– the likelihood now of a Mormon republican nominee– is there not an opportunity for more national understanding and more of a discussion about the Mormon faith when you have the standard bearer of one of our two major political parties of that shape?
ANNE GRAHAM LOTZ:
I– I– there will be. But– but when you just– addressed him and said that out of your deep conviction, you know, that– that what drives him– what’s the powerful force that drives him, then I think you can learn by seeing what he has done, through his policies, his decision and– and how he has conducted his life.
So that’s some– you can learn from that something of how his religion drives him. And I think rather than discussing all the religion– and I’m not into religion. And I– I know that will be a discussion. And I would look to talk about Easter morning at some point this morning because this is our day. And– but– but your– your religion i– puts on the– the table is the policies.
You know, the– the f– the decisions, what’s– the– the social pol– the– driving this nation right now. So I think it’s not the discussion of religion is almost a smoke screen and a diversion from the real issue. And that’s the policies. And there’s a clearer choice I think this fall between the way the nation’s going to be led. And that’s what I think we ought to be looking at. Not so much as– as– as at the religions preference of a particular person.
President– President Kennedy– even though is a speech that causes Senator Santorum– stomach problems– in 1960 gave a marvelous statement of this– on exactly this point, that he was not the Catholic candidate for president, he was the democratic candidate for president.
And voters can make a judgment on the whole person, the whole policy. But I don’t think to the Congressman’s point– I don’t think we want presidents sitting around discussing subs– substitutionary atonement. You know, we don’t want people– I think– discussing– there’s enough for presidents to do without having them worrying about the theologies of different religions.
REP. RAUL LABRADOR:
And– and the reality is that religion informs your thinking. But l– look at– in the United States right now, Orrin Hatch and Harry Reid are both member of the LDS faith. You can’t find any two more opposite individuals. So even though it’s gonna inform who you are– and they’re both faithful members of the church.
So you can– can’t find any two more opposite people, two people who have different– philosophies and– and political doctrines. So I think w– we– it’s important to know a little bit about Mitt Romney and his religion. But I think it’s more important– I– like I said before, I have not endorsed Mitt Romney. I have not decided– I– I’m not gonna go out and endorse him. But I think he’s gonna be the candidate. And I do believe it’s time for republicans to get around– to get behind him because we know he’s gonna be a candidate. It’s time to beat Obama.
But Congressman, let me–
REP. RAUL LABRADOR:
–ask you one more about your specific faith. And I wanna show you a poll done by Quinnipiac– over the summer. Would you feel uncomfortable with a Mormon president– the number of republicans 29% say yes. Democrats 46%. I– I come back to this question–
REP. RAUL LABRADOR:
–the most biased people are the democrats.
–well, I mean, that poll is– is– but– but it– but let me ask you that. I mean, I– unlike Christianity– a lot of people say the difficulty that– that Mormons have is that the– the– the religion is relatively new and therefore– for critics can be debunked more easily or attempted to be debunked– is there room for Governor Romney to take some of these issues on? Not to– get engaged in a doctrinaire discussion of the Mormon faith– but to take some of these issues on because there are questions and there are– there is discomfort?
REP. RAUL LABRADOR:
Well, he should talk about who he is and– and– and what formed him. And I think he discusses missionary work. I was a missionary for two years in South America. My son– my oldest son is now a missionary in South America. It’s one of the most formative things that you can do in your life.
It– it– it– it informs who you are for the rest of your life. I think he could talk about that. He could relate to the people that he has t– taught as– a– as a bishop. He was a bishop and a stake (?) president in the church which means that he actually dealt with a lot of different issues dealing with poverty and other issues. He should talk about that a little bit more. But if you want– I mean, you shouldn’t be getting into the theology because there’s– th– every church has a different dogma, a different– teaching. And we’re not– you– we shouldn’t be judging a– as Emanuel just said– we shouldn’t be judging. Our constitution tells us that we shouldn’t be having religious tests.
Right. Let me take a quick break here. We’ll continue this discussion on the other side of it. More from our round table on this Easter morning discussion after this.
…For researching that conversation. There are a couple of notables and they have to do mostly with David Gregory. Firstly, when Congressman Labrador challenges Gregory on Lawrence O’Donnell’s nasty bigotry (see the video here) – broadcast on a network affiliated with Gregory’s own, Gregory is completely unresponsive. Not even a dismissive, “Well, that’s Larry, he’s a little, you know….” Are we supposed to take this as a sign that NBC will tolerate such bigotry on their networks? The lack of any ramifications for O’Donnell to date would indicate as such.
But that is not the major point I want to make in this post. Glen Johnson at the Boston Globe picked up on the big issue:
Representative Raul Labrador of Idaho predicted Sunday that the press would make Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith a major issue in the Republican front-runner’s expected general election contest with President Obama.
Romney’s religion was on the table Easter Sunday during religion-themed political talk shows, including NBC’s “Meet the Press,” where Labrador was a guest.
Such is evident in the conversation itself, David Gregory just keep insisting and insisting, despite his panelists protests. We linked yesterday to a Carl Cannon piece at RealClearReligion taking Gregory to task for some his saying that Romney was “afraid” to talk about his faith on Leno in a promotional appearance before the weekend. Clearly Gregory went into Sunday’s show intending to force the issue.
Bear in mind, we just spent a good portion of yesterday afternoon arguing with some guy at Salon who was attempting to justify mockery of Romney’s faith.
Now that the GOP presidential campaign is pivoting from internal competition to the race for November, it is past time for Mitt Romney to address relevant questions about his religion.
Romney should now be prepared to answer some questions that he has thus far deflected or ignored. Just last week, he was attacked by a guy at a town hall meeting about a racist but now-reversed aspect of Mormon theology. (Until 1978, blacks could not be ordained into the Mormon priesthood and interracial marriages were discouraged.) Romney cut him off.
Later he said: “This gentleman wanted to talk about the doctrines of my religion. I’ll talk about the practices of my faith.”
Which is almost fair enough. The “almost” is about those doctrines that deal with aspects of worldly life in which the government may have some role. How have those doctrines helped shape (or not) Romney’s policy positions on such matters?
As a parallel example, see: “Catholic Church” and “contraception, abortion and birth control.” Rick Santorum, famously a Catholic, has made the nexus of his faith and his policy positions pretty clear — both the influences and the limits of how doctrine has shaped his politics.
What utter nonsense! Again, as we saw yesterday, Santorum making stands based on his faith does not mean that every candidate must answer for their individual faiths. The author of the RCR piece, Jeffrey Weiss, then goes on to list seven questions Romney should answer about Mormonism. The thing is downright McCarthyite – “Do you believe that the proletariat controls the means of production? – Are you a communist sir!?” – Relax Mr. Weiss, Romney’s stance on every one of the issues you raise is public information. No candidate in history has been asked to trace their stance on an issue to their religious convictions, and to do so simply tramples on any reasonable understanding of not just religious freedom, but freedom generally. There is nothing legitimate in this line of thought – it’s disgusting.
But what we do see in the preamble to Weiss’s disgusting inquiries is yet another attempt by the press to justify asking about, researching, and discussing Romney’s religion. That is three times in 24 hours that the press has whined and whined about wanting an opportunity to discuss Mormonism.
Is it just because they are pro-Obama? That the media are pro-Obama cannot be doubted. But I wonder if it is not a bit deeper. On one of the other Sunday shows, Face the Nation, Cardinal Dolan appeared:
In an interview on CBS Sunday, Cardinal Dolan called the Obama administration’s mandate on contraceptive coverage a “radical intrusion of a government bureaucracy.” He continued, saying, “Our problem is the government is intruding into the life of faith and in the church that they shouldn’t be doing.”
The press’ desire to discuss Romney’s religion is in support not just of Obama, but of his “signature achievement,” which disguised as healthcare reform, puts the government intrusively into our worship centers. Obama may have put the camel’s nose in the tent, but the press is clearly the rest of the camel.
In yesterday’s argument, our opposite number made it apparent that Mormonism is not specifically at issue other than as a stand in for all “silly” religion. There is far more at stake than just the next presidential election – perhaps the most important in my lifetime. Certainly reasonable respect for religion, if not religious freedom itself is at stake. It seems plain that our understanding of ourselves as a nation is in play here – something very fundamental.
I, for one, like the America I have grown up in.