Why won’t Mitt Romney talk more openly about his Mormon faith? Jed Lea-Henry discusses Mormonism and the Republican U.S. presidential candidate.
The Significance of Mitt Romney’s Religion
The sheer improbability of Mormon doctrine is almost too hard to fathom. It is a religion, upon a religion, upon a religion. Whatever probability you assign to the truth of the Christian faith you must, by its very nature, assign a reduced probability to the veracity of Mormonism.
To be a practicing Mormon you must believe that, in order to supplement and elucidate the Old and New Testaments, the angel ‘Morini’ presented instructions to Joseph Smith in the early 19th century. Aided by this divine intervention, Smith (a well know charlatan in up-state New York with previous convictions as an ‘imposter’ and ‘disorderly person’) produced, with the help of gold tablets and magic stones a translation from a hitherto unknown language. This translation, written in 17th century King James English which he failed to repeat when challenged, was to become the guiding principles for a new, true, religion. From this ‘great clarifying document’, 25,000 words are plagiarised directly from the Old Testament, 2,000 from the New Testament, 100 of the names used are Biblical, and the words ‘it came to pass’ are repeated a nauseating 1,500 times. This, The Book of Mormon, which Mark Twain described as “chloroform in print”, and the turn of events that lead to its creation, we are meant to believe constitute anculmination of theology. Yet, finding a way to believe such a thing should not exclude someone from public office. Indeed, for Mitt Romney, such a suspension of reason only places him on a similar standing to the 60 per cent of his own Republican party who believe the world was created in its current form less than 10,000 years ago.
The difference here lies in the very knowledge of that figure, for unlike his fellow Republicans, Romney appears to find his own religious conviction to be a dirty subject. Romney is now the presumptive nominee to challenge a sitting president who, regardless of reason, has failed to live up to public expectations. Yet, despite this being his second tilt for the White House and fourth for public office, all we seem to know about the former Massachusetts governor’s deepest personal beliefs – that is, his Mormon faith – is that he desperately does not want to discuss them.
On the face of it, such a stance seems valid, even commendable — after all, Article VI of the US Constitution stipulates “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States”. He does grasp a shadow of a point here — in an openly secular society, the religion of any candidate should not intrinsically define them. However, this is America, and specifically the Republican Party, and passing a religious litmus test is not just sought but required in order to claim the presidency. So far, Romney has tried to manoeuvre this test by disingenuously attempting to present Mormonism as a Christian denomination, consistently finding a stage to espouse Jesus Christ for evangelical Christian audiences.
Romney at Liberty University:
“Christianity is not the faith of the complacent, the comfortable or of the timid. It demands and creates heroic souls like Wesley, Wilberforce, Bonhoeffer, John Paul the Second, and Billy Graham,Each showed, in their own way, the relentless and powerful influence of the message of Jesus Christ”
In truth, the Mormon’s are no more Christian than the Christians are Jewish. It seems Mitt Romney is hoping that, by choosing acceptance by association over ideological sincerity, the issue of his faith will disappear. The fact that Romney feels it necessary to make such a decision at all seems a sad reflection on American society, yet it is hard to imagine a candidate of any other religion being so reticent and divergent about the key tenets of their faith — with the exception of Scientology.
Even the managing director of public affairs for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (The Mormons), Michael Otterson, cannot seem to understand Romney’s stance here:
“…a passive attitude to faith is no part of being a Latter-day Saint”.
After all, these are the people synonymous with door to door proselytizing and missionaries. Indeed, as a young man, Romney spent over 2 years in France, converting the ‘ignorant’ to his faith, yet now with a global audience for his every word, all we get is evasion. There is a difference between acrimoniously interrogatingprivate beliefs and making genuine inquiry about an individual’s complicity in church doctrine. No candidate need be a spokesperson for their faith, but affiliations or memberships are important because they can speak to the heart of an individual. It is hard to see what Romney now finds so offensive about the topic of religion that he clearly didn’t as a Missionary or a Senior Lay Official in the Boston Church, or when contributing vast sums of money to the Church coffers, if it was not just an act of political expediency.
Romney has reached as far as to invoke John Kennedy to escape commenting on his own faith:
“Like him, I am an American running for president [and] I do not define my candidacy by my religion”.
This reference was made during what became hyped as Romney’s ‘Mormon Speech’, borrowing more than just content from Kennedy’s ‘Catholic Speech”.
However, despite this being built as the penultimate moment of Romney’s political career, he failed to speak about his religion, only alluding vaguely to any scripture, doctrine or practice of his church; in fact he only used the word ‘Mormon’ once. Kennedy’s speech was directed firmly at concerns over his Catholicism; he was assuring the public that he would be breaking with his church and not accepting Papal decisions as the highest authority. Rather than follow Kennedy’s example, Romney took the occasion to try and convince that questioning of his faith is unconstitutional and excessive. And one could almost be tempted to reluctantly accept Romney’s evasion as his answer and move on, had we not heard from his very next breath:
“In recent years the notion of separation of church and state has been taken well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgement of God”.
Herein lies Romney’s real problem, he considers questions about the nature of his faith to be un-American, yet considers a public invocation of faith to be an acceptable expression — even a suitable answer to questions of policy. The hypocrisy barely needs highlighting; faith has become an election issue of Romney’s own choosing by consistently injecting it into his campaign.
On criticising Obama’s foreign policy:
"If I'm President of the United States, I will be true to my family, my faith, and our country and I will never apologize for the United States of America."
On countering perceived policy changes:
“I’ve been married to the same woman for 42 years and I’ve been in the same church my entire life”
In light of the importance, religion clearly plays in Romney’s life, past and present; it’s only natural to assume he would continue to be haunted by this issue. Indeed, there are some pressing concerns about Romney’s faith, that gullibility and equivocation cannot be satisfactory responses. The Mormon Church has a recent history of open racial discrimination, stemming directly from scripture and church teaching.
2 Nephi 5:21:
“…the lord had caused the cursing to come upon...wherefore, as they were white and exceedingly fair and delightsome...the lord did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them…”
The priesthood was denied to black people until 1978, 14 years after the Civil Rights Act was passed and 22 years after the commencement of the Civil Rights Movement. Now of course, scripture and historical doctrine can condemn most religions, yet for Romney this is far more relevant; he was 31 years old in 1978. Therefore, he spent 13 adult years in an openly racist organisation, during which he became an active missionary and entered the church hierarchy.
Later as a Bishop in the Boston Church, Romney readily perpetuated what became an institutionalised Mormon misogyny, of which polygamy is just the most graphic, historic, example. In light of Latter-Day Saint opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment, Romney was seemingly following the example set by the Church when he dismissed the equal rights claims of Mormon women as “just a bunch of bored, unhappy housewives trying to stir up trouble”, and insisted that when a Mormon group launched the feminist publication Exponent II, they be denied access to church property for all related activity. More worrying, though, are reports describing Romney as being unwilling to believe the claims of women pertaining to domestic abuse within the church. The women considered Romney to be unsympathetic and obstructionist when presented with potentially criminal allegations against male members of the Latter-day Saints.
There is no mention in Mormon scripture that baptised individuals need be accepting, so in a hollowed-out mountain in Utah, church members have been amassing large archives of dead non-Mormons to be ‘prayed’ into the faith — victims of posthumous baptism. This practice may seem harmless enough at first glance, allowing for the un-baptised to ascend to heaven, when they had presumably previously been suffering in hell. Recently though, it was discovered that the Latter-Day Saints had managed to acquire and work through lists of Nazi holocaust victims, subtly picking up from where Hitler left off in systematically irradiating Jewish identity, in case anyone missed it, Anne Frank is now a Mormon. Though the church reluctantly agreed to cease this practice for Jews, the principle and practice still persists with deceased individuals of less significance.
I’m sure it is plausible, even likely, that if cornered, Romney would denounce racism, misogyny and identity theft. However, for questions of ‘what were you doing as a member of an openly racist organisation?’; ‘what were you thinking when you appeared blind to the plight of Mormon women?’; or ‘what role have you played in involuntary baptism?’, all we have come to expect is silence.
Unless Romney believes his response would damage his standing with the general public, or conversely the Mormon Church, then it is hard to imagine what conceivable reason a candidate could have for not wanting to clarify such beliefs and practices.
We should not insist that candidates be spokespersons for their faith, however we should insist they are spokespersons for themselves. Evidently, Mormonism is a very important part of Mitt Romney’s life, so by refusing to talk about it we are left with a substantial void in our understanding of someone who could become the next American President.
However, for anyone still not convinced that Romney has a position to answer to here, be then prepared as a matter of consistency, to denounce the persistent questioning of Republican Congressional Candidate John Abarr, former Presidential Candidate David Ernest Duke and former Senator Robert Byrd, regarding their past and present membership of the Klu Klux Klan.
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