Thursday, February 07, 2008

Bridge-Building: A Mormon View of Religion and Romney on Super Tuesday

[Note: The following are excerpts from my post today at Article VI Blog, which is devoted to exploring the intersection between faith and politics in the 2008 presidential election.]

This is just one Mormon's view. I want to write about the "damaged relations between Mormons and Evangelicals" to which John refers. . . . I'll look at this from three perspectives.

1. The surprised Mormon.

I am convinced that my own experience, as the Romney candidacy has unfolded, has been shared by most of my fellow Latter-day Saints. We have been genuinely surprised by the reactions to the Governor's run. We did not expect Al Mohler to agonize publicly over whether he could, as "a matter of Christian discipleship," justify voting for a Mormon. We did not see Huckabee's question, "Don't Mormons believe Jesus and Satan are brothers?" coming, and we were stunned when it did. (The outrage came later.) The Iowa outcome caught most of us flat-footed too.

This group saw these developments "in sorrow more than anger." We received an e-mail from a reader that expresses that reaction well:

I am LDS and I wanted to chime in. I remember a time, maybe in the early summer, when the Mormon question was a bigger issue. Huckabee was asked a number of times when he was polling at 1% whether Romney's religion was relevant or not. This was a time, in my opinion, where he could have been a real leader and denounced bigotry in general. Instead he stayed mum and said things like 'of course religion influences me', and so forth. He had an opportunity to bring tolerance and acceptance.

What if he would have said: "We won't compromise our doctrines, but we need each other in this war for values, and we should be proud to work together." [Ed.: For Romney's part, that's what he was saying then and has always said.] Something like this would have strengthened the cause of social conservatism much more than what he chose to do instead: He chose to use religion as a weapon. He used religion and values voters to drive a wedge, and in my opinion set back the conservative values movement a long way.

George Bush won with evangelicals AND Mormons and others of faith and values, and even then only narrowly. Now, there is a divide. I still believe in conservative principles but I will never support a ticket with Huckabee anywhere close to it. I was hoping that this election could have brought about more acceptance and a greater desire to work together. Sadly it didn't happen. . . . Who is going to bring harmony to the values movement? Bush at least paid respect. I am not sad that Romney lost. I am sad that the movement of faith and values lost and it seems like our collective influence has been marginalized.

I can attest that our reader has a lot of company among LDS folk.

2. The offended Mormon.

A good friend of mine is a long-time Republican activist and was a presidential appointee during the current Bush administration. He and I were talking at the time of the "Jesus and Satan are brothers" brouhaha. In exasperation, he said something like this to me, referring to Evangelicals who were either critical of, or hesitant about, Romney based on his Mormonism:

I'm done with these people. Mormons have become the blacks of the Republican party. The religious right is happy to take our money, our volunteer time, and definitely our votes, but they don't want us to have a place at the table. Sure, we can serve in Congress, but we'd better not get uppity enough to run for president. Well, now that I know how they feel, they're getting nothing from me.

I don't share my friend's view, but I certainly understand it. I must say, it's tragic and totally unnecessary that this has occurred, but people are people.

Mormons (including Mitt Romney) did not come into this election looking for a fight. We have always voted for a candidate of another faith; that's just normal life to us. The idea of not voting for a presidential candidate because he's a Baptist or a Methodist or a Catholic is simply foreign to us. (Hence the "surprised Mormons" described above.)

. . .

In fairness to my friend, by "these people" he meant religious conservatives who make an issue of a politician's Mormon faith but still want the political help of the poiltician's co-religionists. He wasn't divorcing himself from Evangelicals.

3. The bridge-building Mormon.

I aspire to membership in this group. My sense is that I have a lot of company. We of this bunch are dismayed at what has happened but, consistent with our faith's general attitude, we seek out people of good will and high moral standards with whom we can make common cause in civic matters.

It's significant, in that regard, that the new president of our church, Thomas S. Monson, said this on the day his selection was announced:

Responding to a reporter’s question about the Church’s openness in working with other churches and groups, President Monson said: “We should not be sequestered in a little cage. We should eliminate the weakness of the one standing alone and substitute it with the strength of working together to make this a better world.”

That's a very, very familiar teaching to me, as a Mormon; I've been hearing it all my life.

There are far too few voters who care about families and marriage and protecting youth from the rot of our continually coarsening and secularizing society. We cannot afford to fragment ourselves.

It would help us all if the candidates would echo that theme. I think Romney has been doing that. John McCain does not care about social issues much, but he could do the Republican Party, and the base whose support he needs, a great service by:

  • Denouncing religious bigotry and the abuse of identity politics.
  • Picking up the phone and calling his ally Huckabee and insisting that Huck do the same thing.
  • If McCain gets the nomination, pointedly involving Romney in his campaign and announcing, before the election, that he will invite both Romney and Huckabee to have a significant role in a McCain administration, and that he expects there to be no sectarian divisions in his team.

Now that would be leadership. Let's see if we get something close to it.


Blogger Jettboy said...

I haven't had much luck with this. I posted in another place before this post was put up:

I write this here because, no matter how much I try, the Article VI Blog won't let me post.

I am finding John's side remarks very irritating. What he says about Mormon participation in Republican politics are telling and ignorant. It is his attitudes that are causing such anger in the Mormon community and he and Evangelicals like him better pay attention.

First he says, "Please lead by example, show my Evangelical brethren the right way to do this." Now, if he would have said "continue to lead" then that wouldn't have been so bad. However, he seems to suggest that Mormons haven't been leading by example until now, even after years of supporting politicians that the Evangelicals look up to almost as their own.

Nothing proves this more than Bush Jr. getting the vote in large numbers. What needs to happen is that Evangelicals better start paying more attention and respect to the Mormons for what they have done for them. The good new is that the two most popular Evangelical picks Ronald Reagan and Bush Jr. understood this. Reagan had more Mormons in prominant positions than any President and Bush Jr. recognized Pres. Hinkley with the highest civilian honor. The Evangelical community better star following their lead.

The other statement was, "LDS friends, please note how that sounds just as intolerant and small minded as the less-than-charitable of my creedal brethren." Excuse me, but it was YOUR kind that kicked us out of the U.S. to start with and then continue to point to a sad incident in our past to prove it was the right thing to do. And yet, Mormons still soldiered on in the belief that shared values were still more important than creedal purity. Mormons have been tolerant, and supportive, for over 150 years and our getting tired of it all is "intolerant and small-minded." In case you didn't know, offense taken! You should have pointed to Jesus' (yes, the same one Mormons recognize as a Savior) words to forgive 7 times 70. That is perhaps more charitable compared to the statment of more finger pointing and accusations.

Mormons have been trying to build bridges for a generation. Some of it was forced bridge building in the way a defeated community gives in to the ruler's own ways. Others are genuine outreach to both understand and be understood. Mormons don't want a religious fight, but it is always thrust on them and usually by the same Evangelicals that are given political support.

Most Mormons I know are tired of reaching out to bridge build. The reaction to Romney by so many on both the left and the right has proved the futility. The left's reaction is understandable. The Religious Rights is seen as completely irrational and frightning. Mormons have given Evangelicals a chance. It was Evangelicals time for the same, and tepid support notwithstanding, the reluctance and harsh words hurt. Reconciliation will help only when it becomes more than a one way street. Oh, and the condescention ends and

Thursday, February 07, 2008 8:05:00 AM  
Blogger Jettboy said...

. . . recognition begins.

Thursday, February 07, 2008 8:09:00 AM  
Blogger James H said...

ROmney did not lose because he was a Mormon. I plan on doing some post on this but I think it is important to have facts before a myth starts.

Is their ANti Mormon bigotry. Yes there is some. But ROmney;s run shows that a lot of people dealt with it and even supported him. Dobson without endorsing him pretty much helped out. THis is alos the year that the anti Catholic and anti Mormon BOb Jones endorsed Romney.

IN the end down here in the Bible belt when it became gut check time for voters I was hearing far less about his Mormon faith than I did last summer.

Was Anti Mormonism the reason he lost NH. People point to the south and point a finger but ROmney ran better in the SOuth than he did in New Jersey and New York?

In California where Evangelicals are not a huge factor he did very very poorly.

The ROmeny campaign was a victory for Mormons not a disaster.

Thursday, February 07, 2008 9:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a non-religious, center-right Republican who strongly opposed Romney's campaign precisely because of his inauthenticity (to put it nicely), I have a little feedback to offer to the LDS people who are trying to reconcile Romney's defeat in their minds:

1) Romney lost because he was a flawed candidate, not because of his religion

2) Most people would prefer that religion not even come up in political campaigns, except to the degree only that candidates express their proper respect to all people of faith, and to all people who are not religious as well.

3) The most off-putting aspect of Romney's candidacy was the incessant chanting of "bigot!" and "bigotry" by many of his most prominent supporters, which effectively is repeated here again in the post-mortem for his campaign.

Just because some people (a minority, likely) don't like your religion, and use that as one of several factors with which to judge a political candidate, does not remotely rise to the charge of "bigotry". Every time Romney's supporters hauled out that ugly and divisive charge, they inevitably turned off more and more people who might otherwise have been more receptive to Romney's candidacy.

Bigotry is by definition an unthinking prejudice, used to single out and hurt people who fit a particular profile. If someone thoughtfully considers a particular religion or theology or political ideology, and then rejects it because it offends or does not satisfy for one reason or another, that is not bigotry. That is called a reasoned conclusion (even if it is made in error, according to someone else's world view).

For most people, a candidate's religion is not a usual basis on which to judge his or her worthiness for office. But for those who do use religion as a benchmark, there is nothing inherently bigoted or unjust or unworthy about that decision. Any more than it is considered bigoted for a person of faith to prefer a leader who is also a person of faith over a candidate who is an avowed atheist or agnostic. As perhaps a majority of committed persons of faith routinely do (including, I would imagine, most Mormons).

The fact that this tiresome tirade over purported bigotry (as one of the anonymous LDS commenters said - i.e., "how dare you reject one of OURS and then expect us to support one of YOURS") continues even today, in the aftermath of Romney's withdrawal, should be a lesson to all LDS and all persons of faith.

The lesson is that we would all be better off the less said about religion in politics ... in hopes that fewer people will use religion as a reason to vote for or against any candidate.

I believe that that is actually how Mitt Romney's father conducted his political career back in the 1960s, and I don't recall any serious talk then about him being a Mormon, or that such was a liability for him.

Unfortunately, Mitt Romney and many of his strongest supporters (including Lowell as well as Hugh Hewitt) made a big point of accentuating Mitt's faith, and thus made it an issue when it never should have been an issue at all.

As Jesus said, "As ye sew, so shall ye reap". Christian or Mormon or Jew or Muslim, that is good advice.

In modern American: If you don't want your LDS faith to be an issue, stop making it one.

Thursday, February 21, 2008 11:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would add also, it is understandable that American Mormons would be excited and proud that, for the first time in American history, one of theirs might ascend to the highest office in the land. Being so proud, it is easy to understand church members wanting to talk up their guy, and also their being defensive about any criticism of him, especially criticism rooted in his choice of faith.

Understandable, yes.

Good move politically? Certainly not.

The thing to do now?

Chalk this one up to lessons learned ... and the next time Mitt Romney or some other Mormon makes a serious run at the Presidency, "mum's the word" when it comes to religion is good advice. Somebody please put a zipper on Hugh Hewitt's lips, especially. Ban all defensive language from your lexicon, especially the incendiary and inappropriate charge of "bigotry".

And then simply luxuriate in the quiet knowledge that one of your own is really going places, and that whatever success your guy or gal enjoys will be a credit to your faith and your faithful.

Being a small religious minority in this country (I've seen numbers published to the effect that something less than 2% of Americans are LDS), your candidates are never going to be elected BECAUSE of their faith.

Therefore, your church members will achieve political success on the national stage in one of two ways: IN SPITE of their LDS faith (which is the harder row to hoe) ... or else because most voters don't even take notice of your guy's faith (the easier and therefore preferred path).

Thursday, February 21, 2008 12:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, and jettboy: your obviously defensive and angry tone, and your statement that you and yours are "tired of reaching out to bridge build" is exactly the kind of attitude that turns off your "Gentile" neighbors when we see it.

Fortunately, we generally see that attitude in only a few of your fellow faithful.

I expect that most Mormons don't share your small minded view of their place in the outside world, and of the obvious need to accommodate yourselves to the other 98% of Americans who don't share your faith (just like every other faith must do in this country, for every church and temple of the faithful is a minority here).

After all, the Mormon Church is a beneficiary of one of the most common perceptions of their contemporaries, held by the rest of us, i.e., your inherent "niceness".

Your faith has made considerable strides in that respect, since the mutual hatred society that your founding forebears managed to find themselves in, in mid-19th century America. The Mormon War, Mountain Meadows, the lynching of Joseph Smith, and all the rest being testament to that one-time sorry state of affairs ... which did no credit to either Mormons or their detractors of the time.

I would hope that modern Mormon niceness is not a sham and a put-on, is it?

It would be disturbing if the prototypical Mormon niceness and good humor is really only a poker face put on for the benefit of us outsiders, while you're all really just seething volcanos of religious disgust and mistrust on the inside. Please tell me that's not the case, is it?

If most Mormons shared your apparent attitude, I would think that the Mormon church would be far smaller in numbers, and less consequential today than it is.

Lighten up. This isn't the 19th century.

Thursday, February 21, 2008 12:52:00 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home