Hello Again– New Blog

Hello RomneyExperience readers and subscribers.  It’s been a long time since you’ve seen a post here.  But you haven’t been abandoned.  I want to announce my new blog, which I’ve launched with my brother, MormonAmerican.com.  It turns out that even after everything we saw in the last election cycle, people still have plenty of stupid things to say about Mormonism.  At MormonAmerican you’ll find all the same analysis and commentary on the public discussion of Mormonism, plus an added helping of new wit and insight contributed by my brother D.T.  Come find us there.

Thank You and Goodbye

As you may have heard, Mitt Romney ended his campaign for the presidency a few weeks ago.  I’ve done very little on this blog since then, mostly because its purpose was to boost Romney’s candidacy, which is now defunct.  However, I’ve been surprised to see that most of my favorite pro-Romney blogs seem to be carrying on, with plans to continue for the foreseeable future.  I’ve had a few readers inquire whether I have similar plans for RomneyExperience.

While I think it’s commendable that others continue to feel passionate about their support for the former candidate, I confess that the present outlook dampens my blogging spirit for now.  Thus, I just want to announce, for anyone who cares, that RomneyExperience is officially in a state of near-permanent hiatus.

Is it possible that RomneyExperience could come back someday? Absolutely.  The most likely scenario for such an eventuality is a repeat Romney run in 2012.  Other possibilities would include a V.P. nod for Romney, as well as some other Mormon on the GOP ticket (don’t laugh, it’s not impossible).

But for now, please accept my thanks to everyone who read, passed on links, discussed, corresponded, asked questions, and otherwise participated in the RomneyExperience.  This was a lot of fun, and now it’s time to move on.  This site will remain live for the foreseeable future, and if you are interested in knowing about future projects, just keep your subscription live, and I’ll post any news here.

Again, thank you all for all your support and participation.

Best,

Ryan

Mormons Feeling Stung By Their ‘Moment’

Suzanne Sataline, the Wall Street Journal’s crack religion reporter, filed a front page piece today in the Journal titled “Mormons Dismayed by Harsh Spotlight.” Although I spoke with Ms. Sataline several times over the writing of her piece (and am lightly quoted near the end), I was still surprised at the depth, breadth, and understanding of Mormonism it managed so gracefully. Mormons licking their wounds this morning as they contemplate the beating their religion took over the last year may find some small consolation in this sympathetic piece. (more…)

On Being a Mormon Candidate in America

Not yet twenty-four hours after Mitt Romney announced the end of his campaign, we’ve already seen several people telling him what he did wrong. Most of these post-mortems are limited by their failure to view the race as it was when Romney got in it. The consensus now seems to be that he sealed his fate by running to the right, acting the part of the red-meat conservative instead of the brainy technocrat with the ability to fix our country as if it were a slightly larger version of Dominoes Pizza. But a year ago, when Mitt Romney was receiving raves at the CPAC conference and being hailed as the perfect answer to the inevitability that enveloped Giuliani and McCain (depending on who you asked), that kind of advice would have sounded pathetically misguided.

What the commentators aren’t remembering were both the anonymity of Mitt Romney and the gaping hole on the right end of the GOP field. The man needed a niche to fill, and that niche was there for the taking. One more thoughtful moderate refusing to speak to the base would have flamed out instantly, and Romney was smart enough to know where he could fit in. But he wasn’t smart enough to anticipate the less visible, but far more serious threat to his candidacy- the rise of the “Authentic Christian Leader.”

Long before Mike Huckabee, there was plenty of talk about whether a Mormon could be elected president. Many doubted, and the polls seemed to back them up. But for the optimists (of whom Mitt Romney was one), there was abundant counter-evidence. Those same polls showed voter resistance to a “Mormon candidate” steadily decreasing from spring to summer to fall. Romney saw a corresponding bump in his numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire. For every big story in the mainstream press about nutty Mormon beliefs, there were three or four small-town papers running pieces on the very normal, upstanding Mormons in their own communities. The press became better informed about Romney’s faith, and slowly stopped mentioning it in every story about the “Mormon candidate.” Romney had a chance. (more…)

Round Up: Was it Religion Killed the Candidate?

Now that Mitt Romney’s candidacy is officially dead, there’s one big burning question left: Whodunnit? If the failure of the Romney run had anything to do with Mormonism, it will be important for the country to know it. I imagine that many will offer their own answer to the question, and I will certainly do so myself when I’ve had a moment to step back and think about it. In the meantime, here is how some others have answered the question: “Did Mormonism kill Romney’s candidacy?” (The Article VI post and the Times and Seasons comments are especially interesting for those wondering how America’s Mormons are feeling about all this as well).

Article VI Blog: Sort of.

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.”

God-O-Meter: Partially.

An advisor to the Romney campaign says that Mormonism was a big issue, but that Huckabee was a bigger one. “I heard from people that he did not have conservative record and the Mormonism, I never stopped hearing about that,” the advisor said. “But if Huckabee would have dropped out earlier, we’d have a horserace going on. He divided the vote.”

At the same time, Romney’s Mormonism and Huckabee’s rise probably have a lot to do with each other. Would Huckabee have risen as strongly as he did, almost entirely on the strength of evangelical support, if evangelicals were less disinclined to support a Mormon?

Russell Arben Fox of Times and Seasons: No. (Commenters: Yes!).

I would be sad–I would be angry, I would be frustrated and depressed and pissed–if the only message here was “no one will listen to a Mormon, because they hate us.” But at most, I think the message here is “if a Mormon without any deep roots in or even much of a relationship with the Christian rights decides, for some mix of personal conviction and political calculation, to make a play for Christian right voters against a former Southern Baptist preacher, one that will not be above making jokes and comments here and there to demonstrate his bona fides to his core supporters, prepare to not win.” The anti-Mormonism out there–which surely is real, but is just as surely, I think at least, to be mostly implicit and/or subconscious and/or in the eye of the beholder–is just going to the icing on your farewell cake.

T&S commenter Dave:

Hate is kind of a strong word; contempt is the better word. It’s not because he ran against Romney or caused Romney’s candidacy to fail that Huckabee deserves contempt, that’s just part of politics. It’s because he used a sly form of religious bigotry to drum up support for himself (a bad thing on general principles) and because it was directed at my religion (a bad thing for me and my family). Huckabee merits contempt and I’m happy to oblige him. He’s a religious edition of Richard Nixon.

Exit polls: Possibly

Now, if Romney hadn’t given evangelicals second thoughts simply over his religion, would Mike Huckabee have happened? It may be Romney needs another four years to convince evangelicals his religion won’t interfere with their priorities.

Huckabee: Let’s chat about this sometime over lunch at the Naval Observatory.

Mormonism Returns to the Campaign

The presidential campaign of Mitt Romney began under a cloud. When the former governor came on the scene, one question rose above all the others– “Can a Mormon win?” That question waxed and waned as a dominant theme through 2007, with the climax coming in December, as Romney addressed the question head on in his landmark speech on “Faith in America,” and as Mike Huckabee became a real competitor based partly on the contrast his Baptist credentials drew with Romney’s more suspect religion. But as the horserace moved into high gear, with primaries coming every week or so, the press collectively decided that the religion story had lost its luster, and moved on to issues of greater political relevance.

So it is oddly fitting that in the final stages of the campaign, Romney’s religion comes back to the fore, based on events far out of Romney’s control and far-removed from the world of politics. When Gordon B. Hinckley, the longstanding and well-beloved President of the LDS Church, passed away last week, Romney announced immediately that he would attend the funeral. This resulted in some head scratching in the media, as commentators wondered how to interpret Romney’s willingness to be overtly Mormon just two days before the largest primary event of his candidacy. Was his new candor regarding his loyalty to his faith evidence that he had conceded the race? Or was this some kind of new pander to play up his authenticity?

The AP’s Glen Johnson sees the new openness as a mere artifact of the low religious tension in the upcoming primary states, as opposed to that in past primary states like Iowa and South Carolina. USA Today has Jan Shipps, an oft-quoted academic with an expertise in Mormonism saying that “[Romney's] in a bind. If he goes (to the funeral) people will say, ‘Oh, his religion is more important than his campaign.’ If he doesn’t go, people will say, ‘He doesn’t care about his religion, he cares about politics.’” The same story also quotes a University of Utah Political Science professor saying that Romney “could not not be there. Given the world of (Mormon) political insiders, this is an absolute must-attend.” In other words, attending President Hinckley’s funeral was a political necessity, in the eyes of some.

Yet others found a suspicious evasiveness in the candidate’s funeral plans. Salon Magazine’s Mike Madden is put off by the campaign’s privacy about Romney’s plans while in Salt Lake, as if one might expect him to set up a press conference with the funeral cortege passing slowly by in the background. In fact, you could almost smell a hint of suspicion in the Salon article that the LDS Church was itself complicit in helping Romney escape attention, by avoiding any religious ritual that could highlight the Mormon-ness of the affair. On the contrary, while it was conducted at an enormous scale to accommodate the huge masses interested in the event, the funeral was a very typical Mormon funeral in terms of content. The sincere speeches and sedate hymns, while anything but rewarding to a reporter looking for a thrill on Temple Square, were familiar displays of Mormon-ness, a lifestyle that is maligned for its strange eccentricity at the same time that the critics gripe about how boring the whole scene can be.

But in the midst of all this coverage, there’s a different story, about a 97-year old man who died this week, a man held by some 13 million people as a prophet and great spiritual leader.  His funeral was attended by 21,000 people that cared very little for the political implications of the day, but wanted only to pay their respects to a leader who had lived a thoroughly exemplary life.  Yet few in the press corps were willing to consider that Mitt Romney may have been driven by the same motive as the rest of those attendees.  It is no coincidence that the most insightful and probing story in the mainstream press about the funeral (kudos to Newsweek) both ignored Mitt Romney, and was written by a Mormon.

Ultimately, no motive or calculation should be imputed to Romney for spending crucial campaigning minutes in devotion and contemplation besides a simple desire to be himself and life the life of the Mormon he is. This is most easily proven by how impossible it would be for his advisors to calculate the effect of such a move, for which there is not even a hint of a script, even if they had tried. This weekend, Mitt Romney, the man, went to the funeral of another man, whom he knew a little, and whom he revered as a prophet. The media clearly lacked a script as well, and that’s as it should be. It is difficult to find public meaning in moments this private. And true to his core, which is so famously thought not to exist at all, Mitt Romney navigated the unscripted moment with grace and humility, failing to score points or protect himself from the barbs of his critics. Whatever else the world may want him to be, Romney is neither a hollow shell nor a secret cultist. He is a man of faith that sometimes needs a moment to live out that faith. Even two days before Super-Tuesday.

The AP Does It Again

Even though I offered my advice to the AP’s Jennifer Dobner yesterday, and even though I took pains to note that such advice came absolutely free (!), Ms. Dobner has done the same thing again in a story filed last night.   And she’s even upped the stakes, since her last piece only managed to quote a lapsed Mormon and a disfellowshipped one.  The ability to get virulent anti-Mormon Steve Benson on the record alongside famous excommunicatee Michael Quinn shows a truly dogged determination.  And by the way, Benson is listed only as the grandson of a former church president.  Hmm, how many other grandchildren of former church presidents would have picked up the phone to talk to this reporter, if asked?  Something tells me the real reason she chose Benson instead of any of the others has to do with the notoriety he gained from making his many bitter attacks against the LDS Church.

In fairness, the recent story also includes quotes from Richard Bushmand and Richard Ostling, the former an active member of the church, and the latter a respected source on the subject.  But still, that only brings the two-day tally to the following: Impartial commentators: 2; Prominent Mormon dissidents/critics: 4; believing Mormons: 1. What gives?

Like David says- it’s time for Jennifer Dobner to update her rolodex.  (See also unbiased coverage of Dobner’s balance problem at GetReligion).

Hints on Covering Mormonism, Part I

Hint: When covering a story within Mormonism, if you find that your three quoted sources are a famously disfellowshipped Mormon (something close to excommunication) a famously lapsed Mormon, and a non-Mormon, consider a re-write.

This tip is offered free of charge to Jennifer Dobner of the Associated Press.*

*Whose coverage, I should note, appears otherwise to have been fair.  Unnecessarily out of balance, but fair. 

Romney Never “Acknowledged that Mormonism is Not a Christian Faith”

In an article about the positions of Focus on the Family regarding each Republican candidate, Time magazine quoted evangelical leader Tom Minnery as saying that “Mitt Romney has acknowledged that Mormonism is not a Christian faith.” Minnery means this in a good way, as in “Now we can consider supporting Romney because he admits he’s no follower of Christ.” Funny how evangelicals, many of whom have ranted for some time now about insisting on electing a Christian president, think it’s a positive for Romney to have admitted he’s not Christian. But any time you let your religion mix too closely with your politics, the offspring is going to look a little weird.

But for many who have followed the Romney-religion discussion closely, hearing Minnery talk about Romney’s ‘acknowledgement’ came as quite a surprise. Romney has walked a fine line on his religion, but it’s been rare to see him make any big mistakes on this issue. Admitting that his faith is not a Christian one would be a very big mistake– it would anger a lot of Mormons, which would likely result in countless stories that he has distanced himself from his faith, and play into more ‘flip-flopper’ charges.

Fortunately for everyone involved (except for Minnery, I suppose), it’s just not true. In a followup article, Time tracks down Minnery’s basis for believing that Romney concedes that he’s no Christian. Minnery said there was a passage in Romney’s ‘Faith in America’ speech that gave him the impression that Romney admitted he wasn’t a Christian. Here’s the passage:

There is one fundamental question about which I often am asked. What do I believe about Jesus Christ? I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. My church’s beliefs about Christ may not all be the same as those of other faiths. Each religion has its own unique doctrines and history.

See the part where he says Mormons aren’t Christians? Well, I didn’t actually include that part. Neither did Romney. The above is the full statement regarding Romney’s belief in Jesus Christ. And it was deemed sufficient by Focus on the Family to conclude that Romney concedes Mormons aren’t Christians.

To most people that seems like a horrible misinterpretation, even a willful one. And I agree, but there is some extra nuance that makes it even more interesting. That is, this little controversy plays up the strange, convoluted logic of evangelicals who claim to know what exactly it means to be a Christian. For most people, seeing a person declare faith in Jesus Christ as the “Savior of mankind” is more than enough basis to call that person a Christian. Not so with modern evangelicals, for whom ‘Christian’ has become more a signifier of denominational purity than adoration of Christ. In their attempts to exclude Mormons from the club, evangelicals have had to do all kinds of gymnastics to tell us what “Christian” really means, and have ended up throwing Christ right out of the analysis. Reliance solely on the Bible, but also adherence to certain extra-biblical creeds, and emphasis on this New Testament passage (but not this one!) and historical unity with other Christian churches (except for all the disunity all the Christian churches have had with one another) are all more important than a declaration of Christ as savior.

Rather than engage in the nonsensical philosophizing one must do to make sense of this, the Romney campaign has kept their response very simple, in the process taking a much firmer stance on the “Christian” issue than they ever have before. Here’s Time quoting a Romney spokesman:

Now some people define ‘Christianity’ differently,” Fehrnstrom continued. “Some people believe that ‘Christianity’ is a group of evangelical churches. Others believe that ‘Christianity’ is any church that follows the teaching of Jesus Christ, and that is what the LDS church believes.” I asked Fehrnstrom if that was also what Romney believed. He said yes.

It’s hard to believe we’ve come to a point where a “Christian” leader sees a candidate claim Christ as personal savior and then (1) concludes from the statement that the candidate is not a Christian and then (2) announces that conclusion as a reason to support the candidate. Strange times we’re living in. Anyone else think politics would be better off without all this religion stuff? It’s worth considering.

P.S. David Brody posts on this story, and draws a spot-on conclusion: that the Mormon issue has now completely expired.  I heartily agree. 

Retraction Regarding Williams’ ‘Lie’

UPDATE: Lowell Brown at Article VI Blog has a new post explaining the somewhat understandable confusion that inspired his original post on this topic, including a breakdown of the legitimate criticisms of Williams’ question.  Lowell admits, as do I, that the confusion doesn’t justify our jumping the gun on this story.

Article VI Blog has updated its post on the Brian Williams ‘Mormon President’ question. In their original post, they reviewed a copy of the poll to which MSNBC had linked, which did not include any question regarding Mormonism. It appears now that there was such a question (though it showed that more respondents were nervous about a Baptist Minister’s ability to unite the country than that of a Mormon), which was not visible in the version published by MSNBC.

I should have done more to verify this story, and apologize for both my error and the accusation that Williams “lied.”