Giuliani, McCain: Morally Repugnant. Romney: Worse.

Bill Berkowitz at Media Transparency provides an interesting summary of the race so far, from the perspective of the Religious Right base. While he gets some of his facts right, Berkowitz also throws a lot of gas on the fire of intolerance against Romney, pretending that it’s water. Here’s the sub-head:

While Giuliani and McCain register ‘morally repugnant’ on the religious right’s traditional values-meter, Romney has a bigger problem: many conservative Christian evangelical leaders don’t believe his religion measures up.

And here’s the segue within the story to Romney’s ‘problem’:

While Giuliani and McCain are viewed with enormous suspicion and distaste by many on the Christian right, Romney has a much larger problem, one that has little to do with his serial flip-flopping on social issues. It is Romney’s Mormonism that clearly makes many conservative Christian evangelicals uneasy.

So, as this author tells it, the conservative Christian base of the Republican party finds McCain and Giuliani morally “repugnant,” but feel even less regard for Mitt Romney because of his religion? Note that there’s not a word devoted to Christian responses to Romney’s actual political stances, something detailed at length for the other two candidates. Rather, it appears that to the author, Giuliani and McCain, despite being basic non-starters among the devout Christian right, at least deserve to be dealt with on their merits, before being dismissed. But Romney? No need to even mention that his positions line up perfectly with those pushed by the religious right. No need to note that in comparison to the other two big names in the race, he is clearly the only one with anything to offer in terms of pushing the social conservative agenda.

Instead, the author dispatches him as simply unacceptable to religious conservatives because of his faith- a demerit far more egregious than Giuliani’s and McCain’s simple intolerance for outspoken Christians. The evidence for Romney’s unacceptability comes from two sources. First, there are liberal quotations from the unhinged rantings of Bill Keller, a crazed fringe pastor who believes that a Romney presidency would send millions of souls to hell. (for a response to that fallacious meme, see here). Next, there’s a section on Al Mohler, whose assertions of Mormon impiety have gained him some prominence in recent weeks– he doesn’t believe that Mormons believe in Jesus (click here to see a rebuttal to this idea). Two noisy sources provide Romney with a problem that appears insurmountable among a base that numbers in the millions.

In short, the Berkowitz story does all the things stories like this have consistently done over the past six months, but does them better. It paints Evangelicals with the same broad brush, one that throws them all in one boat with a crazy bigot and one other somewhat respectable anti-Mormon. It gives no notice to the myriad prominent Evangelicals that have come out in support of Mitt Romney, or at least said they’d not oppose him for his faith. And worst of all, it lends credence to the idea that the Republican base ought to (and will) judge Mitt Romney not for his positions, background, character, or competence, but only by his religion.

This kind of reporting is simplistic and unhelpful. It smears Evangelicals, it damages Romney, and it misunderstands religion in general. Hopefully, as the campaign continues and Romney’s support in states full of Evangelicals increases, such stories will take their half truths and skulk away.

UPDATE: This post by Georgetown Prof. and Faith and Politics Blogger Jacques Berlinerblau gives an example of dealing with the above issues with actual thought, insight, and balance, not to mention quality writing. Berlinerblau’s new blog, The God Vote looks to be worth watching in the future. HT: Article VI Blog.