Bob Jones and Mitt Romney: Strange Bedfellows, or Natural Allies?

When Bob Jones III endorsed Mitt Romney’s candidacy, it was at first received as a great coup for Romney. Jones is a well-known evangelical leader in the heart of South Carolina, where Romney faces his toughest early primary, and has yet to convince a large number of Christian conservatives.

But the inevitable backlash quickly followed. In announcing his endorsement of Romney, Jones made the following statement:

“As a Christian, I am completely opposed to the doctrines of Mormonism. But I’m not voting for a preacher. I’m voting for a president. It boils down to who best can represent conservative American beliefs, not religious beliefs.”

Asked why he chose Romney, Jones’ somewhat impolitic answer was “What is the alternative, Hillary’s lack of religion or an erroneous religion?”

Indeed, these are backhanded compliments if ever there was such a thing- “he’ll make a fine president before he goes to Hell.” After the initial wave of positive coverage of this groundbreaking endorsement, the tide turned, and a spate of negative stories appeared, in which Mitt Romney became a weak-willed opportunist for accepting the endorsement of a man that denigrates Romney’s faith. The best example of the new trend is this piece from USA Today:

What bothers me are not the allegations of [Romney’s] shifting positions on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, but his acceptance of a political endorsement from someone who trashes his religion.

What else is he willing to compromise to become president?* (more…)

Is the “Mormon Factor” Still Important?

I’m in trial this week, so blogging time is limited.  While my time constraints continue, we’ll keep running high-quality guest posts like the following.  This one was submitted by reader James Masters.  Send your guest post to [email protected]

It’s time to rethink the impact of “The Mormon Factor” when considering Mitt Romney’s presidential aspirations.  CNN let slip a small news story last Thursday regarding a recent poll from Opinion Research Corporation.  The poll indicated that 80% of individuals would not let Mormonism be a negative factor in deciding on a candidate.  Only 19% of those polled indicated that they would be “less likely” to vote for a Mormon.  The poll’s margin of error is +/- 3%.  Compare this statistic with the following historical polls: (more…)

Newsweek’s Mission

The following guest post is submitted by reader Brett McDonald.  Thanks for these insights, Brett.  Send your guest post to [email protected]

I was excited when I saw that Newsweek’s Oct. 8, 2007 issue featured Mitt Romney.  However, while reading the story, my excitement turned to disappointment and frustration as I continually read bold conclusions and loaded premises without the expected accompanying support.  The picture painted of Romney with the aid of these claims is of a weak, unprincipled, confused, charlatan (the authors do leave room for the notion that he may be sincere).  However, the problem is that these same damning claims that paint this picture for the casual reader are completely unsupported by argument.    Rather than attempt to deduce these authors’ motives (although I think they are apparent) I will confine myself to pointing out their flawed conclusions.

Where’s the Argument?
1) Mitt Romney lived with contradictions in his life as a teenager:
According to Newsweek, the fact that Romney attended high school in Michigan and was “the only Mormon” some of his classmates knew, leads to the conclusion that he lived a life of “contradictions.”  This conclusion is supported with no other facts or factual arguments.  Indeed, just what these contradictions are is never pointed out.   (more…)

Values Vs. Theology

After making a nice effort to fact-check the ludicrous accusations being thrown around by some anti-Mormons on its discussion forum, Slate has now reverted to form– deliberately obtuse and mockingly dismissive of religion. The latest iteration comes in Slate’s coverage of the recent endorsement of Romney from Bob Jones III, who operated the famously fundamentalist college that bears his name, and is the grandson of its founder.

Slate’s blog-bite coverage in full:

Losing his religion: Check out Bob Jones’ official “endorsement” of Mitt Romney:

Asked whether Romney’s religion was a stumbling block for him, Jones replied, “What is the alternative, Hillary’s lack of religion or an erroneous religion?”

“As a Christian I am completely opposed to the doctrines of Mormonism,” he said. “But I’m not voting for a preacher. I’m voting for a president. It boils down to who can best represent conservative American beliefs, not religious beliefs.”

Wait, what? I thought the whole point of an endorsement from Bob Jones was that he—or any other fundamentalist Christian university president, for that matter—does pick based on religious beliefs. No one cares what Bob Jones thinks of the health-care plan or tax cuts or plan for Iraq. They want to know who worships the best God! It’s like a master chef recommending a restaurant even though he hates the food.

People always discuss Romney’s beliefs as a weak spot. Who knew he’d be our nation’s last defense against a pagan Giuliani or Clinton administration?

In other words, “I, Slate writer, can’t think of any reason why any religious leader or follower would care about anything besides theology! What’s up with this wacky guy- endorsing someone from a church he doesn’t believe in? These Christians just keep getting crazier and crazier!”  Clearly, Bob Jones III has conducted himself in a way unbecoming of a Christian stereotype. (more…)

Of Note

In the past few weeks there have been a lot of things happening related to the topics of this blog– Romney and Mormonism. Most of them, however, are the type of thing more deserving of a link than the full-fledged-RomneyExperience-bloviation treatment. Here are some of the items most worthy of note:

First, there’s a very interesting, and somewhat high-profile battle going on over at the Fray, Slate’s discussion forum, regarding how Mitt Romney’s religion may or may not disqualify him from holding the Presidency. There have been a lot of intelligent comments from those who know Mormonism from this inside, and one of the Fray’s editors specifically invited R.E. readers to join in. As long-time readers of this site may know, Slate has not been particularly friendly to the rights of Mormons-running-for-president, so this invitation is a pleasant surprise. So please, make your way over there and give ’em what for. (And by the way, RomneyExperience hopes to post by tomorrow a full response to the insipid comments that started it all off, so check back soon).

Seeing the spike in interest brought on by the Romney candidacy, the LDS Church (decidedly neutral as to Romney) has ramped up its own outreach: launching a Public Affairs YouTube Channel, hosting a national online press conference, and announcing plans to send senior leaders to make presentations to newspaper editorial boards nationwide.  Perhaps taking their cue from this blitz, the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, and Kansas City Star all follow with positive, in-depth stories about the LDS Faith.

Elsewhere (and I’m really late on this, but in the interest of completeness . . .) lots of stories on how Romney may well be picking up traction among that mysterious, monolithic, absolutely homogenous group of people referred to as “Evangelicals.” Could it be that the media has found a new narrative for the next month?

Of course, what sparked the flood was this five-page letter by Mark DeMoss written to scores of prominent evangelical leaders, asking them to support Romney after considering the (inferior) alternatives. Given the buzz that letter started, and if its effects continue to snowball into real support throughout the ranks of the Christian right, it may go down as one of the most influential pieces of presidential propaganda in our lifetimes. Needless to say, it’s worth reading.

Regular bloviating to resume shortly . . .

The Exploitation of Romney’s Religion

Lynn Grossman, writing in the Huffington Post, makes an argument we’ve heard before from the secular left. “I simply don’t like anybody’s religion anywhere near politics, and the closer a candidate is to a religion’s orthodoxy, the more worried I become.” Ms. Grossman appears to be saying that the more religious a person is, the less trust worthy he or she is. Welcome to the new world, where religion as an accessory is acceptable in polite company, but where actual conviction is the height of bad taste. Regardless, in the case of Mitt Romney, there is simply no evidence that religious “orthodoxy” has mixed with his politics. I hope that helps Ms. Grossman sleep better at night. Of course, she holds it against Romney that he’s not only been a Mormon, but a church leader- meaning, in other words, that he’s not just a casual member of his faith (which we could accept!) but he appears to be impolitely . . . devout! (One wonders if Hillary’s Sunday School teaching gig will come in for similar treatment.)

Ms. Grossman takes her faulty logic a step further, arguing that as someone who has used his religion for political gain, Romney must answer for it in the public square. She rails against “candidates exploiting their belief in God by offering it up as a prime qualification for being president.” The post concludes with this paragraph:

Now, in order to get elected president, we see candidates clambering over each another in a mad race to claim Jesus as Number One on their Buddy Lists. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who does that deserves to have their beliefs questioned, parsed, rumored about, scrutinized and questioned again. That includes Mitt Romney. (. . .)

So here’s my challenge. Find me one statement, position, release, or other public act in which Mitt Romney has exploited his religion for political gain. (more…)

What Mitt’s Mormonism Does Mean

Mitt Romney has an identity problem. Newsweek says “voters can’t connect with a candidate they feel they don’t know.” The Chicago Tribune asks “Who is the Real Mitt Romney?” Each publication goes on to try and pin Mitt Romney down, explaining the man in terms of his ancestry, career path, and, most often, his religion. (At one point, Newsweek suggests that Romney’s m.o. at his private equity firm was essentially Mormon– “make good choices because you’ll have to live with their consequences.” Right. Because Catholics and Baptists prefer to make stupid choices).

Despite their attempts to understand the man, both pieces, and scores of other stories just like them, conclude that Romney is inscrutable– an enigma wrapped in a religion wrapped in an enigmatic religion. If you examine these kinds of pieces closely, this conclusion is a bit shocking. For all the people that have set out to understand Mitt Romney as a human being via the interpretive lens of his religion, you would think someone would either find the religion helpful in some way, or that everyone would eventually abandon the approach as useless. Instead, the parade marches on, every week bringing a new story with the same formula: “Who is this guy? Let’s consult his religious beliefs to understand him. Hmm, we conclude that he’s a mystery.” Do journalists have fun asking questions they know they can’t answer, or are they just enjoying the tease?

The repetition of these inquiries reveals one thing: that regardless of whether it sheds any light, the religion angle brings lots of heat, so it’s going to remain a juicy part of the narrative. This is disappointing, because hidden under the analysis of obscure doctrines and superficial cultural flavor, Romney’s Mormonism actually does reveal something very important about the man. (more…)

Mitt Responds to Newsweek

Responding to Newsweek’s very Mormon-focused Romney cover-story, Mitt Romney has written a letter to Newsweek, which the magazine publishes in its latest issue. It’s a masterpiece of succinct but effective communication:

I am an American running for president, not a Mormon running for president, but I am also very proud of my faith. And I am not a cafeteria Mormon, choosing some parts to accept and reject—I am “true blue, through and through.” My family and I are better people and far happier than we would have been without our faith. It is puzzling that when NEWSWEEK looks at me (“A Mormon’s Journey: The Making of Mitt Romney,” Oct. 8 ) what you mostly see is a Mormon. I would have thought that more important to my potential presidency would be my record as a governor, 25-year business leader, Olympic CEO, father, husband—and American.

Mitt Romney
Belmont, Mass.

By the way, that section in quotes “true blue, through and through,” is a bit of code for Mormons out there wondering about Romney’s commitment to his faith. It is drawn from an old story from Mormon history, in which a young Mormon missionary was accosted by a band of ruffians who threatened to kill him if he was a Mormon. Asked if he was a Mormon, the missionary answered “Yesiree, died in the wool, true blue, through and through.” Despite his defiance, the man was released unharmed, and went on to lead the LDS Church. An interesting reference for the Romney team to include in this context, but one sure to be recognized by Romney’s LDS backers.

Reader Email: Newsweek Piece Unfair

Thanks to reader James Masters for sending the following email contribution. Please email your guest post to [email protected]

The current issue of Newsweek includes an extensive article on the relationship between Mitt Romney and his Mormon faith (authors: Jonathan Darman and Lisa Miller). Aside from being a bit discombobulated in flow and structure, the article is also weakly presented as “balanced.” The attempted “balance” comes in a tit-for-tat package of terse compliments coupled with small nuggets of Mormon culture. As is the case with many other articles in the media on Mormonism, the article contains assertions with little contextual elaboration and fails to attribute relevance on some points. (more…)