The Real Reason Some Oppose Mitt Romney

There may be some of you loyal RomneyExperience readers who think I’ve failed you this week, and for this, I’m sorry.  You may have noticed a deafening silence here in contrast to the breathless and frenetic coverage going on everywhere else about Mitt Romney’s much-anticipated “Faith in America” speech.  Well, I wish I had a better excuse, but here’s the reason I haven’t gone in for much of that: I think it’s boring.  That’s right.  I read all of the prognosticating, second-guessing, predicting, exhorting, and everything else people are saying about this speech, and I get a little drowsy.  I really don’t care that much what everyone else thinks Romney will say, or what everyone else thinks he should say, or what everyone else thinks Romney will gain or lose by this.  Yeah, I have some opinions on these topics, but given how indifferent I am to others’ thoughts on the topic, I can’t presume that you’ll be interested in mine.  I much prefer to sit and wait and see what Romney says, and once he’s said it, you can bet I’ll be here to deal with any unfair coverage that follows.  But for now, the huge volume of commentary this week feels like one of those by-the-numbers topics that columnists just have to pick up because everyone’s doing it.  I’ll be glad when it’s over and the country can return to its normal denigrating of Mitt Romney and his faith.  (Just kidding!).

In the meantime, how about a link to a nice bit of substantive conversation?  Jonah Goldberg was apparently preparing to weigh in on (what else?) the speech, and started reading up on some relevant topics.  He came up with a startling conclusion: there may be nothing to fear from a Mormon presidency!

So I’ve been getting email for something like two years now from thoughtful, articulate and from what I can tell decent evangelical or conservative Christians explaining to me why they have everything from “reservations” and “concerns” to outright revulsion at the prospect of having a Mormon be the Republican nominee or the President of the United States (often the concern seems to me more passionate about the nomination, though that might simply be a result of the fact the nomination comes first). I’d like to say I understand all the theological issues, but I don’t. But don’t care to understand all of the theological issues either.

What I would like to know, however, is what exactly these people think a Mormon President might do that would be so unacceptable? Are there Mormon public policies I do not know of that would be implemented? Is there a Mormon faction in foreign policy?

I’ve been reading up a bit because I want to write about “the speech” but so far I haven’t found much on this basic question.

He left an open invitation for someone to write in about what Romney will do to implement Mormonism as public policy in the White House.  The responses made clear that there’s simply nothing you can credibly say to support that notion. On the contrary, he concludes there’s another reason for the very real opposition among religious conservatives to Romney based on his religion:

Well, waiting for specific examples of what, exactly, a Mormon president might do that warrants explicitly voting against a Mormon is a bit like waiting for Godot. Most of the responses I’ve received flatly admit that there is no problem with Mitt’s conservatism, it’s the Mormonism. And it’s not what he would do in office, but the simple fact that he would be in office, that vexes some — but by no means all — Christian conservative correspondents. In short, the majority view among readers is that a Mormon president would be … too good for Mormonism. . . . [P]retty much no one made a serious case that Romney’s Mormonism would have a public policy impact that warrants voting against him, which I think is very revealing.

Revealing, indeed.

I find the idea that Romney should be opposed because his presidency would help the Mormon Church to be both factually ridiculous and normatively repulsive.  But that’s just me (and I’ve dealt with this idea at length before).  But EFM’s soldier-blogger David French has something much more concise to say on the topic as well, which is pretty persuasive:

Dear Jonah,

Greetings from Iraq. As I sit here just a few miles from the Iranian border, I have reliable email and internet access for the first time in more than a month. I eagerly went to the Corner to get my fix and saw your question to readers about the real effects of a Mormon president. In my civilian life (I’m a mobilized reservist), I’m a co-founder of Evangelicals for Mitt (www.evangelicalsformitt.org ) and a regular contributor to NRO’s own Phi Beta Cons. Obviously, since I’m now deployed, my political activities are nonexistent. But I did want to say something in response to the emailers who argue that a Mormon president would somehow lead people astray because he would be a great marketing asset for the LDS church.

I’m hardly surprised that you have gotten this response. This, in fact, is the single most common objection we’ve received in the almost 18 full months that we’ve been operating our Evangelicals for Mitt website. In my mind, this line of reasoning is more responsible than any other for the religious-based objections to Mitt Romney’s candidacy. It is also so theologically and intellectually flawed that it almost makes me want to weep.

Do religions really stand or fall based on the attractiveness of their most famous adherents? Or does God perhaps have a say (I would say the decisive say) in the process? I presume that your correspondents would never stay in a Marriott hotel, fly Jetblue, or root for the 49ers when Steve Young was throwing touchdown passes to Jerry Rice. Because, after all, they don’t want to endorse anyone or anything that brings credibility to the LDS church. I suppose God stands helplessly by as religions compete for souls by offering up a series of accomplished, attractive politicians and celebrities. (“I see your Steve Young and raise you a Kurt Warner.”)

In fact, as we know from the Bible, God more often uses the “least of these.” The King of Kings came not as a prince but a carpenter and allowed himself to be executed between two petty criminals. His apostles did not run Roman provinces but were instead chased across an empire, met in caves, and were sometimes torn apart in arenas for public amusement. And yet Christianity has endured and flourished. Why? Because – perhaps, just perhaps – God is in control.

So when I see Christians say that the eternal souls of men are in danger because a Mormon of genuine integrity and real accomplishment is running for president, I wonder who (or what) they have faith in: the sovereignty of a loving God who holds the nations in his hands, or the persuasive power of a Mormon missionary who can add one more celebrity to the list of famous LDSers (“we’re right because Gladys Knight, Danny Ainge, Dale Murphy, Harry Reid, and – yes – Mitt Romney say so!”)

All the best,
David

Well-stated, David.  I hope we see more people making this same point.  I’ll excerpt the last paragraphs of my post on the topic in closing:

[T]he idea that Christians should oppose Romney’s candidacy to prevent an explosion of LDS Church growth is both unsupported and futile. To add one more argument against this position, it is also borders on rank prejudice. While Fr. Neuhaus has stated his position respectfully enough, the pragmatic translation of his argument goes something like this: Any gains in success or prominence of visible Mormons hurt traditional Christianity, and therefore traditional Christians must seek to prevent visible Mormons from obtaining success or prominence.

While the commentators have so far limited their opposition to presidential candidates, it is clear that the argument could be applied to business leaders, entertainers, and other Mormons that might stand a chance of gaining the public eye. While prejudice in America has been historically common, it is a rare thing for sophisticated and Liberal commentators to call for an entire sector of society to remain under the radar and out of the public eye in order to protect the speaker’s own provincial interest. Good Christians should hold enough faith in their position to be generous with the American dream, allowing those of all faiths to share in the possibilities that make this country the envy of so many others. Refusing the presidency to a Mormon simply to prevent any speculative gains in Mormon prestige would run directly counter not only to American principles of equality and upward mobility, but to the Christian charity that is central to both of these faiths.