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…)

Brian Williams Lies to Get Mormonism Into the Debate

NOTE: This post has been retracted.  See here

Article VI Blog has the scoop on the numbers behind the “Mormon President” question in last night’s debate. For those who didn’t watch, Williams told Romney he had a Wall Street Journal Poll, in which “44 percent of respondents say a Mormon president would have a difficult time uniting the country.” It was an odd question given the recent calm in the campaign regarding Romney’s religion. But hey- if that’s what the voters are saying, it must be relevant, right?

Would it surprise you to find out that that is very much NOT what the voters are saying? Indeed, the word Mormon doesn’t appear anywhere in the poll at all. Nor does the concept of Mormonism, or even religion in general. This is a straight poll with some very basic questions about who the respondent supports for president, etc. The final question reads as follows:

One of the goals people have mentioned as important for the next president to have is the ability to unite all Americans around goals and objectives for the country and to reduce the partisan fighting in Congress. I would like to list various presidential candidates. Please tell me whether you feel this person would be very successful, fairly successful, not too successful, or not at all successful in uniting the nation.

See anything in there about Mormonism or religion? Me neither. Responding to the poll, 22 percent thought Romney would not be too successful, and 22 percent also said he would not be at all successful. The total is 44%, giving Williams his cited number. But the number is for those who think Romney would be less than successful uniting the country, not those who think it’s because of his Mormonism. NBC must have just assumed, either sincerely or because it makes for a fun debate question, that this problem relates to Romney’s Mormonism. Problem is, there’s no support for such a crass conclusion. Anyone think there couldn’t be a thousand other reasons for that response? Especially given that many other candidates received very similar results (Giuliani came in at 46%, Huckabee at 43%)?

Unless NBC has some other explanation for how Williams drew that conclusion, this is really poor form, and they deserve to be kicked around for it. To have your flagship anchorman inserting blatant editorial conclusions into polling data in order to call a candidate out on his religion is just way beyond the line. Funny thing is, no one in the main stream press has picked this up yet. Hopefully NBC doesn’t make it through the weekend without some egg on its face.

Mormons Speak Out

Welcome back!  Hope everyone’s Christmas was very merry.

Just wanted to put up a few interesting links that may show the beginning of a trend: Mormons getting sick of being everyone’s favorite punching bag.

First, Mormon quiz show phenom Ken Jennings op-eds in the NY Daily News.  Headline: “Politicians and Pundits, Please Stop Slandering My Mormon Faith.”  He follows up with a punchy and persuasive case supporting his request.

Second, Mormon journalist Joel Campbell writes in the Publisher and Editor, taking note of the imbalance of reporting about Mormonism in the media.  One nice example he highlights is Maureen Dowd’s sole reliance for information about Mormonism on noted Mormon-basher Jon Krakauer.  Campbell appears to be starting a blog on the subject.  Developing . . .

Third, Mormon law professor (and religious blogger) Kaimi Wenger enters the fray with a thoughtful response to Lawrence O’Donnell.  You may remember O’Donnell for his off-the-handle rant  about Mormons on the McLaughlin Group.  What you may not know is that O’Donnell not only stands by those remarks, but followed them up with what appears to be a sincere attempt to substantiate them, a very lengthy column on the Huffington Post.  Professor Wenger shows that O’Donnell’s reliance on hundred year old isolated quotations from Mormon leaders says nothing at all about Mormons in 2007, leastwise Mitt Romney.  Wenger also has a nice write up on his Mormon-focused blog regarding some of the questions coming up about Mormons and Racial issues.

All in all, I do think this constitutes a trend, and I think it’s only the beginning.  As Mormons continue to feel spat upon by evangelicals, leftist secularists, and journalists-with-an-agenda, they’re speaking up and defending themselves.  This is not exactly a sleeping giant, but there is a huge number of intelligent, articulate, even influential Mormons out there, and once provoked, they could have a real impact on the current public debate about the place of Mormonism in America.  Welcome to the fray, everyone.

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…)

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…)

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…)

How to Write an Article on Mitt Romney’s Religion

The text for this course is this excellent article by Linda Feldmann in the Christian Science Monitor yesterday– “Mitt Romney, proudly, quietly Mormon.” Now, Feldmann hits all the familiar canards- the Kennedy speech, the polls on Americans’ hesitancy to vote for a Mormon, the quotes from a prominent evangelical or two. But what is refreshing about this article is the author’s willingness to treat Mitt Romney on his own terms. That doesn’t mean she gives him a free pass. It means that this writer, singular among all others that have covered this issue, believes Mitt Romney to be a human being, rather than a religious automaton.

The result of that belief is a story that shows Mitt Romney the Sunday School teacher, the counselor to the downtrodden, the administrator of church groups, etc. It’s a character that is flawed but three-dimensional, and a member of a faith that has an impact on lives beyond just teaching a few hard-to-believe things that Joseph Smith did. What so many have missed in trying to explain Romney’s faith is that he interacts with Mormonism as an actual person. (more…)

Defenses

It’s been a while ago now, but we’ve added to our features a list of strong defenses of Mitt Romney published in the national press, seen at the bottom of this page.  By defenses, I don’t mean people advocating for Mitt Romney on the basis of his religion.  Rather, these are articles speaking out against judging Romney based solely on his religion, and advocating greater tolerance regarding such things.  Strong editorials by John Fund and Jeff Jacoby anchor that list so far.

And it’s a good day to point to the defense section, because it will gain two new, and very good, entries today.

The first is this wise column that appeared in the Denver Post a few days ago, by recent college graduate Chris Rawlings. Rawlings laments the opportunity for serious coverage of Romney’s candidacy that his hometown paper lost when it punctuated Romney’s visit to Colorado with a three page article detailing the various peculiar points of Mormon belief and history.  He states in closing that if Mitt Romney wins the presidency, “it will neither be in spite of, nor because of, his Mormon faith.”  Just as it should be.

The second is this Washington Post editorial by Michael Gerson.  Gerson’s categorization of religious beliefs is quite helpful in evaluating what kinds of faith-based truths can and should affect policy decisions.  He draws a line between soteriology (beliefs about how souls gain salvation) and eschatology (beliefs about how the world will end) on the one hand, and anthropology (beliefs about the nature and value of human life) on the other.  While he places the former two categories out of bounds, as have nearly all American politicians, he believes that the latter category is ripe with possibility for influencing public dialogue in a good way.  Lest any critics find this claim too sweeping or ominous, Gerson correctly points out that religious beliefs about humanity and its dignity have driven a huge part of the progress toward equality that is already in our history.  This is undoubtedly true.

It’s nice to see  a bit of enlightenment being spread around, especially in a week that was also notable for its bigotry.  We will bring other defenses to your attention as we see them.

NRO: Does Mitt’s Mormonism Matter?

See updates below.

It’s been a long time since we’ve seen an argument on how to treat Mitt Romney’s faith over the course of the campaign that deserved to be treated seriously. So the Joshua Trevino column published yesterday at National Republic Online is a welcome bit of sanity. But despite his intelligent discussion, Trevino reaches some questionable conclusions. He suggests that in dealing with religion and politics, there are only three options- treat everything as being fair game, or act as if nothing is, or, just “obfuscate” until the topic goes away. (He accuses Romney of the latter). Further, Trevino argues that Romney must explain his religion to the masses because people are legitimately curious about it, Mormonism being not quite as famous as the better established sister denominations. I think these arguments, measured though they may be, lead us down a dangerous path and should be rejected. For those who suggest that Romney’s religion ought to be a completely open topic, I have three questions: why? to what extent? and at what cost? (more…)