It’s here– the next big attack you’ll be reading about everywhere. This time it’s no less an intellect/polemicist than Slate’s Christopher Hitchens, whose intelligence and polymathy are matched only by the palpable rancor of his rants. (For those keeping score, this makes the fifth religious attack on Romney’s faith appearing in Slate’s pages in the last year, counting this, this, this, this, and the present article. Why is that, Slate?). Hitchens has already outed himself as no friend to Mormonism, or to religion in general, by way of his too cutely titled new book God is not Great. (You can read an excerpt on the “ridiculous cult” of Mormonism here. Note while you’re there that while the book purports to attack all religion, Slate only had the gumption to publish excerpts attacking Islam and Mormonism. No good picking on anyone that might be able to fight back in numbers, right?).
Hitchens picks up his current tirade where he left off in that last edition, making enormous assertions based on glaring mischaracterizations of Mormon history and belief. Not to fear, he’s writing in a very prominent online magazine, so Hitchens can rest assured that his readers will assume he’s been fact-checked and vetted, and will walk away from the article believing they’ve just heard all they need to know about Mitt Romney’s crazy religion. It’s one thing to go on a tear in some small evangelical magazine, and another to post a dirty, mendacious diatribe in a visible forum viewed by tens of thousands of intelligent Americans. Sadly, something below that number will view this response, so regardless of the actual truth of these matters, Hitchens has already won. If Hitchens can sanctimoniously concoct the trial of Henry Kissinger for alleged crimes against humanity, surely he ought to stand trial himself for these glaring crimes against decency and truthfulness.
But enough hand-wringing. Let’s pick up some of the worst of Hitchens’ claims and show the world how pitiful they are in the light of truth, shall we? As Hitch might say, do let’s. There’s so much here that we’ll dispense with our normal snappy segues and paragraph structures. It’s bullet point time.
Hitchens starts by discussing Romney’s video response to the recent push polls in Iowa and New Hampshire attempting to tie Romney to a number of controversial Mormon doctrines. To Hitchens, the video is model of “revolting sanctimony and self-pity,” and is also part of an affirmative strategy for Romney to gain politically by defending himself. I recommend viewing the video to judge the level of sanctimony and self-pity, because I don’t see it. In fact, if you’ve ever been attacked on the basis of your religion or another out-of-bounds characteristic, you’ve probably gotten a lot more exercised than Romney does here. But then, it’s possible Hitchens never watched the video, because he feigns ignorance about why Romney brings up the timing of Thanksgiving- even though Romney clearly explains that “this is a time when we’re preparing for Thanksgiving. A time when we get to celebrate the fact that this nation was founded in part to allow people to enjoy religious freedom.” See the connection yet, Hitchens? Continue reading The Trial of Christopher Hitchens→
USA Today ran a column by George Washington U. Professor Jonathan Turley banging on the old “if you run on religion, you have to answer questions on your religion” nail. As Turley writes, “[I]t may be time to demand that, when politicians call to the faithful, they should have to answer to the faithful on their own religious practices.”
Turley spends most time applying this piece of wisdom to Mitt Romney, of course:
Yet, when one is campaigning evangelically, it is hard to maintain that the faithful flock should not question the shepherd. There is particular sensitivity over in the Romney camp. Mitt Romney is a former bishop and stake president (or head of a collection of congregations) in his church, but he has largely refused to discuss the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints. Romney admitted last week that his staff does not want any in-depth discussion of LDS on the campaign trail. The church remains controversial with many religious voters who view it as non-Christian and polytheistic.
Even so, Romney is actively courting the faithful, including changing his positions on key moral issues, such as gay marriage, due to personal (if belated) conversions. He has called Jesus Christ “my personal Lord and savior” and alluded to the Gideon Bible as his favorite reading, leaving Mormons and non-Mormons wondering about his faith values. If religion is the most important factor in a person’s life and directs his decisions on issues such as gay marriage, why should the electorate not learn about that faith?
Martin Frost, writing on FoxNews.com, made an invitation to his readers. He asked them to write him expressing their feelings regarding voting for a Mormon. Mr. Frost says the majority of his more than 400 respondents expressed a hope that people could get past that issue and vote for candidates on the merits. This is encouraging. But Mr. Frost, who purports to belong to that same camp, didn’t print any of those emails. Instead, he chose to publish thirteen of the most vitriolic pieces of bigotry you’re likely to ever see in a national news medium. This is pathetic.
Let’s review a few of these emails, and remember- the topic is not the truthfulness of the LDS Church, its theology or practice, the salutary effect it has on members’ lives, or any other such religious question. The topic is whether a person is comfortable voting for Mitt Romney in light of his Mormon faith. Here’s a rule of thumb: If someone asks you if you can vote for Hillary Clinton, and your response focuses more on “women” than “Hillary,” you’re a bigot. Keeping that same principle in mind, let’s look at a few of the cuddly reader responses: Continue reading Anti-Mormon Gloves Coming Off→
Several stories have been published of late advising Mitt Romney on the strategy of dealing with his religion in the presidential race. The advice is unsolicited, mean-spirited, and premised on half-truths, but at least it’s free. Several writers and sources are now urging Mitt Romney to be very careful about the common ground he tries to stake out between Mormons and Christians for purposes of connecting with the broader evangelical audience. “I told him, you cannot equate Mormonism with Christianity; you cannot say, `I am a Christian just like you,”’ says Bob Inglis, R-S.C., one of the lead sources in both stories. “If he does that, every Baptist preacher in the South is going to have to go to the pulpit on Sunday and explain the differences.” (By the way- ever seen a candidate to whom others were so desperate to give advice? It’s almost become a pundit parlor game these days).
Despite the unpleasantness of this counsel, there is little doubt that Bob Inglis is right. If Romney were to try to equate his Mormonism with mainstream Christianity, he’d have a problem on his hands. Evangelicals don’t want to be told they’re identical to a church they’ve railed against for years. And, though it may come as a surprise to many outsiders, Mormons are similarly nonplussed about rhetoric that morphs them into just another non-distinctive mainstream Christian church. If Romney were to erase the lines dividing these groups, he’d risk the ire of both, and needlessly.
The differences between mainstream Christianity and Mormonism are substantial, and neither group has any interest in ignoring them. Mormons follow modern prophets and believe in modern revelation; they view their church as a divinely instituted restoration of ancient Christianity with exclusive authority to officiate in God’s name. You can see how it might be disingenuous to say that Mormonism is just like Lutheranism and Methodism and all the rest, given that it claims to pull rank on them all.
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.
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. Continue reading Newsweek’s Mission→
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. (. . .)
Michael Kinsley has raised the bar. Starting out on the trail blazed by his former Slate colleague Jacob Weisberg, Kinsley has pulled out a blowtorch to slash and burn great swaths of new acreage. Where Weisberg posited (against all evidence) that people who believe in prophets are incompetent rubes, Kinsley argues (against all history) that you can’t even believe in the Bible and be qualified for the presidency. The war of secularist escalation continues, and before long, it’s going to claim some victims.
The LA Times’ story this week on Hillary Clinton’s White House Papers revealed the following interesting nugget of information regarding Mitt Romney:
One 1994 memo offers a historical curiosity: it draws Clinton’s attention to a rising politician, Mitt Romney, who is now a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination.
In the memo, Clinton’s aides discussed a trip to Boston, where the then-first lady was to appear at a fundraising event for Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). Kennedy was then running for reelection against Romney.
“Romney, a millionaire business consultant with no political experience, is a Mormon,” the memo reads. “His religion is a delicate issue, which Kennedy has not raised, but other Democrats have.”
There are some who would discredit Mitt Romney by first tying him to his faith and then making him answer for its unpopular history or doctrines. Others, like newly-minted celebrity Jan Mickelson, the radio host heard in the below video, have a more devious tactic in mind. They attack Romney by first agreeing with his faith and then accusing him of lacking sufficient character to adhere to his beliefs. It’s a bizarre sort of politico-religious jujitsu, but it’s not the first time it’s happened. To summarize the latest, Romney visited a radio program in Iowa hosted by Mickelson last Thursday. After a few minutes of the usual stuff, Mickelson launched into a full interrogation about Romney’s past stance on abortion and Mickelson’s own view that Romney should have been excommunicated from the LDS Church as a result. The two had a mostly civil exchange on the air, and then continued their sparring with increased intensity for quite a while off the air (all caught on video tape by the station). Anyway, if you are at all interested in questions surrounding the treatment of religious minorities in public life, this video is a must watch. Forgive it the slow start– the second and third acts are worth the wait.