Romney’s faith takes center stage

If you’ve followed the election coverage much over the past year you may have realized how absent Mitt Romney’s faith was from the national conversation. This marked a big shift from his 2008 bid when his Republican opponents attacked him on his faith early and often. Over the past few months it has been Romney’s Mormon faith has been a glaring omission from his stump speeches and formal interviews. The reason was obvious. If Romney has any chance of winning in November he has to win a solid majority of the evangelical vote and, as I’ve pointed out before, this is not as easy a task as many have presumed.

 This decreased enthusiasm in support for Romney among white evangelical voters is tied to their overall view of Mormonism: “The greatest skepticism about whether Mormonism is a Christian faith is among white evangelicals (42% of whom say it is not).” This may not keep Republican white evangelical voters as a bloc from voting for the Romney/Ryan ticket in November, but it is likely to dampen voter turnout among this group at least some, and likely result in continued distrust, or at the least discomfort, with Mitt Romney.

At the Republican National Convention last week, though, the Romney campaign began working to turn this (real or perceived) weakness into a strength. Numerous Mormons spoke, hoping to offer a picture of a sensitive and compassionate Mitt Romney. One couple, the Oparowski’s, spoke of how Romney had been there to console them when their 14-year-old son was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and how he offered the eulogy at his funeral. It was truly touching. The Oparowski’s painted a picture of what is best about religious communities and they placed Mitt Romney squarely in the foreground.

It is easy as one who follows politics closely and as a cynic generally to see these stories as calculated moves to try to win votes, and in one sense that’s exactly what they are. But there is another side, the human side. Nothing negative can be said about Romney’s compassion in that situation or of the empathy he showed with Pam Finlayson’s daughter was born prematurely with a host of health issues. These are the types of stories that the Romney campaign hopes will define his character with voters in November.

And yet I cannot resist assessing the political. These are precisely the kind of stories the Romney campaign needs. The Obama campaign has worked hard all summer to paint Mitt Romney as someone of questionable ethics, noting his use of tax loopholes such as the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, and Swiss bank accounts that, while legal, show someone determined to pay as little in taxes as possible. The Obama campaign has also put a lot of effort into attacking Mitt Romney’s time at Bain Capital, highlighting examples of Bain‘s involvement in loading up companies with debt, making massive profits, and then cutting it loose. The message is simple: Mitt Romney doesn’t play by the same set of rules as the average American.

So the Romney campaign needed to combat this message by showing that while he may be worth $200 million he is someone who feels compassion just like the rest of us. When neighbors are hurting, he is there for them. And, it is important to note, it is his faith that guides him in this manner. Let us not miss how often he speaks of his “faith” and how little his speaks of Mormonism or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Romney himself mentioned “Mormon” once in his acceptance speech and some of the Mormon speakers who spoke before him on the final night of the RNC opted for the language of “pastor” – a more familiar term with evangelicals – as opposed to “bishop” – the proper term for his lay leadership position.

The Romney campaign has become more comfortable talking about his faith, this is evidenced by its prominent final night role at the RNC, but there are two aspects that must continue to be nuanced about this conversation. First, Romney seems to have gotten comfortable just as they are sure they have solidified the evangelical vote. Many conservative evangelicals who in the past have vowed never to vote for a non-Christian are planning on voting for a Mormon – a huge win for the Romney campaign considering 42% of white evangelicals do not consider Mormonism a Christian faith. Second, the Romney campaign is not oblivious to the reluctance of many white evangelicals to vote for a Mormon, hence the language of “faith” instead of “Mormonism,” the language of “pastor” for “bishop” and so on.

This reluctance to talk about his faith has made sense from a polling perspective, but it has also likely been influenced by his desire not to have the press asking questions about his faith. In light of the RNC, though, some are saying the press now has permission to ask tough questions about his faith.

We’ve so far treated Romney’s religion as a binary biographical fact: Is it proper for us to mention it or not? Tonight Romney has officially given us permission to treat his faith as an important part of who he is. So let’s stop talking not about if we’re ready to have a president who is an adherent of an outlying faith. Instead let’s ask the more important question about Romney: What would it mean to have a president whose leadership skills were honed while wielding the power and authority of a church?

I do certainly think that the Romney campaign’s newfound openness about his faith does give the press and the electorate freedom to ask more questions about it and it’s role in his life, yet I am still reluctant to sign on to questions of this nature. I think that having no religious test for office is one of the best qualities of our country (though we clearly still have an implicit religious test graded by the electorate – no Muslim or atheist has yet come anywhere close to being the nominee of a major party) and my experience has been that these types of questions rarely offer the insight we are hoping for, but instead serve the attempts of others to paint a candidate as extreme, or radical, or fringe (remember the Jeremiah Wright kerfuffle for Obama in 2008). On the other hand, though, the role of a person’s faith in his/her life is extremely important to a large portion of the population and many think it is important to know how one’s faith commitments will affect his/her decisions in the White House. A Zionist Christian, for instance, should be asked questions about his unquestioning fealty to the state of Israel. With that said, understanding the necessary and appropriate questions to ask about a politician’s faith is not an easy task and I do not profess to know exactly where the line should be drawn.

At the end of the day, though, it seemed to me that the focus on Mitt Romney’s faith was the strongest point for him at the RNC. It offered a glimpse into a part of his life that he has largely kept hidden and the story offered is likely to be especially moving for people of faith that were already inclined to vote for Mitt Romney and some who have yet to make up their mind. The question I think many Romney supporters will be asking is why he didn’t do this earlier.

Editor’s note: This blog was previously published an Associated Baptist Press commentary.

 

Thomas Whitley

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About the Author
Thomas Whitley holds a Master of Arts in Religion and a Master of Divinity from Gardner-Webb University. He is currently working on a PhD in Religions of Western Antiquity at Florida State University. He regularly writes on religion, technology, and politics at thomaswhitley.com.

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  • MekaGojira

    Baptising someone after they’ve passed away is a form of rape.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Doug-Forbes/100000342296087 Doug Forbes

       My I suggest that you go back on your meds.

    • E B

      If you looked more into it, you’d find that baptisms for the dead don’t force anything on them. It gives them the opportunity to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ after they die, if they didn’t accept it in mortality. Agency, or the ability to make our own choices, is something that the LDS Church and its membership highly value. Anything you see to the contrary (including references to “brainwashing”) is not factual. Thanks.
      http://www.conservativemormonmom.blogspot.com

    • RaymondSwenson

      You will note that the apistle Paul spoke of Christian baptism for the dead (not of the dead) at 1 Corinthians 15:29 as evidence of their faith in the resurrection of the dead.  
      Those Christians who insist that those who have died without accepting Christ are burning in hell have a far less charitable view of the billions of people who have never had a chance to hear the gospel message. Is believing that we can rescue someone from hell an evil act? Especially when it was done the same way by Paul’s fellow Christians?

      • Shelama

        Mormons vs. the non-Mormons is like fighting for the class dunce cap.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Doug-Forbes/100000342296087 Doug Forbes

    It is not accurate to say Romney’s Mormon religion took center stage at the Republican convention. Romney’s actions as a member and Bishop of a LDS ward may have taken center stage briefly.

  • E B

    Good points. I am a Mormon. I’ve noted with interest the few and far between decent articles in the press concerning Mitt Romney’s character, because as a rule they are ignored. I’ve searched out dozens of personal accounts of Romney during the past year, and they all agree that he is kind, caring, friendly, humble, helpful, honest, hardworking, competent, and thrifty. That rarely is mentioned in the media, because of the bias, just as anti-Obama stories are left out of the liberal media. Coverage of Mormonism is similar biased and unreliable. You have to read both sides because both sides leave stuff out. How can you make an informed opinion with only one viewpoint? You can’t.
    http://www.conservativemormonmom.blogspot.com

  • http://twitter.com/AaronLMGoodwin Aaron L. M. Goodwin

    It’s a shame that sometimes we focus on the sum while ignoring the individual parts. Hence the article’s focus on Romney’s faith as part life’s moments is important. For me, it’s hard to get passed preconceptions about Mormonism, but those who know me best know that my membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints defines all of the good things about me. That scaffolding of the church has provided my ample opportunity to build, what I hope, is a decently solid structure of character. It’s been a major blessing for me and given me ample opportunity to serve others.

    • http://www.christopherlondonblog.com/ Christopher London, Esq.

      Mitt Romney is the most fraudulent con-man to ever seek the Presidency, with the possible exception of Joseph Smith, the founder of the LDS Cult that Mitt holds a leadership position in. You are free in America to believe in  CULT founded by a 19th Century Convicted Con-Artist and polygamist pedophile in Joseph Smith. I am also free to insure that a con-man who holds a leadership in said CULT never becomes the President of my country.

      • Bot Bot

        Here are the
        characteristics of a cult:
        • Small? The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) has 14 million members in 132
        countries. In America, there are more Mormons than there are Presbyterians or
        Jews.
        • Excessive devotion? Mormons are devoted to the Savior, but in appropriate
        measure He would approve of.
        • Unethical techniques? Ask the pie-throwers to name one.
        • Control by isolation? Even if Mormons wanted to, this would be impossible
        with 14 million members in 28,000 congregations throughout the world.
        • Control by threats? Again, evidence? Mormon missionaries may be exuberant,
        but do not threaten.
        • Dependency on the group? The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) is just the
        opposite. Mormons want members to be self-reliant and independent so they in
        turn can help others.
        • Powerful group pressure? Only if that’s the way the critics prefer to define
        love.
        • Strange? Guilty as charged. Mormons plead guilty to all the strange things
        that were done by Christians in New Testament times that were lost during the
        great falling away in the aptly named Dark Ages, among them temple worship, baptism
        by immersion by the father of the family, vicarious baptism for the dead,
        definition of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit as separate but united in
        purpose, salvation requiring both grace and obedience to commandments, prophets
        and apostles, unpaid clergy, and continual revelation to guide His Church.

        • Shelama

           Interesting that the only two ways people enter into Mormonism are either childhood indoctrination or in rather profound ignorance of the Bible. Of course that’s also true for any Christianity. What’s up with that? Does it speak to the people, the church or to the god?

          • http://twitter.com/AaronLMGoodwin Aaron L. M. Goodwin

            You are utterly and completely wrong. I, myself, saw many join this church who were highly knowledgeable in the bible. Some were pastors of whole congregations, some were divinity school grads, and some were scholars.

          • Shelama

            Sorry, but anybody who converted to Mormonism  “highly knowledgeable in the Bible” was either indoctrinated into the Bible as a child  or entered into their Christianity, whatever it was, profoundly ignorant of the Bible. Those are the only two ways people enter into any Christianity, not just Mormonism.

            For the vast majority, even if they could quote the entire Bible verbatim,  or even if they are pastors of whole Congregations, are still profoundly ignorant of the Bible. Ask them about critical textual Bible study or historical-critical study of the Bible and they won’t even  know what you’re talking about or care. But many of them will claim to have done serious Bible study and be “highly knowledgeable in the Bible’. It’s a joke.

            True Bible scholars who are also believing Christians also entered into their Christianity either thru childhood indoctrination or converted, as an adult, ignorant of the Bible. The scholarship came much later, when they were already emotionally and psychologically invested. Sorry.

            Christian apologetics of the most scholarly sort, just like Mormon apologetics, are persuasive ONLY for those who already believe. There is a common body of evidence and NOBODY converts from Unbelief to Belief based on the conclusions of serious, honest, critical Bible study. Conversely, those who do have critical study and understanding of the Bible do not convert to believing the Bible is the word of a god (or God) or substantially literal history. And why would they? The reason is obvious: there is virtually nothing in or about the Bible that rationally argues for it being the product of divinity. Zilch. There is no rational reason to believe the Bible is not entirely man-made.  There is no compelling reason to believe the Gospel stories are literal history whether from first-hand eye-witnesses or otherwise.

            So of course, the ONLY way people enter into that belief are…you guessed it… childhood indoctrination and profound ignorance. They can clamor like lions afterwards in their apologetics but that’s a totally different story.

            Even the elites of Mormon apologetics at FAIR or BYU-Neal Maxwell will admit that the evidence is not so strong as to compel an affirmative conclusion, and that it’s totally rational to conclude, from a serious study of the evidence, that the Bible and the BoM and BoA are  purely man-made.

      • http://twitter.com/AaronLMGoodwin Aaron L. M. Goodwin

        Jesus was a convicted blasphemer. You’re point?

        • http://www.christopherlondonblog.com/ Christopher London, Esq.

          LAMINATE THE LAMANITES: IF ROMNEY DESCENDED FROM THE LAMANITES how come he did not go into the flooring business? He coulda made a killing. “Hi I am Mitt Romney, can I sell you some tile” OH WAIT, it all makes sense, Mitt Romney did go into the FLOORING busines, he helped removed the floor in the lives of many middle class Americans who as a result fell into the basement. A hollow man, a false belief system founded by an emotional racketeer. Jesus was no Joseph Smith. GFU!

  • RaymondSwenson

    I am also an attorney.  Mr. London’s diatribe is an incredible amalgamation of defamatory lies. You can be assured that if Mitt Romney had ever done anything legally questionable, Attorney General Eric Holder would have been leading the prosecution. That is how Obama won his seat in the US Senate, through defamation of hisnDemocratic primary oppobent and the Republican in the general election.  

    Mitt Romney established a company that has provided reliable income to pension funds for public school employees andnstate employees across the US. His company did not disassemble and sell off companies, it invested in losing companies that could be turned into winners. They have owned shares in companies for years, investing capital to make them competitive and profitable. That is why thay are still trusted by public employee pension fund managers. Companies they invested in have become household names, like Staples andbSports Authority. 

    • Shelama

      Interesting thing, after four years of Obama-Biden and recession and dismal recovery, 2012 was tailor-made for a Republican victory.

      A half-way decent Republican candidate would be crushing Obama in the polls and already an obvious landslide in November. As it is Romney is playing catch-up to Obama. What’s up with that?

      If Obama wins he should sent Thank You notes to Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, the birthers, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and the anti-Muslim/Marxist/Socialist/”he hates and is destroying America” crowd.

      • http://www.christopherlondonblog.com/ Christopher London, Esq.

        Mitt Romney is the most fraudulent con-man to ever seek the Presidency, with the possible exception of Joseph Smith, the founder of the LDS Cult that Mitt holds a leadership position in.

        • Shelama

          Mitt no longer holds a leadership position in the Mormon church and when he did it was purely local. It would not be inappropriate to call him “Bishop Romney” as a kind of courtesy recognition of a past calling. As far as a cult, all of Christianity is a cult: the cult of the Christ myth, the cult of the Empty Tomb. JoSmith didn’t invent it he merely adopted and adapted it.

          • http://www.christopherlondonblog.com/ Christopher London, Esq.

            Mormonism is not Christianity and whatever “adaptation” they consider it to be, it is fraudulent. Christians do not consider the LDS Church a Christian institution. 

          • Shelama

            Doesn’t matter what non-Mormon Christians consider the Mormons to be. In anycase I’m not sure what it means when one fraud is built on top of another fraud. Personally, I find the Christ myth about poor dead Jesus to be far more interesting than the Mormon myth, but that’s just me.

            Mormons just go to show that anyone who can believe that the Bible is the word of a god (or God), whether or not translated correctly, and Adam & Eve in the Garden, Noah’s flood, virgin birth, walking on water, empty tombs, and Jesus as a Jewish messiah, fulfillment of Jewish scripture and a bloody, sacrifice for sin can believe, well… anything.

            Mormonism IS a Christianity. One of many. There have been multiple Christianities since even before Paul and there never has been and never will be any “unity of the faith.” That’s another myth. A non-creedal, non-orthodox Christianity is still a Christianity. It’s a big tent regardless of the Councils and the Creeds. Sorry.

          • http://www.christopherlondonblog.com/ Christopher London, Esq.

            Mormonism is NOT Christianity. The attempt to leverage the fraudulent cult off of another faith is itself one of the most fraudulent aspects of this Satanic faith. Phuck the Mormon Church!

          • Shelama

            Well, poor, dead Jesus got phucked so why not the Mormon Christians, too?

      • RaymondSwenson

        Romney went up against determined opponents in a long series of primary battles and demonstrated he was better than all of them at winning voter support among Republicans. The battle is now over independent voters who do not afgiliate with either major party.  Most of them take little interest in politics until just before the general election.  It makes elections unpredictable. 

  • RaymondSwenson

    Barack Obama holds to a kind of Chrustianity that involves few if any religioys duties, that allows him to use his position as president to advance gay marriage despite the cinsistent votes of American citizens, and lets himnrefuse to enforce the Defense ofbMarriagenAct passed bynCongress and signed by Bill Clinton. As a state senator in Illinois, hebrepeatedly voted against a bill to require doctors to save the lives of babies that, despite the attempts by the doctors to kill them, were born alive. Barack Obama has a basic defect in his ability to empathize with the most innocent human beings. He has a utilitarian view of human life that casually disposes of inconvenient people.  If that is the knd of “Christian”you want wielding the power of tge presidency, he is your man, a man who speaks of compassion but cuts off people from humanity at a whim. 

    • Shelama

      RaymondSwenson: “As a state senator in Illinois, he repeatedly voted against a bill to require doctors to save the lives of babies that, despite the attempts by the doctors to kill them, were born alive.”

      Might you please provide the actual number on the bill, the wording of the bill, the dates it was brought up for a vote, and the specific points on which Obama voted against it? Thanking you in advance.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-White/100001610456051 David White

    It’s hate like this that I’ve seen in Northern Ireland that have killed hundreds if not thousands. Mr. London I hadn’t heard until now that Jesus has relinquished his thrown at the judgement bar of God to have you become the gatekeeper.
     
    I have no doubt if given to your wishes you would place Catholics, Evangelicals, Jews and Muslims into their own segregated neighborhoods with 60′ “peace walls” of concrete and coregated metal to separate the peoples. Perhaps giving them their own state or even kicking them out of the United States would make you and your supremist church happy? By trying to disparage a people, is no different than what Hiter did. A rose by any other name is still bigotry.  

  • Bot Bot

    Some interesting facts
    about Mitt Romney.

    After going to both Harvard Business School and Harvard Law School
    simultaneously, he passed the Michigan bar, but never worked as an attorney.

    As a venture-capitalist, Romney’s first major business deal involved investing
    in a start-up office supply company with one store in Massachusetts that sold
    office supplies.That company, called Staples, now has over 2,000 stores and
    employs over 90,000 people.

    Romney or his company Bain Capital (using what became known as the “Bain
    Way”) would go on to perform the same kinds of business miracles again and
    again, with companies like Domino’s, Sealy, Brookstone, Weather Channel,
    Burger King, Warner Music Group, Dollarama, Home Depot Supply, and many
    others.

    Got your calculators handy? Let’s recap.

    Volunteer campaign worker for his dad’s gubernatorial campaign 1 year.

    Unpaid intern in Governor’s office 8 years.

    Mormon missionary in Paris 2 years.

    Unpaid bishop and stake president for his church 10 years.

    Took no salary as president of the Salt Lake Olympics 3 years.

    No salary as Massachusetts governor 4 years.

    Gave his ENTIRE INHERITANCE to charity.

    That’s a grand total of 28 years of unpaid service to his country, his
    community and his church. Why? Because that’s the kind of man Mitt Romney is.

    And he’ll show you his:

    1) Un-doctored Birth Certificate!

    2) College transcripts!  Mitt was not a
    foreign student with a foreign student scholarship.

    3) Law degree!

    4) Un-doctored Draft notice!

    5) And un-doctored Social Security card, and what state it’s registered in!

    When was the last time we elected a politician of this character, intellect,
    experience and integrity?