Monday, May 21, 2007


Mitt Romney & the Mormons

I caught the tail end of an interesting segment on the Mike Gallagher radio show this morning; Mike was interviewing Gov. Mitt Romney. (I seem to have missed some of the more interesting stuff, unfortunately.)

As I tuned in, Romney was answering questions about his Mormon faith, and to what extent it should be a factor in Americans deciding whether or not to vote for him. Romney's answer, I thought, was right on target: "Well, gosh, I think Americans should pay attention to any issues they want; that's the beauty of the pluralistic society we live in".

He went on to say that, when it comes to judging someone else's religion, he once got some good advice from a Lutheran minister on the subject, in the form of three steps. One: learn about the religion from someone who believes in it, not somone who opposes it. Two: compare the best in a religion to the best in another, not the best to the worst. And finally, leave room for envy -- as he put it, it's not uncommon to see someone else's religion and say, "I wish my religion did that!". Nor is there anything wrong with saying that -- it doesn't compromise your faith in your own religion to say it.

I think that's a fascinating way to look at it. Me, I remember reading somewhere or other that we should judge another religion, not on whether we'd like to practice it, but on whether the adherents of it are good people as a result. By that standard, the Mormons measure up pretty well -- they make fine neighbors, in my experience, and they work well with others.

In fact, it has often seemed to me that Mormons use this as a subtle -- and extremely effective -- form of proselytization. You see your neighbors, who are Mormons; they have lots of kids, all of whom are clean-cut and well-behaved. They don't smoke, they don't swear, they hate drugs so much that they don't drink caffeine... and you start to wonder if maybe they're doing something right.

(I wanted to call in to the show and comment on that, actually. I didn't, because I arrived at work before Mike could take my call. Come to think of it, this has happened to me before; one of the downsides of a short commute, perhaps.)

If anything, it sounded to me as though Mike Gallagher had something of a beef with Mormonism. He did take a call from a lapsed Mormon, one who was trying to get re-established with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the formal, full name of the Mormon Church) -- and Mike insisted on quizzing the caller about Joseph Smith, and was the Garden of Eden really located in Missouri, as Joseph Smith claimed. Now that's inappropriate, in my opinion... because any religion looks silly from the outside.

Personally, I don't think it's any of my business whether or not Gov. Romney believes in this or that aspect of Church doctrine. His beliefs are between him and God, and I trust him to handle that relationship as he sees fit. What does matter to me -- and the only way I'd consider his religious background relevant -- is the extent to which this speaks to issues of character and ethics. Does he do what he promises to do? Does he follow through on what he believes? Are his core ethical beliefs compatible with mine?

If he follows Leviticus 19:18, for example, that's a heck of a lot more important to me than whether or not he follows John 3:16.

For some more thoughts on the prospects of a Mormon Presidential candidate, from someone who, unlike me, actually is a practicing Mormon, have a look at this. There are some interesting insights about how the LDS Church is run, too.

UPDATE: 22 May 2007: this morning Mike Gallagher confirmed what I suspected yesterday; he openly admitted that he didn't think he could vote for Mitt Romney for President -- because Romney is a Mormon.

The amazing thing is that he doesn't seem to see the problem with this. Would it have been acceptable to refuse to vote for John Kennedy in 1960, because he was Catholic? Or for Joe Lieberman in 2004, because he was Jewish? Or for Keith Ellison in 2006, because he's a Muslim?

(Let me add that I have my own issues with Rep. Ellison, and I heartily wish that he had not been elected. But that's not because he's a Muslim. It's because he actively supports radical Islamic organizations; it's because he publicly associates himself with supporters of terrorism, and possibly with actual terrorists. That's not the sort of man I want in Congress, regardless of how he prays.)

As I said above, a person's religion is, or should be -- particularly in the United States! -- a matter between themselves and God. Rejecting a candidate, just because you can't swallow the religious doctrines he believes in, makes no sense at all. Hopefully, he's trying to win your vote, not convert you.

Mike, you are, as you said, perfectly able to vote for someone, or refuse to vote for someone, for any reason you want. It's a secret ballot; you can vote for President based on religion, or age, or gender, or hair color, or shoe size, or anything you want. If Gov. Romney's Mormonism truly bothers you, and you can't bring yourself to vote for him, that's your choice.

But it's not something to be proud of.


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