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My Take: Romney should take reporters to church more often
Mitt Romney and his family attend church last weekend.
August 21st, 2012
09:20 AM ET

My Take: Romney should take reporters to church more often

Editor's note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

Mitt Romney’s team invited reporters to go to church with him last Sunday, and The New York Times is reporting that the upcoming Republican presidential convention will showcase Romney’s faith in an effort to humanize him. So are we finally going to get a Mormon candidate for president?

Romney has been widely criticized for running against his past - against what he did at Bain Capital and as governor of Massachusetts, and against his prior views on abortion and health care. And while he hasn’t flip-flopped on his membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he has been loathe even to mention it in public.

In his 2008 “Faith in America” speech, Romney boldly proclaimed his religious heritage. “I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it,” he said. “My faith is the faith of my fathers - I will be true to them and to my beliefs.”

But in recent years he has been hiding that faith under a basket. In fact, in a much anticipated speech to evangelicals at Liberty University in May, he never used the M-word.

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The concern is there is little to be gained (and much to be lost) by emphasizing his Mormonism.

Latter-day Saints founder Joseph Smith was assassinated during his run for president in 1844, and anti-Mormonism has a long and sordid history in American life. Today many on the secular left and the religious right alike are wary of a Mormon president, and according to a recent Gallup Poll roughly one in six Americans say they would not vote for an otherwise qualified Mormon.

For all these reasons, Romney's campaign strategy so far seems to have been two-fold:

1. Whenever possible, avoid talking about Mormonism.

2. When pressed, speak of the importance of religion in general and emphasize the common moral values shared by Mormons and evangelicals.

3. Emphasize the American heritage of religious liberty.

I have been arguing for months that this strategy is not sustainable. What self-respecting debate moderator wouldn’t jump at the chance to ask Romney about how his Mormonism might affect his policies on taxation or food stamps or war with Iran?

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And is it really plausible to do the two-step around the religion question all the way to November when the candidate in question may well be the most religious candidate in U.S. history - someone who spent two years as a missionary, followed by decades of church service, first as the Mormon equivalent of a Methodist pastor and then as the Mormon equivalent of an Episcopal priest?

It made sense for John Kennedy to draw a sharp line in 1960 between his private Catholic faith and his public life since he came from a Democratic Party that followed Thomas Jefferson arguing for the strict separation of church and state.

But Romney’s GOP has spent a generation attempting to overthrow the Jefferson/Kennedy consensus by bringing religion ever deeper into U.S. public life. So it just doesn't make sense for this Republican nominee to try to cordon off his private faith from his public policies.

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For all these reasons, I have argued repeatedly that Romney would be well advised to take the initiative - to define his faith in his own terms rather than awkwardly and defensively fielding (or fumbling) questions about it.

Now it seems like a faith offensive may be in the offing, not least at the upcoming convention.

But how to talk about Mormonism without unearthing all the awkward stuff - the history of polygamy and theocracy, the Mormon underwear?

One way, of course, is to try to emphasize the values similarities between evangelicals and Mormons - on questions like abortion and gay rights. But an even more effective way may be simply to invite reporters to church.

Like any religion, Mormonism has changed over time. And today Mormon services don’t look all that different from Methodist worship. In fact, the common theme coming out of much of the reporting about Romney’s church service Sunday seemed to be how unremarkable it was.

In Buzzfeed, reporter McKay Coppins, who also happens to be a Mormon, referred to that service as an example of “the fundamentally un-exotic Mormon experience.”

Admittedly, they serve bread and water rather than bread and wine, but Latter-day Saints worshippers praise Jesus in song as their “Redeemer” and send prayers up to their “Heavenly Father." And when their worship service is over they march off to Sunday school.

For generations, scholars of religion focused their research almost exclusively on Scriptures and belief. In recent years they have shifted their collective focus to religious practice. Perhaps that is the strategy of the Romney campaign, to shift the focus from the eccentricities of the Book of Mormon and the heterodoxy of Mormon beliefs to the ho-hum of hymns sung at 10 a.m. on a New Hampshire Sunday.

If I have the tune right, the message seems to be that Romney is one of us, and his religion is not so different from whatever yours might be.

Will that message resonate?

It depends. It depends on what Americans know about Mormonism and about their own creeds. However, it also depends on how much they think faith should matter in presidential politics. Ironically, if voters follow the Republican line on that one, Romney might well lose. If they follow Jefferson and Kennedy, he has at least a fighting chance.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: 2012 Election • Church and state • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints • Mitt Romney • Mormonism • Opinion • Politics • United States

soundoff (1,105 Responses)
  1. buzz1975

    I really don't care to know more about his faith.... I do care to know about his stand on issues (if only he'd make one!) and I do want to know WHAT exactly he will do differently about the economy....and I would like to believe he knows (and cares just a little) what it is that middle-class people like me deal with daily.....but his dog on the roof, his too many houses, his wife's expensive horse hobby, his sons, or any of the rest of the political fru-fru? Meh. I don't give a flying fig beyond the comic relief.

    August 21, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • Take it easy

      Sadly, I agree with you. Arguing about religion will never help anyone look at what is happening. I say sadly, I agree because despite the fact that Romney hasn't impressed me, because he says he has several plans that are opposite to what Obama is planning, he will still win my vote.

      August 21, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
  2. Amused

    Christianity: The belief that an ancient mystic, jewish zombie can make you live forever if you eat his flesh, drink his blood, and telepathically acknowledge him as your lord and master, so that he will remove an evil taint from your eternal soul that was put there by an invisible force because a few thousand years ago a nudist golem created from the body parts of her husband was convinced by a talking snake to eat fruit from a magical tree.

    August 21, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Amused, Jesus wrote about you in Revelation 13:4-9

      August 21, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      HeavenSent, no one cares what the Big Bok of Multiple Choice says.

      August 21, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • Timmy

      Jesus, if he was even a real person, had been dead for sometime when Revelation was written.

      August 21, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • Take it easy

      Atheism is so funny. They laugh at Christianity, and then when they try to explain what REALLY happened, they try to get all scientific. But then it comes down to accidental mathematically impossible things or aliens.

      August 21, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  3. Rbama

    Who cares if he is Mormon. What about all of his Freudian Slips which must be retracted everyday. He is an job outsourcing joke.

    August 21, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
  4. Who invited me?

    666

    August 21, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Revelation 13:18

      Amen.

      August 21, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • .

      The revelation of thought takes men out of servitude into freedom.
      Ralph Waldo Emerson

      August 21, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
  5. mkriley

    If you people bashing Romney were half the man he is, CNN wouldn't have an audience. 🙂

    August 21, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
    • blueboycott

      Well put, well put.

      August 21, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • Shootmyownfood

      I am more than half the man he is – I am a woman. I have studied the Mormon religion, along with many others, for my own enlightment. For starters, the Mormon creed states that Jesus came to America, the rules of the religion were written by the angel Moroni on golden plates that Joseph Smith transcribed, and the Native Americans are a lost tribe of Israel. Okay, believe what you want, Mr. Romney, but don't make legislation that imposes your religious beliefs, directly or indirectly, on me.

      August 21, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
  6. babs

    Take us to church while taking us to the cleaners. Worship at the altar of mammon.

    August 21, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • Take it easy

      I am curious to what you think happens in the LDS church. Do you think they praise the devil and howl like wolves in the darkness while chanting threats to other people? Or do you think they go to church to worship God, talk about the scriptures and how to be better people? Which one is more likely? Anyone can waste are time by saying "I vote that they HOWL!" But I suggest you think about it instead.

      August 21, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • ryan

      He obviously wasn't referring to the specific practices of mormonism but to the hypocrisy of the fact that someone who claims to embrace altruistic religious values that are much different then the life he lives. I'm in the dark as far as mormonism goes but i would imagine that it doesn't encourage hoarding wealth at others expense while there are people sick and starving.

      August 21, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      at the end of the day whilst they believe the same basic stuff as christian they undeniably have the extra baggage of everything on top that the mormons believe, so the whole 'all they do is worship christ' is nonsense because otherwise why not simply claim baptists, catholic or whatever?

      August 21, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
  7. SCOTO

    Completely bizarre. If his faith is the most important thing in his life we should be discussing it to death in the matter of his Presidential bid. Not that I'd ever vote for anybody who believed anything as nonsensical as Mormonism anyway.

    August 21, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
  8. scientificpoetry

    Of course he's loathe to mention Mormanism... it makes him appear insane. Anyone who honestly believes in the Morman "story" clearly is... insane!

    August 21, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • blueboycott

      Uh.. ya did know that Harry Reid is a Mormon too?

      August 21, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • Take it easy

      "Anyone" who uses absolutes is "always" wrong.

      August 21, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • Martin

      Harry Reid is not running for national office.

      August 21, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      "Uh.. ya did know that Harry Reid is a Mormon too?"

      that isnt exactly a tick in the plus column.

      August 21, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • Shootmyownfood

      I wouldn't go so far as insane. How about "delusional"?

      August 21, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
  9. Nick

    What a load. How often do you hear the media challenging Obama on being a Christian, despite the fact that he only uses it when he thinks it will get him votes? We're not voting for a religion, we're voting for a leader, something that has been sorely missed the last 3 1/2 years, and preferably one that governs by rule of law instead of making up whatever rules fit his ideology.

    August 21, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • SCOTO

      I think Obama doesnt get challenged on it because deep down we all suspect he is not that devout (which is good for me)
      Mormonism on the other hand is something completely different. It's all the way or nothing.

      August 21, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
  10. WachetAuf

    Religion is for those who prefer to allow someone else to think for them.

    August 21, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
    • blueboycott

      Faith.... that belief you have that someone loves you unconditionally.... Can only gather by your comment that you have no faith that anyone you know actually gives a darn about you.

      August 21, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Christians learn Jesus' wisdom and atheists get conditioned not to believe. You really don't believe you came up with this concept on your own. Now, that would truly be delusional.

      August 21, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • Really?

      "Christians learn Jesus' wisdom and atheists get conditioned not to believe"

      Really? So the fact many atheists posting are actually former Christians proves that statement false.

      August 21, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • Mystical Pizza

      Ah yes more ramblings from an old lady

      August 21, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • Mystical Pizza

      Really?

      "Christians learn Jesus' wisdom and atheists get conditioned not to believe"

      Really? So the fact many atheists posting are actually former Christians proves that statement false

      shhhhhh dont point out the obvious

      August 21, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • Take it easy

      While some may say religion is for those who want others to think for them. Those who shun religion will waste their time trying to reinvent what we already know. It looks silly.

      August 21, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • Martin

      Hey, blueboycott, my dog loves me unconditionally. So is it just a coincidence that d-o-g is g-o-d spelled backwards? Or does that maybe make hm the anti-Christ of something?

      August 21, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Martin, both Jesus and your dog love you unconditionally.

      August 21, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • Scott

      HeavenSent Martin, both Jesus and your dog love you unconditionally.

      Typical brain dead Christian. If jesus existed and loved people unconditionally he wouldn’t condemn them to eternal torture in hell for not believing in him. The demand for belief is one of the CONDITIONS.

      Having read a number of your posts, I am not surprised that you have an extremely sick and twisted concept of unconditional love

      August 21, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
  11. Grim

    The problem with religion is your decisions are guided by your faith, a scary proposition when discussing those that can influence a nation. Isn't it time we forget these fairy tales. Do humans still worship Ra or Zeus. No. Why? It's easy, they don't exist and neither do current gods. It makes me wonder if in 5000 years (if we don't ruin the planet by then) what gods will be worshiped then. I guess it all depends on how badly we brainwash our children, because all religion begins with the brainwashing of the children. Poor kids barely have a chance to decide for themselves, so much for true freedom. Twelve years of Catholic schools and I finally broke free, it only took twenty years and yet the brainwashing remains a little. Even though I don't want to see any more churches built, I would rather see those than more synagogues or mosques. See how well the brainwashing works, even though I want NO more houses of worship, I can tolerate the churches a bit because of my past "conditioning".

    August 21, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Washington%27s_Farewell_Address

      Learn our first presidents farewell address to the nation.

      August 21, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • hmmmm

      Washington further asks the people to look beyond any slight differences between them in religion, manners, habits, and political principles, and place their independence and liberty above all else.

      August 21, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • blueboycott

      Tell me you have no faith that your fellow man is inherently good.... tell us that you have no faith that the ones you love also love you unconditionally.... You have faith in a world without religion... You have faith... God Bless You!

      August 21, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      hmmmm, he's speaking of the different denominations of Christianity.

      August 21, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • Take it easy

      As I said before, to shun religion is to try yourself to reinvent something that the Christians already know. It actually looks silly to shun it and then start talking about big bang theories and aliens and think that sounds less ridiculous.

      August 21, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • Mystical Pizza

      Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought most to be deprecated. I was in hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far that we should never again see the religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society.
      – Letter to Edward Newenham (20 October 1792)
      .
      Ah yes......he clearly meant peace applying to Christians vs Christian.... and when it comes to others he did not wish civility and peace.

      August 21, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • Scott

      Blueboycott Tell me you have no faith that your fellow man is inherently good.... tell us that you have no faith that the ones you love also love you unconditionally.... You have faith in a world without religion... You have faith...

      Typical dishonest Christian. I don’t need faith in my fellow man, I have evidence of peoples’ goodness. For instance Doctors without borders. I don’t need faith, my loved ones demonstrate their love for me daily.

      On the other hand you Christians don’t have one shred of evidence that your god exists so you’re stuck with faith

      August 21, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
  12. Tyler

    VocalAtheist, I gave no indication whatsoever what my own worldview is. YOU know nothing about ME. I applaud successful Muslims, Christians, Atheists, Jews, Scientologists, and the like. What I was saying in my post is that your reasoning that anyone who believes in some sort of deity is unqualified to be president is flawed. George Washington is a fine example of someone who believed in a god, yet was arguably quite qualified to be POTUS. Don't get all huffy and puffy because I pointed out a foolish statement.

    August 21, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  13. woody

    I have a Mormon step brother and my step father left him well off . So far he has refused pictures of his own father and has refused to pay any part of his fathers funeral expences . I thought a Mormon would be above that .

    August 21, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • Jaybird

      Nobody is perfect. You can't judge the whole group by one's foolishness. Come on, we all know this. I'm not gonna judge Obama by all the black men that roam the streets in Compton.

      August 21, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • Take it easy

      Mormons are people. There are guys like Harry Reid who are insane, regular guys, etc. Just like every other religion or group of people. He is free to choose how he behaves. The church does not control him.

      August 21, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
  14. Levi

    The Mormons haven't used our tax dollars, Jed. Mormons pay 10% of what they earn to the Church and that is what the Church uses to buy land and build temples and churches and send relief to victims of natural disasters.

    Maybe you should educate yourself on the subject.

    August 21, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • Geraldo

      great answer

      August 21, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • Timmy

      Every tax dollar they don't have to pay because they are a church I consider as a tax dollar stolen from someone else.

      August 21, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
    • Freethinksman

      ...and build billion dollar real estate developments, which are also tax exempt.

      August 21, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
  15. Patrick Phelan

    Maybe you pay as much attention to expose Obama's "Christian" faith and his Islamic roots as you are Romney's Mormon faith. It least Romney is honest and true to his faith and what he believes.

    August 21, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • Iconoclast

      Yes, Romney has demonstrated time and time again he believes in the healing power of $$$. As to the rest of his "sincere" beliefs I have my doubts,

      August 21, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • Shootmyownfood

      Are you implying that President Obama's mother and grandmother (the persons most responsible for his upbringing) were Muslims? If so, please provide your sources. Although President Obama's father may have been a Muslim, the man had very little to do with raising his son.

      August 21, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
  16. J. D. Hunter

    I cannot impute intellectual honesty or logical skills to a person who tells me sincerely that they "believe in" any religion. I'll grant an indulgence to the man who perfunctorily attends occasional services and mouths the words he knows he does not believe because he is uncomfortable to break generations of traditional religiosity - even though he does not really consult god's opinion in his life.

    But a true believer, oh, a true believer shall not occupy the Oval office unless we are really determined to declare national insanity.

    August 21, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • OOO

      ...and I believe BO and MR are of the latter variety. However many on the religious right would not want to hear that.

      August 21, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
  17. Iconoclast

    Romney can attend church seven days a week as far as I'm concerned, it won't change the voting public's view of him as being nothing more than a lying scheming d&%h bag. Talk about refuge for the scoundrels!

    August 21, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
  18. Jed

    Maybe the reporters can get an accounting of how the Mormons have used out tax dollars......

    August 21, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
  19. Dick46

    Organized religion is a brilliantly conceived and expertly executed con. Why does Jesus need money?

    August 21, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • Geraldo

      jesus doesnt need money, but churches give millions in outreach that includes medicine, clothing, food, and a host of other services for the poor. My church rebuilt an entire african church with money collected.

      August 21, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
    • TR6

      @Geraldo: “jesus doesnt need money, but churches give millions in outreach that includes medicine, clothing, food, and a host of other services for the poor. My church rebuilt an entire african church with money collected”

      If jesus does not need money why did your church use its collections to build another jesus factory in Africa?

      August 21, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
  20. Reality

    ONLY FOR THE NEWCOMERS:

    Bottom line: Romney is Mormon because he was born Mormon. Should we hold this against him? After all, BO also believes in "pretty/ugly wingie thingies, bodily resurrections and atonement mumbo jumbo. (Ditto for Ryan and Biden.)

    One should be voting based on rational thinking. Believing in angels, satans, bodily resurrections, atonement, and heavens of all kinds is irrational.

    Apparently, BO, JB, MR and PR have been severely brainwashed in their theologically and historically flawed Christianity and they are too weak to escape its felonious grip.

    August 21, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
    • Believe it or not....

      Best post on this subject to date. Read Joseph Campbells "the hero with a thousand faces".

      August 21, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • Rbama

      You don't need to read a book to understand this so called "man" can't hold a thought for more than twenty four hours. His party is a wreck and he does not have the ability to lead them out of their chaos much less this country.

      Does anyone really want a _____ like this leading the United States of America. Give me a break !

      August 21, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • Weatherthestorm

      Not just Christianity. Other religions have their share of similar "irrational" beliefs. Some beliefs may motivate a politician in a positive sense, others not. We've certainly seen both sides of this coin over the last few years or so.

      August 21, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.