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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?

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

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.

CNN Explains: What’s Mormonism?

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. tuvia

    ****

    B"H
    RADIO: MEDIA RELEASE

    JERUSALEM, ISRAEL

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=947by3X6_RU&w=640&h=360]

    September 6, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
  2. tuvia

    SHALOM, THANK YOU FOR EVERYTHING.
    YOU SHOULD ALL HAVE A GREAT SHABBOS.
    HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND.

    SHALOM, YOM TOV.
    TUVIA

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=947by3X6_RU&w=640&h=360]

    LET MY PEOpLE GO
    ??
    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TyBZhTaf1oU&w=640&h=360]

    OBAMA

    ??
    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TyBZhTaf1oU&w=640&h=360]

    LET JONATHAN POLLARD GO NOW LET MY PEOpLE GO
    ??

    SHALOM, THANK YOU FOR EVERYTHING.
    YOU SHOULD ALL HAVE A GREAT SHABBOS.
    HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND.

    SHALOM, YOM TOV.
    TUVIA

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=947by3X6_RU&w=640&h=360]

    LET MY PEOpLE GO
    ??
    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TyBZhTaf1oU&w=640&h=360]

    OBAMA

    ??
    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TyBZhTaf1oU&w=640&h=360]

    LET JONATHAN POLLARD GO NOW LET MY PEOpLE GO
    ??

    ??

    September 5, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Pollard betrayed his country by selling classified information for personal gain.
      The treasonous pig should never be released.

      September 5, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  3. donner

    Before you vote in November, you must do this. Go to YouTube and search "Banned Mormon Cartoon" it is the true story of what Mormons believe. Watch it, then tell your friends.

    September 2, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
    • Wyoming

      What was it banned from? Was it accurate or a willful misrepresenation of LDS beliefs?

      September 2, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
    • John Doe

      Yeah, I watched the first four seconds of that video then came straight here as a member of the LDS church to say that it is complete and utter bull. Period.

      September 3, 2012 at 1:48 am |
    • Sergio Roa Prado

      If you want to know what we really believes go to http://www.lds.org

      October 6, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
  4. jeeves

    \\

    September 2, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
  5. Terri M

    Interesting that this and other "news" organizations (using the term "news" extremely loosely here) didn't investigate Obama's religion in '08. Particularly his pastor and mentor of 20 YEARS, Reverend Jeremiah Wright and the fact that Obama left his extreme church and separated himself from it to save himself politically. Had this been covered as it shoul have been, he wouldve lost the election. This irresponsible journalism is exactly why CNN's ratings and many others have tanked. They think we Americans are stupid and cant think for ourselves. They think we'll take their lame propaganda as news.

    September 2, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
  6. John Doe

    As I read through the comments below I see 2 things. First, people who are like "of course Mormons are just a 'normal' religion, what do you expect?" And then there's the people who have only heard far off rumors of the Mormon faith and have distorted them beyond belief. Saying Mormons teach messages of hate, when the very words that they speak are full of hate. I am a 16 year old Mormon boy, who goes to 3 hours of church at 9:00 every Sunday, believes in loving everyone, as well as all of those other 'traditional christian values' and I carry out service in my community often. I plan ongoing on a mission before I go to college, and then getting a job to raise and support my family after being married in one of the Mormon temples (if out want to know what goes on within a Mormon temple, all you need to do is ask Any active member of our faith). What about this makes me so different from every other person in america who wishes to worship what they may in peace? Tell me a liar, and that I worship the devil if you want, just know that you are basing your opinion off of nothing, and just come off as stupid. Any questions?

    September 2, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
  7. adonis616

    how is a mormon president (mitt romney) any different from a 5% nation of islam president (farrakahn) ? they both have very extreme views..... mormons believe blacks skin is cursed & black like their souls.... and the 5% believe whites to be the devil? 5% got their knowledge from a white man fard muhammad. (from the pix i cant tell) and mormons believe god sent john smith because jesus didn't do a good enuff job? yet..... u never hear about that in the media or from those of you racist with extreme views? obama said he's christian. white christians called him muslim. fard looks white... the 5% says he's black. obama's preacher did a sermon saying "god dam america." he had to disown him.... romneys church saying "god damned blacks".... and nobody questions it? so here is a riddle for all of you self proclaimed religious fanatics.... if there is but 1 god.... but many different religious people who claim their god as thee god their people are thee chosen people. why did 1 god choose to create so many different type of people out of 1 man? ................... ANSWER: so u can be a racist! IDIOTS your hateful god is the devil!

    September 2, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
  8. California99

    Mormons belong to a Cult! and Romney wants us to drink his Kool-Aid! haven't we seened this before? he should get together with Tom Cruse and compare notes.....Mormoms vs Scientology...mmm...samething...although mormonism is worse since they have to give 10% of they earnings to the "Church", will we have to do that as well w/ Romney? otherwise drink his kool-aid.....Jim Jones town?!

    September 2, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • susan

      Your lack of facts are showing.

      September 3, 2012 at 2:25 am |
    • Sergio Roa Prado

      Hate speech

      October 6, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
  9. Greg Simon

    Religion? Why religion is so important now and not 2008 election? At least i know Romny's religion . Do you know What Obama's religion?
    I wonder whey i have so many question, for Obama.

    Stop analyzing further and Vote for the Future of America – We need Jobs , Business and Government who respects American Values .

    September 2, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • adonis616

      how is a mormon president (mitt romney) any different from a nation of islam president (farrakahn) ? they both have very extreme views..... mormons believe blacks skin is cursed & black like their souls.... and the nation believe whites to be the devil? the nation got their knowledge from a white man fard muhammad. (from the pix i cant tell) and mormons believe god sent john smith because jesus didn't do a good enuff job? yet..... u never hear about that in the media or from those of you racist with extreme views? obama said he's christian. white christians called him muslim. fard looks white... the nation says he's black. obama's preacher did a sermon saying "god dam america." he had to disown him.... romneys church teaches "god damned blacks".... and nobody questions it? so here is a riddle for all of you self proclaimed religious fanatics.... if there is but 1 god.... but many different religious people who claim their god as thee god their people are thee chosen people. why did 1 god choose to create so many different type of people out of 1 man? ................... ANSWER: so u can be a racist! IDIOTS your hateful god is the devil!

      September 2, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • trixie

      Tell Congress !

      September 6, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
  10. 1amazed2u

    Please do not insult my intelligence. When was the last time he went to church before all this political running around? Read Rollingstones 8/30/2012 magazine under politics. There you will find what Romney is trying to hid from the public.

    September 2, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • Wyoming

      Romney and his family are regular church goers. The press that follows him hasn't always been invited to join them so they can worship in private and not have it disrupt the services for other attendees.

      Mormons, with their 'visitors welcome' signs have services every week in thousands of communities throughout the United States and the world. Reporters are unbelievable lazy. Perhaps the majority are so adverse to attend any religious service that they need a special invitation to attend.

      September 2, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
    • Anthony

      "Wyoming" fails to mention that the real heart of the cult's activities take place inside the temples where the church members go through rituals (that were in many cases ripped off from the Freemasons, of which Joseph Smith was briefly a member) in a setting that is 1000% closed to outsiders or as the Mormons kindly call us when among themselves, the "gentiles". If a family member is getting married in a temple and you are not a member–tough luck, you must wait outdoors until it's over. The Sunday meetings to which "all are welcome" (actually only as long as it appears that you might be willing to be baptized into the church, if not then see how long your welcome will last) are little but weekly prayer sessions and indoctrination sessions–the reality takes place inside the temples, where Mitt can't and wouldn't take a gentile reporter.

      September 8, 2012 at 7:36 am |
  11. arapikos

    In Orthodoxy, there have been wealthy men who have given up all their wealth– and go to a monastery to serve God–then, there are some men who will not even reveal the sources of income. But, say " trust me"

    September 2, 2012 at 10:14 am |
  12. CACkle

    How naive is this commentator? Going to a Mormon church is not where the action is. To see what Mormon's really believe one would have to go to temple services which are not open to outsiders. The church is just a facade to make it seem that Mormons are not that different in how they worship God. Their beliefs are closer to Scientology than any Christian religion. Don't be fooled by the false picture they are trying to paint.

    September 1, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
    • Sergio Roa Prado

      To us , like the ancient Israel, Temples are sacred places, I know the Temple and Temple ordinances, and there are nothing negative.

      October 6, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
  13. jholland27

    "What luck for leaders that men do not think" – A.Hitler

    September 1, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
  14. Carole

    How sad.

    September 1, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
  15. Beez

    Lying, corrupt hypocrite.

    September 1, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
  16. Dave Harrris

    I've been told that Mormons don't have big group ceremonies like most churches. They meet in small groups and test each other for any sign of heresy. And some of their beliefs are pretty bizarre, like Satan being Jesus's brother, and an afterlife where you get to populate your own planet by copulating for eternity. Hey, is it any crazier than Jesus on a dinosaur?

    September 1, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • dscotty

      Umm.... Why don't you try attending one of their services before you state publicly what they do or do not do at their services. I've been to Mormon services. It was actually very nice – and very 'normal' (whatever that means...). All that it entailed was (in a large group, just like other churches) a few prayers, hymns, a sacrament service, and a few Mormon members giving addresses on different religious themes.

      September 2, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • Sara Key

      Dscotty, Dave Harris is correct! Mormons will tell you they believe in Jesus, but their idea of Jesus and the afterlife is very much different from a Christian view of Jesus and afterlife. Mormons and Christians are using the same words, but their meanings are not the same.

      September 2, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • Wyoming

      There is some truth to this. 'Orthodox' Christianity see the scriptures throught the lense of 4th Century Creeds. Mormons do not accept these creeds and their redefinition of God and Christ. Mormons believe that we are literally the spirit children of God.

      September 2, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
  17. Consequence

    From where i sit, the Book of Mormon and its origins are no less hard to believe than a burning bush, a divided Red Sea or a chariot ascending to Heaven in a ball of fire. If among the faithful, you understand that fantastic events can be real events and that God works his purposes in ways men do not always understand. If a doubter, it all remains dross. As for the Mormons – i do not know what non-Mormons expect from their church service. The Mormons themselves were largely converts from various Protestant faiths. Brigham Young had been a Methodist at one point. It should come as no shock that many of their worship forms carry influence from Protestantism and their hymns include everything from Bernard de Clairvaux, Martin Luther and Charles Wesley mixed with songs of their purely Latter Day Saint traditions. Their services are open to visitors and their sermons personal and largely from the heart. The Mormons are not a group of Druids or witches cloaked in robes of secrecy, but are the very reflection of the neighbor next door who attends Church with their family and accepst life through the prism of their legacy and aims to contribute to their community. A worthy Methodist or Presbyterian is no more, no less.

    September 1, 2012 at 6:36 am |
    • CACkle

      How about explaining the rituals during temple services. How about starting with the magic underwear? No doubt your run of the mill Protestant is quite familiar with that ritual.

      September 1, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
    • oy

      Please. The 'religion' was started by a charlatan horse thief who wanted and excuse to marry two women! He claims that some angel told him where some golden plates were buried and that Jesus came to America to preach to the Native americans. COME ON.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:16 am |
    • adonis616

      how is a mormon president (mitt romney) any different from a nation of islam president (farrakahn) ? they both have very extreme views..... mormons believe blacks skin is cursed & black like their souls.... and the nation believe whites to be the devil? the nation got their knowledge from a white man fard muhammad. (from the pix i cant tell) and mormons believe god sent john smith because jesus didn't do a good enuff job? yet..... u never hear about that in the media or from those of you racist with extreme views? obama said he's christian. white christians called him muslim. fard looks white... the nation says he's black. obama's preacher did a sermon saying "god dam america." he had to disown him.... romneys church teaches "god damned blacks".... and nobody questions it? so here is a riddle for all of you self proclaimed religious fanatics.... if there is but 1 god.... but many different religious people who claim their god as thee god their people are thee chosen people. why did 1 god choose to create so many different type of people out of 1 man? ................... ANSWER: so u can be a racist! IDIOTS your hateful god is the devil!...................huh?

      September 2, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
  18. End Religion

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-z4iaUFSkME&w=640&h=360]

    September 1, 2012 at 3:29 am |
  19. clem

    How sad to be a mufti-millionair off the backs of people. Then to make capital gains off of his investments from that money and wants TO END ALL TAXES on capital gains. Imagine that.

    He believes his taxes deserve more privacy than your v a g ina ? Sick person, sick people who vote for him, no scruples

    September 1, 2012 at 1:14 am |
    • Wyoming

      We just entered the 'fact-free' zone.

      September 2, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
  20. on StreetWise

    Siding side of their MONEY...Remember, the Republicans were freaked about JFK's Catholic issue... Now the GOP’ers are very concerned about Islamic Brothers and Sharia law rule... BUT, they seem little problem with the Book of Mormon... Hummmmmm… are they leading us to the “land of milk (bilk) and honey” now, and prosperity? Can anybody spell HYPOCRITE? Lies repeated again, and again and the bigger the lie repeated often enough and the people will begin to believe it… it’s the whole Karl Rove doctoral.

    August 31, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • oy

      Birds of a feather. They'll overlook the Mormonism b/c they all hate blacks. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • Wyoming

      Did all of MA convert to Mormonism during Romney's tenure and I missed it? It seems like he governs according to the best interest of the electorate.

      Also, you would need to speak with African-American Mormons to determine how they feel in the church.

      September 2, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
    • John Doe

      I, m a Mormon, and for 7 years, before I moved away, my best friend was black and a member of the LDS church. We don't, teach messages of hate, and I have NEVER never heard a church official say something racist. Call me racist, call me a devil worshipper, call me whatever you want. Your hate filled messages don't do anything but show your ignorance. I'm a 16 year old teenage boy who lives a normal life, who goes to a church where they teach messages of love and acceptance, and I'm a Mormon.

      September 3, 2012 at 12:51 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.