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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.

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. Rick W.

    Hey Joe, nice subject change with the Rev. Wright thing. However you left out that Obama also "hung out with known terrorist", that he "loves abortion". That he's not an American citizen. That his birth certificate is a forgery. He's a "take your pick" Muslim, socialist, Nazi, Stalinist or the ever popular "anti Christ". He refused to wear a flag lapel pin, didn't show respect during the playing of our national anthem. Can anybody help me with this, I know there's more.

    August 21, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • Alien Orifice

      Rick, I can help you.

      Obama has a difficult time hiding his intelligence from the the stupid public. As this country would never elect an intelligent athiest to office, the president has to play the game. Since he is not a moron like those that have come before him, this can be a challenge and hence, inconsistancies.

      August 21, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  2. Hypatia

    drivel

    August 21, 2012 at 11:07 am |
  3. True Bible Stories

    Adam: Oh my God, we’re nekkid!

    God: Yes! Your nekkidness is shameful! Cover yourselves!!

    Adam: I’m sorry! We…we didn’t know!

    God: Now you see the world as I do!

    Eve: Wait. You knew we were nekkid this whole time, and didn’t say anything?!

    God: Well you weren’t supposed to know!

    Adam: Yeah, we get that…but you did know! My dik’s just swingin’ on out here. Thanks for the head’s up!

    God: L…let’s move on…

    Eve: Come on God! We had a conversation while I was jogging yesterday. These things must have been flying everywhere! No wonder you were distracted!

    God: Well I work in mysterious ways!

    Adam: Hey God, were you checking out my girl’s t.i.t.s?

    God: Ah….get out! Get out of the garden you’re both banned.

    Eve: Yeah we busted him!

    God: Yeah you enjoy child birth b.i.t.c.h!

    August 21, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      LOL....good one....Man this God guy sure is a dick.

      August 21, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  4. Norm

    Mitt, just be yourself or selves, I guess.

    August 21, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  5. Ben

    As much as I disagree with Romney, I hate that this is even an issue to some people. Americans should not care what religion a person is. Americans should instead focus on the politician's ideas! This is even worse than how stupid so many of us are that it is nearly political suicide to raise taxes, but closing loopholes/penalizing people is politically okay. They're the same thing!

    August 21, 2012 at 11:02 am |
    • Alien Orifice

      Ben, do you really believe that? Their political ideas are shaped by religion, therefore it is critical that their belief in mythology by criticized AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE.

      August 21, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • William Demuth

      Ben

      Would you vote for one of David Koresh’s followers for President? What about one of the Manson family?

      Do you believe that a man who believes in Alien Gods and inheriting planets after Armageddon is a suitable selection for the man to hold the trigger on six thousand thermonuclear weapons that could end life a thousand times over?

      A MINIMUM standard should be a basic grip on reality

      August 21, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • Topher

      Yeah, but I think when you know what someone's faith is, you have a better feel for what their policies will be and how they will vote on things. For instance, a born-again Christian would vote against abortion and same-se.x marraiges; likely the opposite with an atheist. Mormons, while not Christians, have a lot of the same values as Christians. Knowing someone's religion shows their worldview and lets you know how someone thinks on issues that might not even be brought up during the election. I doubt abortion or the marriage issue are going to be big players this year, but I personally could not vote for someone who is for these things and I think they are important to know.

      August 21, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • TMacLain

      You should care. The culture here in Utah by the Mormon faithful are clannish, vengeful, and will exclude anyone not Mormon in business and government and even Halloween. They do not allow their children to collect candy at Halloween from non Mormon households. The do not believe in the separation of church and state. And now you have a Mormon as President?
      Romney becoming president is one of the worst fears I have right now. Not because Romney is a bad guy, but it give the Mormon church more and more power.

      August 21, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • Marcus Walker

      The fact that a man who wants to be president is so willing to throw his faith under the bus along with the fact he is so easily deceived does matter.

      August 24, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
  6. Joan

    Rommey is trying to pull the wool over our eyes again. This man is a genius of lying and deceiving. Mormon religion is NOT
    the same as CHRISTIAN religion folks. They do not believe in Jesus as the Lord and Savior the same why we do. Shame on Joel Osteen and all those Christian ministers who are pondering to the GOP because they pretend to be all Religious people. As a devoted christan myself who has been sweetly save I am sick of the way these people twist and change the Word of God to suit their hatred of the other side. It is sad because people who do not know God in these days are staying away from church even more because of these so-call religious people.

    August 21, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • WOW

      Joan, by your words you are anything but a Christian. The hatred and judgments coming from you are contrary to the simple and pure doctrine of Jesus Christ that we love and serve our neighbors.

      August 21, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      WOW
      The hatred and judgements are EXACTLY what shows you to be a christian.
      WHy do I need to be saved from something that doesn't exist, and if it did exist was created by the same god whio supposedly walked among us and now "saves" us from that which He created.
      Rediculousness at it finest.

      August 21, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • WOW

      Who invited me?
      That's not the Christianity that I believe in.

      August 21, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      So which of the 38,000+ versions of christianity do you think is the "one true" one?

      August 21, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • kls817

      People like you give Christians a bad name. Don't make our religion into a self-righteous, judgemental cult.

      August 21, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
  7. zap777

    This country was light years away when its founders separated religion from the goverment.
    Slowly, but surely, abusing their religios freedom, religion has cripped in with the help of power hungry man.
    We'll go to 16th century, and determine who is good and go is bad based on their church visists?
    Give me a break.
    I owe many Mormons lots in my life, fist job, PhD-advisor, best dentist and I have bad teeth, they are great people..
    But I do not care what church (and how often) Romney goe to.
    Or Obama, Ryan, or Biden!
    I also have hard time with dumb people that do not stand or stop for teh national autem mut stand for "God Belss America" , during baseball games.

    August 21, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • TUVIA

      Gosh, thanks for bearing your testimony zap! We'll all sleep better tonight know how you feel about people at baseball games.

      August 21, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • BSomething

      Yeah and if Romney gets elected I'm sure we'll all owe a Mormon for a fist job as well.

      August 21, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  8. From Utah but not of it

    The author of this piece has seen only one half of the Mormon church experience. The real action takes place inside the Mormon temples, and no one is allowed inside unless you are a card-carrying ("temple recommend") member. "Sacred, not secret" is the response given by the church, yet there is no escaping the fact that barring guest or visitors from a sect's most important functions raises questions, especially when all the other "Christian" religions are so open in their ceremonies and sacraments. Churches, tax returns, and past/present financial activities of ANY presidential candidate should be openly displayed for the American public, and two year's worth just isn't going to cut it, Mitt.

    August 21, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • coyoteliberty

      Please. Do you know how much stuff your government does behind closed doors in your name, on your dime, meetings to which you would never, ever be invited, lacking the appropriate security clearance and need to know? The things Mormons do behind closed doors – which have been the subject of extensive print "revelations" and "exposes" since the 1840's, not to mention thousands of pages on the internet – are hardly "secret". They're important to Mormons, but hardly anyone else's business or concern. They pursue their mythology on their own time, on their own dime and never really harm anyone.

      Can you say the same thing about the liberal mythology being pursued by the agenda acolytes behind the closed doors of The Obama Administration? Solyndra and the thousand and more dead Americans in Afghanistan since Obama took office say you can't.

      August 21, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • DP-CA

      Well Mr. Not of It

      The temple for the Mormons is very SACRED no matter what church leaders or public relations for the church say. It is something for many members to work towards and is not taken lightly by any means. There are plenty of members who ALSO cannot enter the temple unless they receive a temple recommend and in order to do get that, they must be worthy of it. It is that simple. There are no weird ceremonies that take place in the temple. Everything that is done in the temples are to the benefit of NON member as well as members.

      To claim that Mormons are not christian is RIDICULOUS and typical of other churches. Mormons are true believers that Jesus Christ is their lord and savior. Anyone who thinks they are not christian are idiots.

      It's amazing how many churches spend more time and effort trying to bash other churches rather than building their own and helping those in need. From literature to DVDs and much more just to try and steer people away from the mormon church yet the mormon church continues to grow and grow.

      Now you can either spend as little time as 30 minutes to an hour each Sunday listening to a rock band while eating a muffin and wearing some shorts and a hawaiian shirt and then give whatever you can financially so the pastor can buy another vacation home or new car while his followers suffer or you can put on your Sunday best and go to a church where you will feel wanted and where you can contribute and take part in the building of something very special.

      It's your choice and thats what makes this country great. Freedom of choice. If I do not want to show someone my tax returns when running for office, I don't have to because it is not REQUIRED.

      If all you have against Romney is the fact that he is successful, intelligent, a mormon and wishes to protect his privacy, then you will have to do A LOT better than that to change people's minds when November rolls around. Sounds like HATRED and JEALOUSY to me.

      August 21, 2012 at 11:35 am |
  9. alpg49

    The saddest thing in this campaign is that I used to think Mormons, as a group, were exceptionally morally and ethically upright. After seeing Romney in action, that trust goes out the window. He's a bald-faced liar.

    August 21, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • TUVIA

      You obviously don't know many Mormons.

      August 21, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • MormonChristian

      So sad that Americans are so uncurious and ignorant about others' beliefs and lives. This is why we kill Sikh's, thinking they are Muslims and tend to stereotype everyone who doesn't look and think like we do...

      August 21, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • DP-CA

      The 49 in your username must represent your IQ level.

      August 21, 2012 at 11:38 am |
  10. ray

    wow it such a shame that the white people on the right will listen to the lies, lies, lies and more lies still to come from romney and paul. the red necks on the right, these racists on the right, these immigrant haters on the right will vote against all the good things this afriican american president done for this country after the war mongers bush and chenney done to this country when there were in the white house. the haters on the right will vote for this liar romney at any cost just to get this african american predicent out the white house. what ashame. ITS CALLED THE WHITE HOUSE FOR A REASON I GUESS. thats the racists part of it all..

    August 21, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • Topher

      Really?

      August 21, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  11. Eric

    Its really amazing how much hate and bigotry still exists. If any of you want to know what Mormons preach, just go to church and find out. Its really not that difficult, and shouldn't stir up this much anger.

    August 21, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • TUVIA

      How about one of their TEMPLES? Will you let us into them? While they are working...not newly dedicated....

      August 21, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • MormonChristian

      @TUVIA

      Go ask any Mormon what goes on in their Temples. You can read it online as well. You can certainly dig up all the dirt you want but the ceremonies are further covenants on following Christ. The architecture, clothing and ritual are all symbolic of our faith in Him and are similar to ritual in other faiths (e.g. when Catholic Priests and Nuns take their vows). There is an excellent book by Alonzo Gaskill on the topic.

      August 21, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  12. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Seperation of church and state please. With that being said, let's talk about the economy.

    The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there are approximately 14.5 million unemployed Americans presently but recently, Mitt Romney came out with an outrageous figure, disputing that statistic and claiming that there are actually 23 million unemployed Americans nationwide. Then Mitt Romney went on to say that if elected, he'd create 12 million American jobs by the end of his first term. Well Mitt, if that is the case, what about the remaining 11 million unemployed Americans? Do they have to wait till the end of your prospective second term, particularly 8 full years to find work? Totally bogus and outrageous.

    August 21, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • Eric

      Yes, lets talk about the economy and all of obama's unfulfilled promises. Remember that inauguration speach???? Great article in Newsweek, you should educate yourself and read it.

      August 21, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      Yes...talk about the economy. Barack Obama made a lot of promises yes. He also began his first term with an earnest desire to put forward bi-partisan policies. He had the house and senate majorities but not enough to push through a filibuster. From the get go republicans were determined to not help Obama in any way and turned away from passing even those policies they had previously agreed upon. In his effort to please the middle he upset some of his own constituents as well as the far right with almost nothing he wanted actually getting passed. Once displeasure over a lack of action gave the Tea Party a push to regain the house then all bets were off. Obama had been rendered impotent and the Republicans got exactly what they wanted. At this point it makes no difference at all who gets into power because the parties are so diametrically opposed to each other and equally divided in the house that nothing of substance will ever get passed. Romney if he does win will be just as if not more ineffective than Obama has been.

      August 21, 2012 at 11:43 am |
  13. Sam

    As if the Mormon church didn't have enough baggage. Romney is definitely not helping their cause!

    August 21, 2012 at 10:50 am |
    • TUVIA

      B"H

      Barack Obama vs the People of Israel

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

      ------------

      August 21, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • TUVIA

      B"H

      Barack Obama vs the People of Israel

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

      ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

      ------------

      August 21, 2012 at 10:53 am |
  14. Captain Obvious

    He only allows reporters to attend church on the days they don't talk about God being an alien on the planet Kolob. Not that any other religion is any less ridiculous, but that kinda puts Mormonism more in the category of cult for most people.

    August 21, 2012 at 10:50 am |
    • ikenelson

      Well, that would be pretty much any week, since that's not what Mormons beliee.

      August 21, 2012 at 11:02 am |
    • ikenelson

      "believe"

      August 21, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • Rhonda

      You must be a complete moron to actually believe that Mormons believe that… Let me guess, they have hidden horns growing out of their heads also? Get real!

      August 21, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • Topher

      Actually, that is what Mormons believe.

      August 21, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • ikenelson

      No, Topher, it isn't. Joseph Smith once said that Kolob is the star that is closest to God's throne. God is not an "alien" and does not live on any planet.

      August 21, 2012 at 11:44 am |
  15. TUVIA

    IT IS TIME FOR THE AMERICAN PEOPLE TO MAKE THEIR DECISION ON THIS SPEECH
    WAKE UP AMERICAN PEOPLE, TIME TO STOP SLEEPING

    CLICK ON LINK FOR VIDEO BELOWl

    Barack Obama vs the People of Israel

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

    ------------------------------------------------–

    August 21, 2012 at 10:50 am |
    • Captain Obvious

      Israelis are the new Nazis.

      August 21, 2012 at 10:51 am |
  16. Tuvia

    B"H

    IT IS TIME FOR THE AMERICAN PEOPLE TO MAKE THEIR DECISION ON THIS SPEECH
    WAKE UP AMERICAN PEOPLE, TIME TO STOP SLEEPING

    CLICK ON LINK FOR VIDEO BELOWl

    Barack Obama vs the People of Israel

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

    August 21, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • daveyoung

      right...people are going to just randomly click on a link that could be spam....LOL!

      August 21, 2012 at 10:50 am |
    • Mary72

      Is he running for an election Israel? and why should we care about it? Is this a joke?

      August 21, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • William Demuth

      Tuvia

      When that "country" is over run, as it inevitably will be, do me a favor and run and hide in France.

      Your two poples are a match made in heaven

      August 21, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  17. TommyTT

    I'm thinking the opposite would be better. Too many people use their faith as a litmus test of another person's character, which is a smug and insular way of thinking. A person's behavior is the indication of their character, not their religion. I couldn't care less if Romney is Mormon or anything else (and I'm old enough to remember the horror some people expressed when John Kennedy ran for president). My position is not a "war on religion." On the contrary, a bit less religion in politics can lead to greater toleration and religious freedom throughout America.

    August 21, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  18. albie

    The more a candidate is religious, the less I want to vote for them.

    August 21, 2012 at 10:47 am |
  19. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Who cares! We the American people demand that you show your tax returns, your college grades and your birth certificate.

    August 21, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • daveyoung

      Amen Blah blah!!!!!

      August 21, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • DP-CA

      Talk about lack of imagination. How long have people (democrats) been calling for the same thing. Show us your tax returns (not required and everything in them are perfectly LEGAL), show us your birth certificate (he ALREADY did) and show us your college grades (he HAS multiple degress from HARVARD)

      You sound like a typical Obama robot supporter.

      Come up with something different next time.

      August 21, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • DP-CA

      In reality, I am a Romney ROBOT supporter. I don't think for myself, but I accuse other people of doing the same thing to build up my low self-esteem.

      August 21, 2012 at 11:03 am |
  20. daveyoung

    I'm actually paid by the Mormon Church to attack anyone that speaks against their church. In reality, my therapist told me to stand up to them and get a different job. They've used their Evergreen program on me (look it up) and I'm still a proud gay man! I think I'll convert to Buddhism. Unfortunately, because I have Borderline Personality Disorder, I will go back and forth with my opinion. I hate the Mormons, I love the Mormons, I hate the Mormons, I hate the Mormons!

    August 21, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • DP-CA

      Dave it sounds like you still have some things to sort out. If you want to be a gay person then by all means you have that right but you obviously went into the evergreen program of your own free will so don't you think it is a little out of line to bash the program. Maybe you need to get your disorder treated before attacking everyone. Scientology may be a good fit for you. It is for John Travolta and Tom Cruise. They could always use a person with your abilities and skills.

      August 21, 2012 at 11:06 am |
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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.