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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. John The Electrician

    I know why Romney won't show his tax returns. He didn't give his full 10% to the church. If they find out he short changed them, they will kick him out.

    August 21, 2012 at 11:24 am |
  2. Ed

    Any Christian that votes for Mitt Rommey (the abomination of Mormonism “religion”), Blasphemies against Christ Our Savior himself. It is a false religion that worships a false leader Joseph Smith. Hate Obama all you want, but your very soul is at stake with proclaiming him as your leader.

    August 21, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • Topher

      You don't need to go as far as what they think about Joseph Smith. Just read what they believe about Christ and you'll see the Mormon Jesus and the Jesus of the Bible are not the same.

      August 21, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • realbuckyball

      Actually Joe Smith is not a false leader. He was quite the leader. Look at the bill of goods he got them to buy. The false leader is someone else you mentioned, in your post, who never claimed he was a leader, but was made into one by later cult followers.

      August 21, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • TomPaine

      It's always interesting to watch Christians try to show their particular brand of Christianity is better than that of other Christians, even to the point of denying that the others are even Christian (remind anyone of Sunnis and Shiites?).

      August 21, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • Topher

      Mormon is not a denomination of Christianity, it is a different religion all together. In fact, it was started because Smith thought Christianity was wrong. Mormons claiming to be just another group of Christians is a really new thing.

      August 21, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • TomPaine

      @Topher – You're proving my point–they say they are Christians, you say they aren't because they have some additional beliefs that are different than yours, which are seemingly pretty narrow. Catholics also have books and beliefs beyond what's in the Bible–do they rate as Christians to you?

      August 21, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • therealpeace2all

      @Topher

      " Mormon is not a denomination of Christianity, it is a *different religion* all together. "

      Interesting... If you look at mormon.org and their explanation of Jesus as Savior, etc... It appears that they believe that one must repent, accept Jesus, believe, etc... and then you go to the Happy place after you die.

      Sure, you guys might differ on some things, but is it really 'that' different when it comes down to the about what Christians believe...? I mean, isn't that basically the *main* point you guys beat humanity over the head with, you know the old "believe or burn" argument ...?

      Curious.

      Peace...

      August 21, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • Ed

      There is only one path to Heaven and that is through Jesus Christ Our Savior... Joseph Smith is a charlatan. Jesus will sit at the throne of the Father in judgement of all.

      August 21, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
  3. OOO

    "The New York Times is reporting that the upcoming Republican presidential convention will showcase Romney’s faith in an effort to humanize him."

    I suppose as an athiest I am not human in the eyes of republicans.

    August 21, 2012 at 11:23 am |
  4. DD

    Mormons believe they will become gods and have their own creations to rule over. They will have many wives and children in the afterlife.

    This belief is about as anti-christian as you can get. How can you believe in MANY GODS and still believe in only ONE GOD?

    August 21, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • TomPaine

      Um, most Christians believe in one god composed of three, right? Why can't the number be larger than three?

      August 21, 2012 at 11:46 am |
  5. Stupid Romney Quotes

    "He [Obama] says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers. Did he not get the message of Wisconsin? The American people did. It's time for us to cut back on government and help the American people."

    August 21, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • daveyoung

      yeah....I love how the GOP and teabaggers think that LESS Government means that they will actually have a government that cares about them. LESS government actually means all the rich people get to run the country without any accountability to the common man.

      August 21, 2012 at 11:24 am |
  6. templerecommend

    This is really important to know!

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n3BqLZ8UoZk&w=640&h=360]

    August 21, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • Trevor

      Nothing like a cartoon and a man with a dark, scary, deep voice to tell you what Mormons believe. Ridiculous

      August 21, 2012 at 11:31 am |
  7. Stupid Romney Quotes

    "I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there."

    August 21, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • templerecommend

      Yeah, Romney and the Mormons are all about compassion and the true love of Christ....NOT

      August 21, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • clubschadenfreude

      and neither are most Christians if they follow the current GOP/TP platform. No help for "the least of these", adovocating for capital punishment, etc. No, all we see are theocrats who are so weak in their own belief that they feel they must force everyone to believe like they do, so they get the external validation they crave.

      August 21, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • itsuptome

      Interesting how those that are more religious still seem to be more charitable, right Biden? As usual, liberal hate speech is all bark, no bite.

      http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2012/08/20/study-red-states-more-charitable-but-religion-more-factor-than-wealth/

      August 21, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
  8. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    @Eric

    What unfilled promises? You mean like the GOP's attempt to block every legislation proposed by the Obama administration? And by the way, you shouldn't be concerned with what this President promised or proposed because you voted for McCain!

    August 21, 2012 at 11:20 am |
  9. Episcopal Layman

    And today Mormon services don’t look all that different from Methodist worship.

    And Episcopal services don't look that different from Catholic worship, but the doctrine behind them are very different. The doctrines and beliefs of Mormonism are radically different from those of Christianity, despite any trivial resemblance in their services.

    August 21, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • templerecommend

      Well said Episcopal Layman!

      August 21, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • Episcopal Layman

      Oops. "...but the doctrine behind them is very different...."

      August 21, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • LinCA

      @Episcopal Layman

      You said, "The doctrines and beliefs of Mormonism are radically different from those of Christianity"
      At their core mormonism and all other christian beliefs are identical. They all believe there is some imaginary friend watching over them. In essence, not a single one differs from a belief in the Tooth Fairy.

      August 21, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • Episcopal Layman

      @LinCA

      Your comment indicates profound theological ignorance. It is akin to saying "at their core, all mammals are identical. They are all warm-blooded animals with breasts and hair." Furthermore, it isn't even correct. The Abrahamic God is unique, infinite, omnipotent, and invisible. The Mormon Jehovah is a man that attained godhood, just as each one of us can. According to Joseph Smith himself, if one were to see Jehovah, he would appear as human as any one of us.

      Next time, do your homework and don't make ridiculous comparisons.

      August 21, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • realbuckyball

      Actually the Abrahamic god, (Yahweh Sabaoth), the god of the armies, was the 70 son of El Elyon, and archaelogists know exactly where he came from, (Sumeria). He is not eternal, because an eternal being cannot in time, by definition, stop and create something, and then get po'd by his creature, and yet again, get assuaged by it's creature's action, (salvation). Everything about your mythological fake god screams "temporal", in every respect.

      August 21, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • Episcopal Layman

      @realbuckyball

      I get it–you don't believe, and that's just fine. I happen to, but that is immaterial to my earlier post. Dr. Prothero's essay dwelt on the superficial similarities. I pointed out that there are differences in each sect's dogma. Your disbelief does not invalidate my chosen example of doctrinal differences. They are what they are whatever you may believe.

      August 21, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • LinCA

      @Episcopal Layman

      You said, "Your comment indicates profound theological ignorance."
      For there to be a theological discussion, all parties first need to agree on the existence of the deity, or deities, in question. Without that there is no such discussion. To agree there is such a deity, or deities, the participants have to ignore the obvious lack of evidence for such creatures. Without evidence there is no rational basis for a belief in such creatures.

      We are not having a theological discussion.

      You said, "The Abrahamic God is unique, infinite, omnipotent, and invisible. The Mormon Jehovah is a man that attained godhood, just as each one of us can."
      ROTFLOL. Without a shred of evidence for either, they are equally likely to exist, or have existed, as the Tooth Fairy. In essence, all religions are about the worship of imaginary friends.

      You said, "Next time, do your homework and don't make ridiculous comparisons."
      Maybe you should open your eyes, and stop believing the clear and obvious nonsense that your religion is based on. You are worshiping an imaginary friend. One that is less likely to exist than Santa Claus.

      August 21, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
  10. Tim

    Unfortunately, As much as I think we need a new president, I wont be voting for Romney / Ryan. Ryan has been very vocal aboutbanning abortions . Well, not just vocal almost defiant. Every year we lose more of our american freedoms. Freedom of choice is a huge one. Although I dont think a human baby should be aborted, it is not my decision to make. Its a personal one and the government should not get involved at all ! Americans are feeling their liberties fading away due to new laws and our rights are being chisled away. Seems as though Mr Ryan is forgetting about the seperation of church and state. Mr Ryan ? Dont push your personal views on the american people. If you have a personal agenda then maybe you should be an activist and not a VP. Do you really think your doing what the majority of the people want ?

    August 21, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  11. us_1776

    No, we don't want to go to the Space Alien church with Mr. Romney and his Magic Underpants.

    .

    August 21, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  12. Stupid Romney Quotes

    "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me."

    August 21, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • Stupid Romney Quotes

      "Corporations are people, my friend… of course they are..."

      August 21, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  13. us_1776

    No, we don't want to go to the Space Alien church with Mr. Romney and his Magic Underpants.

    .

    August 21, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  14. Leslie David

    II have no problem with Mr. Romney being a Mormon, it's his positions on every other issue that bother me.

    August 21, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  15. Jake-413451

    Sad, but true, in America you simply can not be elected unless you profess a belief in a Jewish Zombie who rather than feasting on the flesh of the living told others to eat him.
    Be it if you believe you actually are eating his flesh and drinking his blood as the Catholics do, or only as a symbolic gesture of taking the ideals of the offspring of a virgin and a genocidal maniacal god into yourself as many Christians profess.
    That kooky Jesus, always trying to reverse things. First while wearing his father hat and telling the Jews to go forth and kill every living thing. Then coming to earth wearing a more youthful face and saying Oh no, you misunderstood, love each other turn the other cheek.

    August 21, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • mdh49

      HAHAHAHAHAHAHA, "Jewish Zombie"?!?!?!?! I LOVE IT!!!!!! I am a devout Christian myself, and truly believe that Jesus is my Savior, but c'mon, if we can't laugh at ourselves once in a while, along with admitting that some of our (recent) history is far from perfect, then we're screwed ... Thanks Jake!!!

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

      Laughing at ourselves is one thing. Out and out blasphemy is another.

      August 21, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • Jake-413451

      To be fair implying it is a zombie story is inaccurate. The mythical Christ was not mindless.

      He was not a reincarnation as he had the wounds from life still on him. He had a mind, he also had the ability to perform feats of what can very well be described as magical.

      So really the myth is one about a Lich, but a nice one, at least for the time being, he'll kill everyone later.

      And blasphemy is a wonderful thing, it gives religious reverence exactly the amount of respect it has earned.

      Topher, you figured out where the bible unequivically prohibits slavary yet?
      How about this, for the sake of discussion, lets assume a diety exists, and not just that, but one that is perfectly good. It is my position that a perfectly good god would never demand the murder of infants.

      You don't have to take an opposing view, I think the bible speaks well enough with its god's (or is it gods' I mean it has a trinity after all) repeated demands for child murder.

      August 21, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • Skeeter

      Wait – Its the body and blood of Christ???? I thought it was just snack time!!!!

      August 21, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
  16. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

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

    Mit Romney promised that he'd create a mountain of jobs if elected POTUS but what about the poor? While Romney said he's not concerned about the poor because there's a "safety net," I wonder if it wouldn't be better to help the poor learn a trade, get educated and find work so they can become independent and more productive in society?

    Mitt Romney also said many of the jobs created during the Obama administration are "not real jobs" because according to Romney, many of these jobs are either part-time jobs or low paying jobs. However, while Mitt Romney is pledging to create "real jobs" and strenghten the middle class, he continues to oppose an increase in the national minimum wage and equal pay for women. let's face it, Mitt Romney is a first class flip-flopper, a phony and a fraud.

    August 21, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • religion; a way to control the weak minded

      " I wonder if it wouldn't be better to help the poor learn a trade, get educated and find work so they can become independent and more productive in society? "

      And who pays for it? The taxpayer?

      August 21, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  17. MagicPanties

    Let's hear more about the Mormon aliens from the planet Kolob.

    August 21, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • coyoteliberty

      Let's hear more about how half a billion dollars poured down a rat hole of a solar panel manufacturer and other questionable stimulus spending projects is goingto save our economy and create jobs!

      Romney's beliefs are nuts, but the bottom line is they're not costing me money. The craziness that Obama believes can't say the same.

      August 21, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • Humanist11

      And the codewords and secret handshake to get into heaven!

      August 21, 2012 at 11:23 am |
  18. Nietodarwin

    Just GOOGLE "Lying for the Lord" and "The White Horse Prophecy" and then vote how you like.

    August 21, 2012 at 11:10 am |
  19. joe

    Romney hides his Mormon beliefs for the same reason he hides his tax returns. Once most people find out what's really there, there is going to be quite a fuss. Joseph Smith was a charlatan who invented an exotic story that doesn't stand up to historical analysis. His pretended "translation" of an ordinary old egyptian funerary papyrus as the supposed "book of Abraham" is either an obvious fraud or the work of a delusional mind. It may well be that modern Mormons are righteous and moral folks with good values–I don't dispute that– but their foundation stories were the work of a con man who was no saint and that truth will not sit well with a lot of people with traditional beliefs.

    August 21, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • coyoteliberty

      Traditional beliefs? Like the belief that a woman who was a virgin gave birth to a child who was the son of god? Like the belief that a rabble rouser with a small following who was put to death came back from the dead and ascended to Heaven, promiosing to return "soon" (Two thousand years ago and counting...)? Like the belief that the Universe is 6,000 years old and that the Earth was created in Six days? Those traditional beliefs speak, as I recall, of the importance of judging not lest ye be judged and how only those without fault should throw rocks...

      Sure, they're crazy ideas, but so is the idea that spending trillions of dollars you don't have can somehow spend us back to a healthy economy...

      August 21, 2012 at 11:16 am |
  20. Joan

    All churches should be open to everyone to attend at anytime.
    Shame on Mr. Rommey to have to STAGE a day to take people to his church. Just invite anyone at anytime to come and visit your church Sir. That is how the Christain Church does it. I am sure you could enter MR. Obama Church at anytime. I think he is opening up a big bay of worms. The Mormon Faith is NOT the same as the Christain Faith. Don't be mistaken.

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

      You are right.

      Hell, they don't even agree on which imaginary God is in charge.

      It must suck to see your religion being forced out by a different cult.

      Alas, what goes around comes around.

      I wonder if the Mormons will treat you the way you treated the Jews, and put you all in death camps?

      It would be a "fitting" turn of events!

      August 21, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • coyoteliberty

      Joan, you don't have to "be invited" to a Mormon church service. You can walk in and have a seat any Sunday you wish. There is an LDS church across the street from my house and I see it happen every week. I've even walked in, uninvited myself a time or two out of curiosity.

      Your bigoted hate speech is distasteful.

      August 21, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • Trevor

      On every sign on every Mormon church building it says "Visitors Welcome". You don't have to be invited to go; you can walk in any time you would like. Give it a try. You can go to mormon.org to find a building that is close to you.

      August 21, 2012 at 11:24 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.