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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. RICHARD

    VOTE NEITHER. Romney & Obama are too busy flinging mud at each other to address real issues. I prefer Gary Johnson, Libertarian candidate for president. He offers what America needs – answers and solutions.

    but that's just me, hollering from the choir loft...

    August 21, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • RICHARD

      But then again, voting for a libertarian means that the GOP will win, so the GOP is paying the libbies a LOT of money to get into the race...

      August 21, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
  2. Who invited me?

    Episcopal Layman

    August 21, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
  3. ray

    listen to racists on the right, you called the president all the names in the book yet this liar romney never says anything about his religon. what a moron, to mormon this liar romney is. i hope their is a sepcial place in hell for this hypocrite romney.

    August 21, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • Topher

      Wow. You hope someone goes to Hell?

      August 21, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
  4. TUVIA

    Wow, I love reposting the same propagandist video. Seems like I'm a lot like the Nazies were.

    August 21, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  5. TUVIA

    B"H

    MESSAGE TO THE WORLD
    Barack Obama vs the People of Israel

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

    ------------------------–

    August 21, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • TUVIA

      B"H

      Barack Obama vs the People of Israel

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

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

      August 21, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • Alien Orifice

      I think I see my lost car keys in that beard.

      August 21, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
  6. 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 12:03 pm |
    • Alien Orifice

      Donald Trump called and wants his hair back.

      August 21, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
  7. Martin

    Another flip flop from the flip-flopper in chief.

    As recently as earlier this year, Romney said that he wouldn't discuss his faith as part of the campaign, as he didn't feel that this was relevant for voters.

    Now, given his record on everything else, maybe his Mormon faith is a good thing for voters to focus on.

    August 21, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
  8. HeavenSent Blog

    Hello and welcome to the HeavenSent blog. This is YOUR opportunity to voice your HeavenSent opinions!

    Please frame your posts to best preach to Atheists about the dangers of a Godless life-style.

    Here are some suggested key words to get you started:

    Hey-Zues
    Personal worm that feeds off them, is never quenched, for eternity
    Believing the lies of satan that they will be collectively mini-gods
    Do as the atheists do in this country to ensure the USA goes belly up
    Too blind to see His truth whether I write it in street language or scripture form
    Jesus told us to send r-apists and murderers back to Him
    Atheists lie when they talk about freedom of speech
    He ran off all the Christians from the other site he oversaw
    That will be the end of you
    Itchy Ears
    God doesn't have favorites
    Carnal
    You're a putz, cough fool
    Liar against His truth
    Abide in Jesus' truth
    Prideful
    Stay on the wrong side of the gulf until you are blotted out for eternity
    Tommie Tom
    Scotty
    Minions of satan
    Prayer changes things
    Talmud
    Man-made lies of the talmud
    Jesus’ letter, the Bible
    God’s truth
    Jesus’ truth
    The truth
    Jesus Christ's truth are resurrected to eternity
    I am flying with Evil
    Boo hoo
    I know from Moe Curly of the 3 stooges that nothing works
    Truth
    Those that believe in Him go with Him to eternity
    Lies lies lies
    Fat drippings
    Personal worms
    Horrors, earth quakes, floods, disasters are God's wrath against all of us
    You fools doing evil
    You atheists
    Smug atheists
    Prideful atheists
    Amen
    Throw away that users manual
    Prayer really works
    No eyes to see or hear His truth
    Blotted out for eternity
    Burn burn burn for all eternity
    Writing your filth
    True Christians
    The liar satan
    Snakes in your Belly
    Athiests at CNN
    They are blocking my posts again
    Dead bones
    Logic?? I don't require a single shred to define my beliefs
    You must like worms
    Pay no attention to the small minded fools that got their brain fried
    Read back through the previous articles for over a year dummy
    I know you atheists to be fools
    Notice who is most quoted in the Golden rule. Jesus Christ's wisdom
    You believing something doesn't make it true
    I'm not holding my breath
    You own those labels
    Humble yourself and ask Jesus for forgiveness
    Reprobate minds
    Jesus told us he would give you reprobate minds
    After their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears
    Satan's lies causes confusion
    Atheists write this garbage
    Satan is death
    You are fooling yourself if you don't tell gays they suffer for eternity
    Tortured for eternity
    Pathetic
    Blame it on the Christians for having the guts to tell idiots God's truth
    Your father Satan
    End of days taught in Jesus' truth is nothing new to Christians
    Another rock. Nothing new under the sun
    You insist on your lies having wings to fly
    You are still a pigeon
    The entire MO behind the atheist is to throw out as many lies and see what sticks
    Debating is the atheists game
    Satan impregnated Eve with Cain
    I know you atheists to be fools
    Christians are on these articles to ensure Jesus Christ's truth is posted
    Start your walk with Jesus
    Blinded by satan's lies
    Test from God. Do you have what it takes to pass?
    Serpent is just one of the multiple names of Lucifer aka satan
    The big bang and evolution are lies against Jesus’ truth to cause doubt, creating confusion
    Satan's lies are built on quick sand foundation
    What part of Jesus' truth is clarity and satan's lies are confusion do you not comprehend?
    There are no flaws in His word
    Jesus' truth stands for eternity
    Get over your obsession with me
    Lions and tigers and bears, oh my
    Rocks, everywhere on this site, rocks
    Seeds of Jesus falling on rock.
    Stepping over His seeds that get blown by the wind to find their way to fertile grounds
    Typical of swines trampling
    It's obsessive compulsion to grab at any straw to give a reason not to learn or understand
    Go back to posting under my handle and answering yourself
    Scott
    Get a life and try to grow
    Singular swine using multiple handles.
    You still continue to refuse to learn your heritage
    I've posted the answer numerous times
    I'm glad the line from the movie Secretariat sticks in your mind
    Statistics prove that the more devout someone is, the higher IQ they have
    Read the Bible. It is 100 percent accurate in every facet
    It makes me smile to know that people will be tortured in hell for eternity
    He steals their handles to write his evil
    You atheists steal my handle to post your evil will
    Reap the sword of the Lord Jesus when He returns
    Stealing our handles
    Why are you lying?
    Get an education to His truth
    What's your point small god savior?
    I expect foolish thinking from an atheist
    Jesus’ wisdom is roaring it's ugly head throughout the world
    Another Pharisees jealous that Jesus is God and not them
    The atheist that hijacks my handle to spew their lies
    Hhmmm, confused?

    Remember….Muslims, Jews and Atheists need not apply!

    Amen.

    August 21, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
  9. 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 12:03 pm |
    • Alien Orifice

      That beard looks like my girl friend's crotch in the 70's.

      August 21, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  10. HeavenSent

    Yes, the crazy people have joined the forum...me and "." are in the same psychiatric ward! We sit here and haunt these boards until we get our meds!

    August 21, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
  11. .

    This is the truth:

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n6nAJ8boRpU&w=640&h=360]

    August 21, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
  12. HeavenSent

    Get an education to His truth
    What's your point small god savior?
    I use my dead cat bones for toothpicks.
    I expect foolish thinking from an atheist
    Jesus’ wisdom is roaring it's ugly head throughout the world
    Another Pharisees jealous that Jesus is God and not them

    Amen.

    August 21, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • Which God?

      HeavenSpooge, get a life, a real ne. Your doG is a fake doG. You have an addictive persona;lity diorder. It allows you to cling to something that makes or lets you feel good. Life must not be good for you as you have to cling to the false belief that heaven will be better. Wake up and smell the coffee. No one comes back from the dead. No one has come through and told us of heaven, or reported to us what it is like. No one. Not ever. I sincerly doubt that Jeebus ever lived. Read your history, not the babbling book of bullshyte.

      August 21, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
  13. The Image of God

    Mormons are wacky? Scientologists are wacky? Muslims are wacky? Oh, but... Christians are NOT?

    If you get on your knees and say ANYTHING to a man you thin resides in the clouds... Time for you to take a WACK check.

    August 21, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • The Image of God

      I need a good WACK job...well, that being said...

      Mormons really are crazy. They are cultist that believe they will become a god. That's just a mental illness! Wow, that scares the heck out of me that a man like that could be President of the USA.

      August 21, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • The Image of God (#1)

      What makes a Mormon wack-IER than other religious persons?

      August 21, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • Jesus Christ

      What makes a mormon wackier than any other religion? Really? Well...let's see. They believe they will become GODS....THAT IS CRAZY! Actually, it's called megalomania and it is diagnosed as a mental illness...
      How's that for an answer?

      August 21, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
  14. .

    Can you tell I'm one of the Mormon Churches best paid propagandist?

    August 21, 2012 at 11:59 am |
  15. .

    MICROSOFT FOUNDER, NFL OWNER, PAUL ALLEN, SPEAKS OUT ON MORMONS

    Paul Allen is the owner of the Seattle Seahawks, the ones who played the

    Pittsburgh Steelers for the Super Bowl a few years ago. He is also the owner

    of the Portland Trail Blazers NBA basketball team and is co-partner with

    Bill Gates in Microsoft. He wrote this editorial in the Santa Clarita,

    California newspaper:

    I have heard and seen enough! I have lived in the West all my life. I have

    worked around them. They have worked for me and I for them. When I was young

    I dated their daughters. When I got married they came to my wedding. Now

    that I have daughters of my own, some of their boys have dated my daughters.

    I would be privileged if one of them were to be my son-in-law.

    I'm talking about the Mormons.

    They are some of the most honest, hardworking people I have ever known. They

    are spiritual, probably more than most other so-called religious people I

    have encountered. They study the Bible and teach from it as much as any

    Christian church ever has. They serve their religion without pay in every

    conceivable capacity. Not one of their leaders, teachers, counselors,

    Bishops or music directors receive one dime for the hours of labor they put

    in.

    The Mormons have a non-paid ministry – a fact that is not generally known. I

    have heard many times from the pulpits of others how evil and non-Christian

    they are and that they will not go to heaven. I decided recently to attend

    one of their services near my home to see for myself.

    What a surprise!

    What I heard and saw was just the opposite from what the religious ministers

    of the day were telling me. I found a very simple service with no fanfare. I

    found a people with a great sense of humor and a well-balanced spiritual

    side. There was no loud music. Just a simple service, with the members

    themselves giving the several short sermons.

    They urge their youth to be morally clean and live a good life. They teach

    the gospel of Christ, as they understand it. The name of their church is

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints. Does that sound like a

    non-Christian church to you? I asked them many questions about what they

    teach and why. I got answers that in most cases were from the New Testament.

    Their ideas and doctrines did not seem too far fetched for my understanding.

    When I read their "Book of Mormon" I was also very surprised to find just

    the opposite from what I had been told I would find.

    Then I went to another church's pastor to ask him some of the same questions

    about doctrine. To my surprise, when he found out that I was in some way

    investigating the Mormons, he became hostile. He referred to them as a

    non-Christian cult. I received what sounded to me like evil propaganda

    against those people. He stated bluntly that they were not Christian and

    that they did not fit into the Christian mold. He also told me that they don

    t really believe the Bible. He gave me a pile of anti-Mormon literature. He

    began to rant that the Mormons were not telling me the truth about what they

    stand for. He didn't want to hear anything good about them. At first I was

    surprised and then again, I wasn't. I began to wonder.

    I have never known of a cult that supports the Boy Scouts of America.

    According to the Boy Scouts, over a third of all the Boy Scout troops in the

    United States are Mormon.

    What cult do you know of that has a welfare system second to none in this

    country? They have farms, canneries and cattle ranches to help take care of

    the unfortunate ones who might be down and out and in need of a little help.

    The Mormon Church has donated millions to welfare causes around the world

    without a word of credit. They have donated thousands to help rebuild

    Baptist churches that were burned a few years ago. They have donated tons of

    medi cal supplies to countries rav aged by earthquakes.

    You never see them on TV begging for money.. What cult do you know that

    instills in its members to obey the law, pay their taxes, serve in the

    military if asked and be a good Christian by living high moral standards?

    Did you know that hundreds of thousands of Mormon youth get up before high

    school starts in the morning to attend a religious training class? They have

    basketball and softball leagues and supervised youth dances every month.

    They are recruited by the FBI, the State Department and every police

    department in the country, because they are Trustworthy. They are taught not

    to drink nor take drugs. They are in the Secret Service – those who protect

    the President. They serve in high leadership positions from both parties in

    Congress and in the US Senate, and have been governors of several states

    other than Utah. They serve with distinction and honor.

    If you have Mormons living near, you will probably find them to be your best

    friends and neighbors. They are Christians who try to live what they preach.

    They are not perfect and they are the first to admit this. I have known some

    of them who could not live their religion, just like many of us. The

    rhetoric which is spread around against them is nothing more than evil

    propaganda founded in untruths. (Others) had successfully demonized them to

    the point that the general public has no idea what they actually believe and

    teach. If you really want to know the truth, go see for yourself. You also

    will be surprised.

    When I first moved here some 25 years ago there were five Mormon wards in

    Santa Clarita, Calif. Now there are 15. They must be doing something right.

    "The happiest people don't necessarily have the best of everything. ....

    They just make the best of everything."

    August 21, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • Karm99

      Show us your tax returns Mitt Romney

      August 21, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • Tom

      I do not doubt the sincerity and I do believe they are good people, but I have a problem with their religion. No where does it mention in the bible about Joseph Smith. If they believe in the Bible, then why do they need the book of mormon. Their leaders are mainly determined by their wealth. The more money you have, the higher you are in the church and the closer to God you will be when you go to heaven. Sorry, I'll stick to my Bible for my sources, not the book of mormon, no matter what it says.

      August 21, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • Which God?

      When you can't speak of abusurdities, baffle 'em with bullshyte. Religion is abusudities, all rellgions. Religion teaches fear, so you have to be good... to get to heaven or become a doG.

      August 21, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • TSB8C

      To "Tom" – personal finances have nothing to do with who rises to leadership in the Mormon church. It is based on seniority. When the president dies, the longest serving member of the Quorum of the Twelve becomes the next president.

      As for a biblical prophecy concerning Joseph Smith – check Genesis 50:24-38, specifically in verses 32-33. Joseph (sold into slavery in Egypt) foretells of an apostasy and then a restoration (verse 32) by a man named Joseph with a father named Joseph (Joseph Smith, Jr).

      August 21, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  16. Paul

    How about we separate religion and state and stop pretending it has anything to do with governing a country???

    August 21, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  17. The Image of God

    Mormons are a little cracked. You have to really research them yourself because they will defer every question you ask them...by the way, that's one way to lie – deferring...

    August 21, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      As opposed to other people who believe in a different invisible sky daddy.

      August 21, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • floridamom1

      Sort of like you are the pot calling the kettle black? Or maybe, just maybe, you might be lying yourself.

      August 21, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
  18. Pete

    It would be the most staged, choreographed service in the history of religion, for sure. Every little old lady vetted just to be sure.

    August 21, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  19. keith

    and dont say – you cant trust obama...

    i know things are bad. but anyone can tell me the econ is bad. anyone can say jobs are bad. anyone can say anything is bad. is mitt just 'anyone' trying to be prez??

    August 21, 2012 at 11:52 am |
  20. keith

    How can I trust Mitt? He will not trust me to see his taxes. He will not trust me to see how he will handle taxes – i hear he wants to cut taxes... but says he will talk about that with congress. He does not trust me to talk about his IRA, or Bain.

    Someone tell me??? How CAN I TRUST MITT?!?!?

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

      You've seen all the taxes he's required to post. He paid $2.8 million in taxes in 2010. How much did you contribute to the well-being of others?

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

      Apparently, I'm supposed to be more angry about what Mitt Romney does with his OWN money than what Obama does with MINE. Go figure.

      August 21, 2012 at 12:19 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.