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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. KNKLHEAD

    Would selecting a Catholic running mate also get him in trouble because he would then be associating with a non-mormon?

    August 21, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • michiganhockey11

      No, but Ryan woudl be foolish to think he worships the same God that Romney does.

      August 21, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
  2. Steve

    "And so it came, on the ninth day of the fourth term of the fifteenth epoch that the mighty Steve said to his followers 'Go out and eat that pie that tastes good for I have sampled it and though it is not health, it does taste good'. And so the followers at the pie and it did taste good as the Great One had said. From that day forth, pie was known to have tasted good."

    The Holy Book of Steve
    Chapter 16 verse 3

    August 21, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  3. Atheism is a Religion

    Look inside your heart and you will know that Boyle's Law is real.

    August 21, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
  4. Atheism is a Religion

    Gravity is REAL! REAL, I tell you REAL!

    August 21, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Hebrews 1:3

      Amen.

      August 21, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
  5. michiganhockey11

    You can claim all the similarities you want between mormonism and christianity, but there are MAJOR issues and differences between the two. That's why Romney didn't say anything about it at Liberty University as he would have been unable to defend such a statement.

    August 21, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • Lets hear it

      I don't think you can defend your blanket statement!!!! Lets hear you defend it with FACTS!!!! That is what I though....LOL

      August 21, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
  6. Jerry

    It's clear to everyone that if Romney talks very much about his Mormon faith then the leftists will ruthlessly use it against him. Romney is running for President of The United States, not his local church. Let's focus on what our country needs to do to get better and give up attacking each candidate on semantics.

    August 21, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • Xman

      I agree with you, because the list on what to attack Romney on is so long, that sticking to just him being a Mormon is not worthy of all the time before November.

      There are clearly many other reasons why Romney will lose. Reasons he is not fit for the Oval Office.

      August 21, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • Rev. Rick

      @ Jerry, that may be true, but if he talks TOO much about his Mormon faith, the "leftists" won't be his only problem. The "rightists" will not vote for him either.

      August 21, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • Jerry

      Rick: You're probably right about that. Kind of a sad commentary on ourselves.

      August 21, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • Funny

      See the problem is the Dems have nothing else to run on so they must attact these tiny little meaningless details!!! See if they start talking about real issue everyone will see what a failure Obama has and will be!!!

      August 21, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
  7. dacraine

    “My faith is the faith of my fathers – I will be true to them and to my beliefs.” .... SO BE TRUE TO YOUR FATHER FORMER GOV. GEORGE ROMNEY'S BELIEFS AND RELEASE 12 YEARS OF TAX RECORDS LIKE EVERY OTHER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE SO YOU DO APPEAR TO BE A LIAR KEEPING SECRETS FROM THE AMERCAN PEOPLE. HE SHOULD BE HELD TO THE SAME STANDARD AS EVERY OTHER CANDIDATE, HE IS NO BETTER THAN THEM. I PERSONALLY DO NOT BELIEVE MITT ROMNEY CARES ABOUT THIS COUNTRY OR THE AMERICAN PEOPLE. I BELIEVE HE ONLY WANTS TO BE PRESIDENT SO HE CAN CEMENT HIS FAMILY AND RELIGIOUS LEGACIES INTO HISTORY. HE ALREADY HAS ACHIEVED WEALTH AND I THINK BEING POTUS IS JUST SOMETHING ON HIS BUCKET LIST TO SCRATCH OFF. HE COULD CARE LESS ABOUT THE ECOMOMY, HE ONLY CARES ABOUT HIMSELF.

    August 21, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • Xman

      You know he can't. He has so much to hide in those returns he is very willing to take the hear on not releasing them as the less of two evils. The other is being crucified for the information contained therein. He chose the less damaging of the two options.

      August 21, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • Rev. Rick

      Well, I'm of two minds on the release of Romney's tax info: First, it could be that there's nothing there – i.e. Romney is stonewalling for no reason, just to give the Dems something to harp about, then at the last minute Romney will release his tax records and the Dems will discover there was never anything there to start with leaving the Dems with egg on their face. But, what I find annoying is that Romney wants me to trust him with the power to affect MY taxes. So, if he doesn't have the b a l l s to release his own tax information, why should I trust him enought to give him power over mine!?!?!?

      August 21, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
  8. Dan

    Thou shalt not lie about your past statements Governor Romney.

    "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

    August 21, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • Jerry

      Dan, Can you tell us why Jesus said that to the rich young man? What is the meaning?

      August 21, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  9. RudyG

    Hey, Prothero: why don't you write about Obama's Muslim ties, his Muslim relatives, his Muslim preacher, and his Muslim upbringing, so we can fully understand him?? Or, maybe he's just an atheist.
    The point is, either we separate religion from politics or we don't. But, if we don't, then let's not beat our chests about how objective and unique we are!!

    August 21, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • KNKLHEAD

      Obama is not a Muslim ... but I guess you can tell what's truth and what's not. Ask Mitt if he's wearing his magic underwear or not.

      August 21, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • Xman

      Rudy, you have a far more important task ahead of you than that of separating religion from politics.

      Like knowing your as.s from a hole in a ground. THEN you can worry about the former.

      Obama is not a Muslim, and there is nothing there to attack him on, and thus why there is no credible talk on the matter.

      August 21, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • Sloppy J

      Weird how so many people are intensely curious about Mitt's underwear. Seriously; if I asked you, a complete stranger, about your underthings, wouldn't you think I'm a little off?

      Oh, and the "magic underwear" thing, funny though it might be, is off-base as well. Only the fringiest of fringe Mormons believe their garments (the correct term for your "magic underwear") afford them any real-world, physical protection.

      August 21, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
  10. Charles

    Outsiders are forbidden from entering Mormon temples, even at weddings. It is core Mormon doctrine that non-believers are to be avoided. Furthermore, I am a strong adherent to the separation of church and state, even (especially) during campaigns. Maybe if candidates stopped crowing about their religion, and press and voters stopped prodding them about religion, actual issues would get addressed. The problem, in the end it's a numbers game. If you, as a candidate, proclaim God the creator of the universe, you lock up half the American vote, regardless of the mountains upon mountains of real, solid evidence in every field of science to the contrary.

    August 21, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • Sloppy J

      Chuck, in 40+ years attending LDS services, I have never once heard that "non-believers are to be avoided." We've been counseled to avoid hanging around people who do stuff they shouldn't-a ought-a and people who support causes in direct opposition to Mormon tenets, but that's hardly the same thing.

      August 21, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  11. Patriot

    Are you serious?? The same Thomas Jefferson that wrote In the Declaration of Independence that we are all "endowed by our CREATOR with certain inalienable rights"?

    August 21, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Patriot,

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

      August 21, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • Charles

      The same Thomas Jefferson who, revised the Bible without the miracles, and ended up with a rather thin pamphlet.

      August 21, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      The same Thomas Jefferson who owned slaves, and proclaimed all n e g r o s to be inferior to white men in every way, also proclaimed all men equal...youmean THAT hypocrit?

      August 21, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Who invited me? Obviously, you have a problem with one of our founding fathers. Are you from this country?

      August 21, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • Boisepoet

      Maybe he was speaking about his parents. I know mine created me...

      August 21, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  12. Jonnyboy

    I was a mormon for most of my life. If anybody has any questions about it, let me know. One thing is for sure, there isn't a chance in heII that I will vote for Romney

    August 21, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • mikey

      you are lying

      August 21, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • KNKLHEAD

      .. okay, show us wear we can buy magic underpants to prove you were a mormon!

      August 21, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • Jerry

      Is it because he is Mormon or his political ideology?

      August 21, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • Jonnyboy

      because of his political ideology, but I think it is greatly influenced by his mormonism. My parents are Mormon, and they aren't anything like Mitt Romney. Romney more fits the bill for the standard white american mormon though. I have known many. Harry Reid is also a Mormon, but I'm not quite sure how he still is. The garments (underwear) you can buy at the temple store, but you need a temple recommend (basically a permit that allows you into the temple) You get that by passing an interview

      August 21, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • Jerry

      Jonnyboy: I don't know enough about his mormon faith to recognize any driving force other than honesty. I personally like his ideology and his desire to use his experience from business to help our country. It's clear we cannot keep borrowing to pay for today's fancies. Should be interesting.

      August 21, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
    • Sloppy J

      So, are you one of those "I'm miserable and it's the Mormon church's fault" former members, or are you one of those "I just don't buy the literal aspects of the LDS Church one bit but retain a certain affection towards it" former members?

      August 21, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • Jonnyboy

      @ Sloppy J

      You must be a Republican since you think there are only two options. I'm perfectly happy, but I don't retain an affection towards the church. I have an affection towards some of the members, and I'm grateful for a lot of the things I learned. But there are also regrets and lost years etc. I don't waste my time trying to disprove it or convince other members it's wrong. I learned and carved my own way. Others can do the same. Also, you only have one life to live. I don't want to waste any more of it.

      August 21, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • Sloppy J

      Nah; I'm aware people and positions are nuanced. I was curious to see how you'd respond. It can be dodgy when someone says "I'm an ex-Mormon, so if you really want to know what it's like, I'm the guy to ask." I wouldn't say you always get objective, rational responses from those types any more than you get objective, rational responses from Church HQ. If you've got people you care about, including parents, who are still active, I'd give you the benefit of the doubt that your version of unvarnished truth won't be a hatchet job that focuses on the obscure or the weird-on-the-surface instead of what real, average LDS people are like.

      For what it's worth, I get the feeling our mindsets aren't all that different,, but I've decided the good outweighs the bad.

      August 21, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
  13. popseal

    As the culture-moral-spiritual-political divide grows wider, it is hard for me to see how this will end well and peacefully for any of us. Somebody tell me that the large portion of the nation that depends upon goernment subsidy for life's necessities will allow their gravy train to be derailed without hot conflict.

    August 21, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • Ed

      The irony of this type of argument is that it utterly ignores the consistant and strong correlation between income and voter participation. The poorer the citizen, the less likely they will vote. A stubborn fact that doesn't go away because you ignore it.

      August 21, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  14. Will

    The most important point....Women are not allowed to hold positions of authority in the Morman Church.

    August 21, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      And it shall come to pass afterward, [that] I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:

      Joel 2:28

      Amen.

      August 21, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • Tennesseevol

      Check your facts Will before spreading falsehoods. Women hold many positions in the Mormon Church. Check it out yourself sometime by visiting a Mormon church.

      August 21, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
  15. Brenda

    There are a lot of bigots posting here.

    August 21, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • Jesus

      Wait for "HeavenSent" to get started. He, she, or it is about the dumbest thing on the web.

      August 21, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Still obsessed I see. Here's some factual reading for you Hey Suess.

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

      August 21, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
  16. palintwit

    Another big difference between Mormonism and Teabaggerism is that Mormons will always go outside their family for dating and marriage. Teabaggers, on the other hand, prefer to boink their cousins.

    August 21, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
  17. Everett Wallace

    romney you coveting your whole family and the problem is YOU!

    August 21, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
  18. HeavenSent Blog

    We have decided to shut down the blog. We are tired of making ourselves look like titty-sucking babies. We will return to reality and get a real life. Sorry for the idiotic dumbass posts.

    August 21, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Get a real education, then get a life.

      While you learn truth, here's a good start http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Washington%27s_Farewell_Address

      August 21, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • HeavenSent Blog

      *Auto Reply* We have decided to shut down the blog. We are tired of making ourselves look like titty-sucking babies. We will return to reality and get a real life. Sorry for the idiotic dumbass posts.

      August 21, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Bloggy, after you get finished reading the truth of how our country was founded, read Jesus' truth about you non-believers

      Revelation 13:4-9

      August 21, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
  19. Howie

    I agree that the whole Mormon thing is pretty nutty – magic underpants, and god is an alien...The thing is, all religious belief is just as nutty – virgin birth, resurrection, rapture. How about we focus on reality, and elect leaders who reject the dark ages mythologies?
    Why would we want a president who begins sentences with "my lord and savior"? To acknowledge a 'lord' is to suborn one's own will and self-determination – hardly what we want in a leader. The doctor who saves my life could be my savior, but that doesn't mean I'm going to worship him. I'll say thanks, and pay the bill, but that's about it.
    I want a president who is his own lord, and doesn't think he needs to be saved.

    August 21, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
  20. VoiceofReason

    It says it on the front of every LDS building:
    'Visitors Welcome'

    If you want to know what goes on in a normal, unscripted, LDS church meeting – then go attend one, and make up your OWN mind. Simple as that.

    August 21, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • fintastic

      Why bother? one fairytale is just as silly as the next.

      August 21, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      The biggest fairytale is the atheists believing themselves intelligent.

      August 21, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • ME II

      So, you don't need a "temple recommend" any more?

      August 21, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • J Smith

      Right. People always talk about the Latter-day Saints as though they're some secretive society. Mitt may not want to talk church during his campaign, but anyone who ACTUALLY wants to know about what we do or what we believe can easily have all of their questions answered.

      Just show up on Sunday. Or, go to mormon.org/missionaries and have someone to come explain it to you in your home. See. That wasn't so hard.

      August 21, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      Heavy Scent, you keep calling us names nonstop. I'm pretty satisfied that I, at least, am a whole lot smarter than you are.

      August 21, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Clown, you atheists drew first blood. You can dish it out but when someone dishes it back, you whine.

      August 21, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • Sloppy J

      Fintastic, note the portion of VoiceofReason's post "IF you want to know what goes on . . " So, you don't want to know. Fine. Why bother posting about it.

      ME II: You're talking about temple attendance, which does require a recommend (a little card signed by local LDS leaders showing you're basically a solid member). Sunday services are open to anyone, and as has been pointed out here, no-one's going to find them "weird." Most likely you'd just be bored stiff for three hours. If you're lucky someone might bring brownies or something. If you're REALLY lucky you'll attend "Fast & Testimony" meeting (basically, open-mic day, on the first Sunday each month) and someone might get up and go off on a tangent about obscure doctrines. I've heard some hilarious stuff, but no every month.

      August 21, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • ME II

      @Sloppy J,
      Thanks for the info. My point was just that VOR was implying that visitors are welcome in all LDS buildings, which apparently is not the case for "temple", right?

      August 21, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
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