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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. al

    don't forget to pass the basket.

    August 21, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
  2. Carol

    The faith of Romney's father's meant polygamy.

    August 21, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      It still does, but in order to be granted statehood, the Mormon hierarchy reluctantly advised their followers to obey the laws of teh land (outlawing polygamy was made a requirement for entry into the Union – a move pointed directly at Birgham Young and Utah), but "spiritual" polygamy is still doctrinal.
      A Morman man can have as many "spirit wives" as he desires, but a woman may be bound only to 1 man.

      August 21, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
  3. thinkforyourself

    I live in SLC, UT and I can tell you that the Mormon Religion runs our state and government. Before every legislator meeting the church official meet to determine what they want, then it goes before legislation. If you think that Romney will be any different, you are wrong. His religion will rule his presidency and for that we will all be sorry.

    August 21, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • JrlePret

      Hahahahahaha – you're hilarious

      August 21, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • otherdavid

      completely false......don't be an idiot

      August 21, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
  4. Atheism is a Religion

    Disease is actually caused by tiny micro-organisms. They are real. Examine your feelings and you will realize there really are tiny life forms in water.

    August 21, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • Absence of belief is not belief in absence

      Atheism is a belief, like "off" is a TV channel.

      August 21, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
  5. anniem

    Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Horse_Prophecyj. Then think about it.

    August 21, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • RICHARD

      Did you read it all?

      It says that the White Horse prophecy IS NOT EMBRACED AS A DOCTRINE OF THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER DAY SAINTS?

      So what's your point? Is this nothing more than a day dream wish for all the land to be filled with Mormons? If so, then it doesn't appear to be happening. Does it? The children of Joe Smith have had a long time to work on this dream. So far, the religion seems to have plateaued.

      Put on your magic underwear and make three wishes; World Peace, true economic recovery & Mitt 2B Prez.

      Can somebody tell me where the Mormons parked their space ship, cause a couple million folks would like to book passage off this rock.....

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

      August 21, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
  6. AverageJoe76

    I truly do not understand the God of the bible. What purpose did God have for scattering us? Looks like we were on our way to being 'ONE'. There are many things I do not understand, this is just one;

    The Tower of Babel

    1 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward,[a] they found a plain in Shinar[b] and settled there.
    3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

    5 But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

    8 So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel[c]—because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

    August 21, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • AverageJoe76

      Then I say we get back to the point of understanding one another. Let's make God come back down to show himself, if cooperation between the cultures gets him moving, eh?

      Amazing. I really believe (w/o needing the God concept) in this; "The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them."

      Sounds good to me. Looks like even ancient man knew God's grip would be lost once we all started to work together. Intresting.

      August 21, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • RICHARD

      DREAMER DREAMER
      Your words speak of knowledge of neither God nor man. From ancient time it has been the nature of man to draw boundaries and to defend what is his own. War is born of lust and desire to take that which belongs to another. Either man is descended from murderous apes or man is descended from God.

      The ape man still kills and is separate. Only the childish dreamer refuses to see the evidence of history and the world around him.
      If man has the spark of God within, then our only hope is to inspire to be raised up to HIS level.

      DREAMER DREAMER. One dream is to continue the nightmare of death throughout history. The other dream is to find the inspiration and the purpose in God to end the killing.

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

      August 21, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • My understanding

      The version of the bible you are quoting doesn't make it clear, but if you go back to the original Hebrew, it is clear that God is unhappy with their form of worship. The people believe all they have to do to get close to God it to build a tower. There are also many legends about the wickedness of this group.

      Unfortunately, the bible has gone through too many translations and been through too many conniving hands over the centuries. It is also treated as the sole source of God's word, which is ridiculous.

      August 21, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • AverageJoe76

      @RICHARD – Globalization is real, and we've been moving in that direction anyway, thanks to the internet. The internet is our new 'Tower Of Babel'-lite.

      August 21, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
  7. Lenny Pincus

    Yes, let the cameras roll as Mitt rises to tell the story of Jesus coming to the New World and hanging out with the lost tribes of Israel. The Book of Mormon is online. Enjoy. Watch the Christianists' heads explode.

    August 21, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
  8. M-W-T

    ITS A CULT........ROMNEY still thinks he's some kind of "PROPHET" and he's going to ride into the WHITE HOUSE on a white horse
    MITT ROMNEY AND PAUL RYAN ARE " THE WORST REPUBLICANS IN THE COUNTRY" for POTUS......you have to be NUTS to believe these two.
    I Don't Trust Them....and
    I WILL NOT VOTE FOR EITHER ONE OF THEM

    August 21, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • LOL

      Nothing but ignorance coming from you!!! Learn about the religion before make rediculous comments!!! You just show your ignorance! (to your defense so does many many other people on hear!)

      August 21, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  9. De Odorizer

    Oh, one more question, Mr Prothero: how does his membership in LDS help him understand middle class plight, deal with international diplomacy (we know already that Mitt's the elephant in the china shop), deal with Netanyahu, Iran and China? The more a president focuses on his job instead of his religion, the more effective he will be. Only a 'religion neutral' president can serve effiiciently a complex multicultural society such as the USA.

    August 21, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  10. De Odorizer

    "Republican presidential convention will showcase Romney’s faith in an effort to humanize him".

    And boy oh boy, does he need "humanization", tons of it. Romney is so far removed from American main stream (republicans, fill in "lame stream") that he doesn't know what bugs the middle class. Sending him to church, like a schoolboy, doesn't make me respect the candidate for the highest office in the land anymore than I respect the job cutter Mitt the Bane.

    August 21, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • LOL

      And you think Obama does??? LOL Obama and every politician eats filet while the middle and lower class eats spam!!! Get a clue!

      August 21, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
  11. TheVocalAtheist

    I had to post this as it came in from a believer, it's classic:

    " When they quit the personal attacks for logic, then maybe the rest of us will pay attention"

    August 21, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      Wow, just wow. So at least one admits that what they believe in isn't rational.

      August 21, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
  12. Just call me Lucifer

    Religion will be the downfall of humanity. Good riddance.

    August 21, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
  13. Colin

    It never ceases to amaze me the utter, mind-numbing, jaw-dropping, garbage Mormons believe. Planet Kolob, Jews colonizing America, the Joseph Smith gold tablets nonsense, aliens, protective underwear, post-mortom baptisms etc.

    And this is on top of the garbage one has to believe to be a Christian, which is itself on top of the garbage one has to believe to be a Jew.

    It is almost as if there were an historical race to outdo each other in an "I'm more gullible than you" contest.

    August 21, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • save the world and slap some sense into a christard today!

      Absolutely. It is most reasonable for me, even if I were to buy into say everything in the gospels (which I do not), to view the self-proclaimed "apostle" Paul, supposed author of a big chunk of the NT, as the Joseph Smith of his time.

      August 21, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Acts 13:45

      Amen.

      August 21, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
  14. Peter

    South Park summarized the Mormon faith quite well. If only more people understood what Mormonism is really about they would cast these people into the shadows where they belong. It's ludicrous to think adults believe this stuff and those adults could potentially be President of the United States. It's scary, not ludicrous. Let's just say that if your child came home from school one day and said he/she wanted to do something because a guy was told to do it by reading magical plates in a hat, you would laugh at your child. Guess what, that's the Mormon faith! Now throw in some magical underpants and a touch of banishment from the family if you leave the faith, and you have the people with whom Mitt Romney most identifies.

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

      "Under the Banner of Heaven" needs to be required reading for anyone thinking about voting for Romney and having him run and represent this country. The religion is total "hogwash" and I understand that we're free here to believe in what we want to....but no way should be be in charge of the USA.

      August 21, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • Lee

      I'm sorry.....did I write "religion".......mormonism is a "cult"

      August 21, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • Timmy

      It is not any more silly than Moses going up a mountain and getting the 10 commandment from god, and writing them down on tablets.

      August 21, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • Chelle

      "Under the Banner of Heaven" is an amazing look at the LDS and fundamentalist Morman churches. I often wonder how many Mormans know the history of their church. What is most frightening is that Mitt Romney comes from a fundamentalist background. Does he believe as Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Porter Rockwell, etc. did that we "Gentiles" can be lied to, cheated and killed because we don't really matter?

      August 21, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
  15. HeavenSent

    You athiests can spew all your babble but Jesus knows you. It is time for you to start your walk with Jesus and learn His truth through His letter to us, the Bible. I have been using the same adult diaper for two weeks. Turn away from the devil aka satan or burn for all ternity.

    Amen.

    August 21, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
    • plasterCity

      If what you say is really true, then Jesus knows you too! And he knows you turned away from the devil only to because you are afraid of burning for eternity.
      IE, He knows you are a fake. You are burning anyway. 😦

      August 21, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • Specimen Yarp

      You spelled Atheist wrong. Maybe you should try and get an education.

      August 21, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      That's not my post but the phony heavensent's obsession with me. LOL.

      August 21, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • RAWoD

      Who is spewing bable? Look like it's YOU.
      Why not look behind the curtain and see the men who created these fairy tales. These are the same men that have revised the KJB over 75 times. Go study what MEN decided to add to the book during the First Great Awakening.

      August 21, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • Atheism is a Religion

      ". I have been using the same adult diaper for two weeks." But I thought "prayer changed things." We'll pray for your diaper.

      August 21, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      I use adult diapers as pillows. Of course.

      August 21, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Phony heavensent is bored today, as usual.

      August 21, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
  16. Reality

    And then we have Professor Steve P who supposedly loves all gods even though most of the gods are a sadistic bunch if you believe the dictates of many of them. e.g.

    Islam's god:

    o "Believers, take neither Jews nor Christians for your friends." (Surah 5:51)
    o
    "Believers, when you encounter the infidels on the march, do not turn your backs to them in flight. If anyone on that day turns his back to them, except it be for tactical reasons...he shall incur the wrath of God and Hell shall be his home..." (Surah 8:12-)

    "Make war on them until idolatry shall cease and God's religion shall reign supreme." (Surah 8:36-)

    "...make war on the leaders of unbelief...Make war on them: God will chastise them at your hands and humble them. He will grant you victory over them..." (Surah 9:12-)

    "Fight against such as those to whom the Scriptures were given [Jews and Christians]...until they pay tribute out of hand and are utterly subdued." (Surah 9:27-)

    "It is He who has sent forth His apostle with guidance and the true Faith [Islam] to make it triumphant over all religions, however much the idolaters [non-Muslims] may dislike it." (Surah 9:31-)

    "If you do not fight, He will punish you sternly, and replace you by other men." (Surah 9:37-)

    "Prophet make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites and deal rigorously with them. Hell shall be their home." (Surah 9:73)

    "Believers, make war on the infidels who dwell around you. Deal firmly with them." (Surah 9:121-)

    "Say: 'Praise be to God who has never begotten a son; who has no partner in His Kingdom..." (Surah 17:111)

    "'How shall I bear a child,' she [Mary] answered, 'when I am a virgin...?' 'Such is the will of the Lord,' he replied. 'That is no difficult thing for Him...God forbid that He [God[ Himself should beget a son!...Those who say: 'The Lord of Mercy has begotten a son,' preach a monstrous falsehood..." (Surah 19:12-, 29-, 88)

    "Fight for the cause of God with the devotion due to Him...He has given you the name of Muslims..." (Surah 22:78-)

    "Blessed are the believers...who restrain their carnal desires (except with their wives and slave-girls, for these are lawful to them)...These are the heirs of Paradise..." (Surah 23:1-5-)

    "Muhammad is God's apostle. Those who follow him are ruthless to the unbelievers but merciful to one another." (Surah 48:29)

    "Shall the reward of goodness be anything but good?...Dark-eyed virgins sheltered in their tents...They shall recline on green cushions and fine carpets...Blessed be the name of your Lord..." (Surah 55:52-66-)

    August 21, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
  17. J Smith

    (ME II) You don't need a temple recommend to attend a Mormon church service.

    If you want to go into a temple, then, yes, a temple recommend is still required. But, anyone who really wants one can get one. The process is very straightforward.

    August 21, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • ME II

      I'm guessing it's a straight forward process to get access to the Vatican's Secret Archive, or get into the Mafia, or the Skull and Bones, but they are still secret.

      August 21, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
  18. Rich Jasso

    "Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith " a non-fiction investigative account by J. Krakuer will explain a lot to those not in the know about this bizarre,secretive,insular and cultish religion that masks itself under the guise of God and family values.
    Evangelical Christians are well versed about this cult and consider it an apostate religion of dubious origins.
    In contrast,Catholics and Protestants can agree on the central tenants of their respective faiths for the most part because it is not contradicted with bogus,discredited,so -called revelations to one Joseph Smith in the form of The Book of Mormon.
    That's a huge difference and fundamentalists of Catholic and Protestant faiths acknowledge that.
    Romney is not evil,his religion is just weird but many Americans think all religions are weird and maybe they have a point.

    August 21, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • Augustine

      Dear Sir,

      I have been a practicing Mormon all my life. Any the good qualities that I possess as a man have become part of me because of my religion, not in spite of it. The world at large often wants to see what they refer to as the "bizarre and mysterious world of mormonism." Books such as the one you recommend cater to this view, not because they are true, but because that is what sells. It has been my experience throughout my life that most of the people who consider themselves 'well versed" about my faith know little and understand even less. Many good friends of different Christian denominations have been surprised to learn that I and other Mormons are much more normal than they had heard from "investigative sources." Please take the time to truly know us before you make judgements. I know that we have different points of doctrine from other Christian denominations, but that is no reason why we cannot respect one another and treat each other with kindness. But in the end it matters far more what God and the savior Jesus Christ think of me, than the opinion of yourself and others like unto you.

      August 21, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • realbuckyball

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hcyzkd_m6KE&w=640&h=360]

      August 21, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  19. NewsRaider

    We're not voting for (electing) a religion. We're electing a President.

    August 21, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      I'd read George Washington's address before you repeat what you posted.

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

      August 21, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
  20. Atheism is a Religion

    With a telephone, you can talk to someone who is not in the same room, even people in other cities. I know it's tough for you to understand, but this is true, Alexander Graham Bell invented it many years ago. Take a moment and look at it objectively, and you'll see that telephones actually exist and are real. Open up your heart and believe!

    August 21, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      You mean turn off your brain and believe

      August 21, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • AverageJoe76

      YES!!! I believe!!! I believe in telephones!!

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

      I got to get me one of those telephones. Then maybe god will finally call me.

      August 21, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Praise Jesus for giving man (meaning women too) intelligence.

      August 21, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
    • Absence of belief is not belief in absence

      Absence of belief is not belief in absence.

      August 21, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
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