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.

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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. northern light

    85% of American say they are religious.
    About 25% are Roman Catholic (as is Paul Ryan).....and maybe 5% are Mormon (as is Mitt Romney).

    The only Mormon to run for president was shot....the only Catholic president was shot.....

    The above two men are either do not read history books ....or are stupid ...the latter is more plausible.

    If Romney Ryan are elected .....what do think there chances are .

    August 21, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
  2. Jeff

    As an atheist, all candidates who preach their religion as their basis of thought is anathema to me. But it does seem strange that so many right wingers are overlooking Romney's Mormonism. Most of the criticism of Mormons throughout history has been from Christians because Mormons believe they will one day become Gods, which is the same belief that got Lucifer thrown out of Paradise in the Christian myth. I guess when it comes to orthodoxy, lower taxes means more to them than scripture.

    August 21, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
    • Truth

      Lower taxes and the fact that he's not black...

      August 21, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      I didn't think either candidate was black. Isn't Obama half white? Yeah I hate that part of him too.

      August 21, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
  3. Michael

    I hope you didn't drink wine or beer, or have coffee or watch an R-rated movie, or have a tattoo anywhere on your body, and I hope you were not Catholic or Christian. Because those are all things that are not allowed by the Mormon religion. Christians and Catholics are not allowed in Mormon temples for ceremonies like weddings or for prayer.
    Sounds like the reporter who wrote this piece got duped.

    August 21, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
    • Lisa

      Not true. I am a christian who has mormon friends and I have been invited to their church, to their sunday school class, and they are very involved in everyday community support and volunteerism, even in christian run associations. Check out the website mormon101

      August 21, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Perhaps next time you visit a Mormon church, you should ask them about the secret handshakes and how you can get your own magic, super-secret new name.

      August 21, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • Truth

      Lisa's new Mormon name is.... Isa'La ! ! !

      August 21, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  4. Mass Debater

    Mitt Romney is running on a campaign of what he won't do, not what he will do. We hear absolutely ZERO on what he will do for American's. We hear endless amounts of what he won't do, like he won't raise taxes on the wealthy, he won't continue the dream act executive order, he won't fund medicare and social security, he won't allow the affordable care act to continue, and most importantly to his base, he won't be black.

    August 21, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
  5. Lisa

    Great story. Mormons are not that different from any other christian religions. Every christian religion has differences one from another that is why we have so many religions of the christian faith; however, the truths that they share are the ties that bind them. All most citizens know of Mormons are the ones that Hollywood portrays in their movies. If they took the time to educate themselves from reliable sources on the Mormon faith they would be able to make an educated opinion on who they are and what they stand for. How many presidents and vice presidents have we had that were of the christian faith vs. those who were not????? Christians have just as much right to run for president as those that so are not. It's a free country. Why does everything that happens have to be picked apart to the point that no one makes sense? Someones faith doesn't stand a chance against our rigid anti-faith laws so what does it matter if he is a mormon christian or not? He can't change a law without the senates approval, correct???? So everyone quite making this something it isn't. Use some common sense, which I know americans still have some of.

    August 21, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
    • Truth

      "educate themselves from reliable sources on the Mormon faith they would be able to make an educated opinion on who they are and what they stand for."

      Mormons are a false religion based on false prophecies from false prophets and have just enough supposed 'morality' to claim they have happy and healthy members when in reality the core of the religion is corrupt and diseased, much like every other Christian religion on the face of the earth. They are all based on phony faith and ancient lie's from bronze age shepherds who believed anything to be divine that they didn't understand which allowed deceptive persons like Joseph Smith to lie and gain control over the masses and their money. Not a single one of you on these boards can prove anything different and you know it, all you have to rely on is your 'feelings'. Period.

      August 21, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • OOO

      "Every christian religion has differences one from another that is why we have so many religions of the christian faith; however, the truths that they share are the ties that bind them."

      Since there are different christian religions, there must also be truths they don't share. Otherwise there would be only one religion. These are the truths that tear them apart.

      August 21, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
  6. I AM

    I don't really care what religion Romney is, he is not a good candidate for the presidency, Can't seem to get a straight answer from him. Has no plans for recovery. Just says things will improve. But, how? And, from whose wallet? Just don't trust the man.

    August 21, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Yeah and what were his grades like in law school anyway?

      August 21, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
  7. Mark from Louisiana

    Compare the crime rate in Salt Lake City to Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, New Orleans, etc. Also compare the numbers of babies born to teen age mothers. Also compare how many single moms are living totally on government(taxpayers) support.
    They must be doing something good in Salt Lake.......

    August 21, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • tiny bubbles.

      Well there... proof in a supernatural being laid out right in front of us.

      August 21, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • Chick-a-dee

      There's a fairly low crime rate in Riyadh too, but I don't want to recruit political leaders from there. Do you? Quite frankly, given the history of Salt Lake and its majority demographic, a politician with ties to it is suspect in my book.

      August 21, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      As opposed to one with ties to Chicago? You can't be serious

      August 21, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
  8. Jacob

    I just spent the better part of 20 min. reading posts and I am sad to say I'm impressed by few thoughts, and most less impressed. While I will not admit my own religion (not because I am ashamed to, but because it skews the dialog for some), I would say this: Think about what you are saying before you say it. If you are Christian, practice you beliefs, even though you are hiding behind some "post". If you're atheist, don't degrade others despite their beliefs. If you're Muslim, be Muslim and be happy you have your beliefs, and live your religion. No religion has the right over the other. Truth is truth, and we individually have to find out what truth is for ourselves. It may seem that truth then is respective of the person. To the individual yes it is (because truth to that individual is what they believe is true, be it ultimately false or not ), but there are absolute truths for everyone still, that can be found if sought after. My point... practice what you preach. If what you preach/teach/believe invites you to do good, then its true. Don't degrade, bully, even be negative to others because they have a different world view or set of beliefs than you. So, Mitt Romney for President? That is up to you and your beliefs, but don't flare up, get angry and forget what you say you believe, because if you do, we all know you don't really believe it!

    August 21, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • Alien Orifice

      Fuk you Jacob. Fuk you up your stupid ass. I am not angry!!!

      August 21, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
  9. Charlene Freeland

    What is all of the hubbub about Romney's Morman faith? At least he is not ashamed of or afraid of admitting his beliefs unlike his opponent who denies what he really believes. It is getting near election time so Romney's opponent attended a Christian church Sunday.

    August 21, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
    • Science

      Can you please show me and the rest of the world how you have gotten such keen insight into Obama's beliefs? How do you know he's hiding his true beliefs?

      August 21, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • midwest rail

      No need to be coy, Charlene. Come right out and say " Obama is a Muslim ". Then have the orderlies take away your keyboard.

      August 21, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • OOO

      Well, if you believe in the tooth fairy and are not afraid or ashamed to admit it, then something else is wrong. Or you have some proof of the tooth fairy's existence that the rest of us don't.

      August 21, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
  10. Alien Orifice

    Mitt Romney is out of touch with the poor!

    When I was a kid, we had to walk 80 miles to school every morning and 80 miles back. Both uphill carrying stone tablets because we couldn’t afford paper. Then it was time for chores, like plowing the North 40.

    We got up before we went to bed and had to sleep in a cardboard box in the middle of the street and hunt squirrels for our meals with a sling shot. And you know what? We LIKED it. We LOVED it.

    We didn’t even have shoes! It was really bad in the winter. The snow was 30 feet deep. I lost one toe to frost-bite every winter for ten years. I had to wear my older sister's hand-me-down dresses because my Mother's arthritis was so bad she could not sew any boys’ clothes. That is why I had to fight the class bully every day.

    Sometimes when there were no squirrels, we had to eat rocks for dinner. That was very difficult with no teeth (from the fights with the bully). And you know what? I liked it! I loved it! I was lucky to have it.

    The worst part was every night after walking 160 miles, plowing forty acres, chopping the fire wood and eating rocks that made my gums bleed. My parents would come out to the box where my sister and I slept in the middle of the road and jump up and down on top of us screaming "Die!" "Die" "Die" with a necklace made out of my dead toes swinging from my mother’s neck. And you know what. We liked it. We loved it. We were lucky to have it so good.

    August 21, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • palintwit

      It sounds like you come from a typical teabagger family. Did you ever boink your cousin?

      August 21, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
  11. ddlq

    As a former Mormon, now atheist, I don't think that Mormonism is any "weirder" than any other organized religion. It's history is sordid and full of violence, which Mormons frame as oppression, but is similar to the history of other religions (and how those religions frame their own history), albeit more recent. My reasons for not voting for Mitt have nothing to do with his religion, otherwise I would never be able to vote in the Presidential election for anyone.

    August 21, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
  12. Rich

    What does it matter what religion a presidential candidate is as long has he has one. All you out there that are haters of the LDS church you're not going to make it change or go away. The first members of the church had gone through so much torture and tribulations that would make everyone give up if it weren't true. And mind you the church started with 6 members and now has millions world wide. Plus there have been and there still are professors and scholars that are trying so hard and wasting their lives away trying to prove that the LDS church is wrong and they haven't even came close to stopping the progression of the church. I don't see people working so hard to disprove other religions they almost do it themselves. and you all will sit here talking bad about it but you'll be the first one in line asking for hand outs of food and supplies that they hand out to those affected by natural disasters. But you're lucky they'll give it to you even though you talk so bad about them so just grow up and get over what ever problem you have

    August 21, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • Answer

      Eventually your religion will be dead. Go find a replacement or start a new one.

      August 21, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • OOO

      Can you come up with some real reasons to believe in this stuff other than that it has lasted this long and has lots of members?

      August 21, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • Jesus freaker

      'What does it matter what religion a presidential candidate is as long has he has one. '

      Yes it doesn't matter which non-existent god the president chooses. What we don't need is a president that doesn't believe in some imaginary god. Only a crazy person wouldn't believe in an imaginary god.

      August 21, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • Kate

      The Catholics are on a pretty good run they have been around for 2000 years and there are over a billion of them in the world.

      August 21, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • hawaiiguest


      So what? That doesn't make it any more likely to be true.

      August 21, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
    • Primewonk

      Rich wrote, "What does it matter what religion a presidential candidate is as long has he has one."

      Why does a candidate need a religion? What does Article VI, Section 3 of the constûtution say?

      August 21, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
    • Answer

      The whole world and it's entire 7 billion (or so) population could become catholic for all I care. The sole fact that I remain an atheist is what counts.

      August 21, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
    • OTOH

      "The Catholics are on a pretty good run they have been around for 2000 years and there are over a billion of them in the world."

      Depends on how you look at it. You could also say that they have had over 2000 years to convince the world of their "truths", and still 2/3rds of the world doesn't believe it.

      August 21, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
  13. Tom

    I love how this guy is proud of his faith, and that he only paid 13% in taxes for the past 5 years. When the average working American adult pays around 22% in incoming tax & a self-employed American pays around 42%! So how does he feel about paying back his fair share to the country that made him so rich & gives him the right to safely practice any religion he wants?

    This guy is poster child for wants wrong in America today. He’s a self-center greedy rich guy that feels everyone is looking for a handout. When the truth is he is rich because he took advantage of his fellow countrymen to over fill his cup. And he is part of a group of people that are just like him trying to keep what they are stealing from America. What has this guy done to earn his wealth? He has outsourced jobs away and forced cutbacks on his past employees. In the same time he has taken more from the pot. His wealth is your wealth! He doesn’t brains or the natural to have that much money. He got where he is by stepping on you! And if he can buy out the Electoral College he will keep most of us right under his foot for the next four years. He is part of the 5% that are 99.9% of the cause for our finical issues in America today.

    And does his faith come before his country? Because OUR president has to put OUR country before his faith!

    August 21, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • Timmy

      Are you suggesting he broke the law? If not why should he just send more money to the government than the tax laws say he owes?

      August 21, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
  14. Mormon Parable

    "I am Wind In His Hair! I am Wind In His Hair! Do you see that I am not afraid of you!? Do you see!?"

    Wind in His Hair, being a worshipper of false idols, confronts Satan after being slain by the Pawnee.

    Thinking quickly, the chief of the tribe decides to, "smoke a while".

    It was at this point that Joseph Smith arrived with a "White Man's" hat and some magic golden plates! He was immediately wounded by an arrow of course and the Medicine Man was summoned to the teepee.

    Many moons passed while Joseph Smith recovered from his injuries, during which time he spaketh the Mormon Gospel to Chief Ten Bears and a great friendship was forged between them. At length, it was time for Joseph Smith to head westward. As he waved goodbye to his new Lakota Indian friends, a voice could be heard on the wind….

    "Joseph Smith! ... Joseph Smith! ... I am Wind In His Hair! ... Do you see that I am your friend!? ... Can you see that you will always be my friend!? Can you turn down the heat? It is like furnace down here!”

    August 21, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
  15. kgt

    The bottom line is when you don't know about someone or something, you should make no effort to find out anything about it for yourself. You should just blindly take the media's word for it and let the media define it for you. Just let the media feed your fear of the unknown. Seems like a good strategy, huh CNN?

    August 21, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
  16. LiberalAllMyLife

    romney should be shot. he supports the rich only. not working class peoples.

    August 21, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      So a liberal advocating violence against a Presidential candidate. Not a good thing.

      August 21, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
  17. economicsgenious

    Church. Seriously. I think the republican party needs to revisit the purpose of religion in the first place before they claim some higher rule. First off. Republicans are screaming help the rich? Thought most religions were about helping those in need? Not blaming them? Just saying! Republicans, understand the concept of free will, and not only that the laws of your land and established government. You constantly want to break the 1st Amendment the separation of church and state. Just saying! The bible talks about how mans wealth and willingness to help in the book of Matthew. I guess this does not count either? If republicans want to place religious based rules and laws maybe they should learn to follow their religions first. Just saying. Forgiveness, Help those in need, reach out to rid the world of violence, greed is a sin, sloth is a sin, Envy is a sin. You think religion is about saving precious material items like Bentley's and Mansions and Executive Bonuses while average beings are barely making it. If that is truly your thoughts I think you missed to many Sunday school classes. Verily shall a rich man enter the gates of heaven, I say again, it is easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter into the gates of heaven. For man shall always cherish his material possession and personal wealth over caring for the less fortunate. If you can't grasp that simple concept, your plights for forgiveness are empty and your only rewards are of man not of god.

    August 21, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • economicsgenious

      Here is what my personal take is, to many people don't even grasp the concept as to why the first Amendment was written. Biblical based rule is why third world countries are always war torn. With the many different religions and different beliefs you can not effectively govern peacefully and meet all religious concepts. Thus there will always be groups struggling and fighting for a form of freedom. And if I remember correctly the United States is the land of the free is it not? No man is superior to another. Only in mans search for power is man ever a level above another or below another. Greed, creates levels, envy creates levels. God created all men from one and all women from that same man. Think about it. This is an article about church is it not? Did god not state man will sin? Did god not state man cant live without sin? Again think about that. Many things people just don't think about when they spout bull crap.

      August 21, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • Kate

      According to the Congressional Budget office the top 20% of the country pays 94% of the taxes in this country 40% of the country pays nothing and recieve tax credits and the last quintile pays a little or no taxes. Also there is an almost 2000 year history of taking care of the poor by people of faith by both ordained and the laity. They refute government paying for the poor because they feel it is a social concern shared by everyone. That is why they were the first to educate poor people in this country, women and African Americans. They also started and have their own hospitals to help the poor, run their own food banks and homless shelters. They are still doing these things. The Catholics for instance in every parish they get accessed for essentially a tax that goes directly to funding the area hospitals, funding and running the Catholic schools and tutution for under privilidged kids, the food banks, homless shelters, refugee centers, In Chicago for instance Catholic Charties severs 2.3 million people a week.

      August 21, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
  18. Mark Gale

    I am jewish so to me separation of church and state is essential. I have visited the Mormon center in Salt Lake City. I took the entire tour to get an understanding of what Mormonism was all about. It is my understanding that the religion has evolved to become a valid choice for those of you who believe Jesus was the messiah and savior. The church has done a fine job of distancing itself from the Warren Jeffs and no longer supports having
    more than one wife. The church has given millions to help the less fortunate something that the Marjoe movement has not done. So to me if you our a christian it should not matter how you choose to worship Jesus. What is important that you respect god and do it by following the commandments that we gave to you.

    August 21, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • Kate

      Not for anything but there are serious doctrinal issues that seperate Christians and Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses. If you are going to be a disciple of Jesus there are some essential things that Christians practice where Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses don't.

      August 21, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • Science


      Honestly, let the goyim fight over how to pray to jesus, it's funnier to watch. We also have our own issues as those crazy ultra-orthodox schmucks are going to try something with the hippy dippy reconstructionists. Judaism has just much issues as the gentiles do, we just have a smaller spectrum to fall into, only about 10 million of us to fight between.

      August 21, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
  19. Kate

    Neither do I. That is why there should be no religous people elected to the top office in the country. We need need sane, intelligent people.
    Are you saying any person who goes to church or temple or mosque shouldn't run for office or are you saying that no one who is ordained in a faith and holds a religious office shouldn't run? Catholics for instance forbid clergy from running for public office.

    August 21, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • Alien Orifice

      No, I am not saying they shouldn't run. It is a free country. I am saying they shouldn't be elected.

      August 21, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • Kate

      Who shouldn't be elected?

      August 21, 2012 at 3:27 pm |

    Do you think the GOP is rethinking why they never embraced Ron Paul yet?

    August 21, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
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