Mitt Romney, commencement speaker

April 9, 2007 | 43 comments
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Misinformation about Mormonism is nothing new, so the bloopers in Kenneth Woodward’s editorial about Mitt Romney’s upcoming speech at Regents University in today’s New York Times don’t disturb me much. What annoys me is Woodward’s argument about how Mormons should talk about themselves.

In a nutshell, Woodward states that Romney needs to explain his religion, because many voters distrust Mormons; their reasons for this distrust include Mormon clannishness, soullessness, and secretiveness, which are all accurate perceptions; Mormons talk one way among themselves, and another way among outsiders, but their outsider talk can’t be trusted to mean what it says, so Romney should avoid seeking common ground or using a common language with conservative evangelical Christians; also, Romney says that his church doesn’t dictate anyone’s political views, which should be accepted on trust (until there is evidence to the contrary).

First, about those perceptions. If you haven’t read the editorial, you might not notice that the characterizations of Mormons as clannish and soulless have some odd justifications, in each case taking something we’re justly proud of and connecting it via non-sequitur to well-known criticisms. Mormons are perceived as clannish, Woodward writes, because…we have a lay clergy, so we’re all too busy to make friends with our neighbors. (Even the Sunday School President?) “Mormonism is a church with the soul of a corporation” because…Mormons serve missions. Yep, those two years from 19 to 21, or Grandma and Grandpa serving in a branch in Saskatchewan, apparently make us corporate drones. There are also missionaries “in its vast administrative offices in Salt Lake City [OK, I guess some people prefer it to Saskatchewan] or in one of many church-owned businesses” [whaa...?] As for secretiveness, it is true that Mormons are enjoined to use great discretion in discussing temple worship. But from there, it’s a short step to “anti-Mormon charges of secret and unholy rites” and then on to “fundamentalist Mormon sects that continue to practice polygamy and child marriage.” Woodward encourages Romney to “set the record straight,” but my gut instincts tell me that “I do not actually practice unholy rites or child marriage” is not a winning line for any politician.

Speaking of bad political advice, I don’t think Romney would be well served by avoiding “God,” “personal savior,” and “family” when he talks to Evangelicals, although those are three terms that Woodward identifies as having a disparate sense for Mormons. I’m not a fan of blurring doctrinal distinctions, but I think Woodward is wrong on the facts here. While any word can vary in meaning in a particular context, I don’t think that the Mormon experience of God, salvation, or family is fundamentally different from that found nearly everywhere else, including in conservative evangelical Christianity.

More than the ultimate fate of the Romney candidacy, I’m interested in Romney’s rhetorical situation. How do we represent our relationship to a church with more than its share of peculiarities and perceived oddities? I think we can do it without reflexive self-flagellation, the unhelpful Mormon helpfulness that wants to confess to every accusation made by detractors. To the extent that explaining our religion acknowledges that its acceptability in American society can’t be taken for granted, do those explanations actually help? Can any explanation be trusted, if Mormon belief makes Mormon use of standard religious language suspect? If we’re going to explain, can we use the word “God”?

I kind of wish JFK had just told the American public half a century ago, “Yes, I’m Catholic, and I really don’t give a shriveled fig what you think about it.”

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43 Responses to Mitt Romney, commencement speaker

  1. Adam Greenwood on April 9, 2007 at 3:27 pm

    What’s the secret meaning that evangelicals give to the word “family”?

  2. Frank McIntyre on April 9, 2007 at 3:38 pm

    Adam, I think the point is that when Mormons say “family”, we are obviously referring to the Danites.

  3. hesitant henry on April 9, 2007 at 3:55 pm

    Romney is perceived by some as making an opportunistic shift on key issues. Whether that’s really the case is fairly irrelevant at this point: some will have a hard time taking Romney at face-value when he discusses anything of import. Sure, he’s a great manager. Since when, in the American dialect, is managerial excellence synonymous with words like integrity? He’s got a hill to climb on this issue.

  4. lamonte on April 9, 2007 at 4:08 pm

    From Woodward’s editorial we read “…Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals know Mormon doctrine better than most other Americans do — if only because they study Mormonism in order to rebut its claims.”

    A bit of clarification here. My experience with agressive Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals is that they THINK they know more about our beliefs – even more than we know about our beliefs ourselves – but unfortunately those weekly lectures on Mormonism by the local pastor are usually quite misinformed and exaggerated. I always love it when I hear, “Well you believe…” or “Your church believes…” . I know what I believe better than any evangelical could ever explain to me. I think Mitt Romney, only if he feels inclined to do so, should proclaim his beliefs in the language in which he has learned it and let the chips fall where they may.

  5. danithew on April 9, 2007 at 4:14 pm

    I saw an ad in the Yeshiva University school paper (called the Commentator) stating that Mitt Romney will be speaking at the Sy Sims business school … he must be making a round of the universities.

  6. DavidH on April 9, 2007 at 4:16 pm

    Kenneth Woodward has long been an interested and somewhat sympathetic/friendly religion writer and editor with respect to Mormons. A good example is his letter to the editor of the New York Times in 1981, responding to a harsh op-ed about the Church (which letter I post here, because I am not sure nonsubscribers to the Times or TimesSelect otherwise may be able to access it):

    “To the Editor:

    “In ”The Mormon Nation” (Op-Ed July 3), Peter Bart sketches a crude stereotype of Mormon society and culture in the intermountain West and asks us to believe that this is what ”moral activists” elsewhere – notably, one gathers, the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority – have in mind for us all. As a non-Mormon who twice in the last 12 months visited the Mormon Zion to research articles on the Latter-day Saints’ beliefs and behavior, I find Bart wrong on both counts.

    “First, several recent histories of Mormonism show that since the days of Brigham Young the church’s control over the lives of members has receded dramatically, partly through pressure from the Government and partly through the inevitable acculturation of Mormons to some of the best and worst gentile influences. Thus, the Zion one finds today is a faded blueprint from the Mormon past, not a blueprint for the future – of Mormons or of America.

    “Whenever any religious hierarchy issues a flurry of conservative statements, as the leadership in both Salt Lake City and Vatican City have lately done, it is a sure sign that internal changes are already under way.

    “Second, the Mormon ethos is unique and not transferable to Americans who do not share the Mormons’ singular mythos about the origin and destiny of man. Mr. Falwell, for example, regards Mormonism as a heretical cult and to date has neither solicited nor received support from the L.D.S. General Authorities. They, in turn, have no need to make common cause with ambitious fundamentalist preachers whose doctrines they regard as erroneous.

    “Bart’s article is an invitation to readers to fear and sneer at Mormons, a morally odious invitation which I trust non-Mormons will reject. Bart asks us to reject ”moral activism” when it comes from Mormons but not, one gathers, when the activists are Martin Luther King, the Berrigan brothers or Mother Theresa of Calcutta.

    “To be sure, there is much in Mormonism that outsiders might criticize, but there is also much to admire. I prefer to applaud rather than sneer at Mormon family life when it leads parents to have and educate many children, at considerable sacrifice. And if Bart had seen the Ballet West’s performance of Carl Orff’s ”Carmina Burana” in Salt Lake City last summer, he would know that Mormon attitudes toward the arts have indeed progressed.

    “KENNETH L. WOODWARD, New York, July 10, 1981″

    I view Woodward, like Jan Shipps, as candid friends of the Church, almost like John Thomas Caine.

    I think Woodward is absolutely correct in stating how many people outside our Church view Mormons. In fact, many of us who are members view ourselves, lamentably, as clannish and secretive. And the complaints I sometimes hear about the SLC bureaucracy suggest that many of us view, at least the bureaucracy, as soul-less.

    And I do think that our evangelical brothers and sisters understand “personal Savior” differently from the way many of us do–just look at Elder McConkie’s talk excoriating attempts to encourage more personal relationships with Jesus. I do disagree with Woodward about our perceiving family in fundamentally different ways from the greater Christian or even non-Christian faith community.

  7. danithew on April 9, 2007 at 4:27 pm

    Whoops … in my last comment I misspelled the name of the business school. It is Sy Syms business school.

  8. Conservative Gladiator on April 9, 2007 at 5:15 pm

    Some Conservatives are starting to stink to high Heaven particularly those who consider themselves \”True\” Conservatives yet would still vote for someone who is for gay unions at the very least and has come out recently and said that he would USE PUBLIC TAX MONEY to pay for abortions (CNN 4/2/07). It\’s funny also that the media focused on Romney\’s MINOR blurb about hunting and not paying attention to what Rudy said. Who do you think that the MSM is more scared of? To have every news outlet that the Liberal MSM has ever created to make a stink about hunting (NOT 2ND AMMENDMENT RIGHTS WHICH ROMNEY IS FIRMLY FOR) as opposed to something even more important about abortions and making it a public (you and me) responsibility? More on this in a minute.

    You \”Conservatives\” need to wake up. I don\’t care if Rudy is \”at least\” being up front about his positions. They are the wrong positions. If he isn\’t going to change his views and side on Conservative priciples AT THE LEAST then he\’s not worth it.

    Now people are starting to harp on an actor who was once a Senator for a short time. Just because he saved the day on TV, it\’s still TV and not the real world. Do you think that Hollywood would be any different in dealing with Fred Thompson as Mitt Romney in Massachusetts? Hollywood has made their pick and conservatives are ready to jump ship on a guy who\’s proven himself and moved in the Conservative direction for a \”non-executive\” actor? You people are beginning to make me sick from your smell.

    The last part about some of you \”conservatives\” is that if you don\’t like Mitt Romney it\’s not really about him, it\’s about his religion and you know it. If it weren\’t then you wouldn\’t have to keep explaining that you \”don\’t have a problem with mormonism.\”

    Now back to the MSM and what they know about \”conservatives\” right now when it comes to Mitt Romney. They know that you – ALL OF YOU – Conservatives are having problems. Your off-balance and there are so many variables to it. They know that you have a religion problem, an issues problem on getting on the same page, a whose electable problem, and a morals and values problem. They are playing you like fiddles and you\’re eating it up. They\’re putting stories out there knowing that you\’ll eat your own at their hands.

    Mitt Romney says something about being a life long hunter and Mike \”Hack\”abee goes out on NATIONAL TV (CBS LIBERAL MSM CENTRAL) and has a problem with Romney talking about hunting yet says that Rudy\’s at least \”honest\” about his abortion stance and public funding of them. I don\’t care what \”Hack\”abee said about opposing that stance. He still feels that Rudy\’s a better person to be the Republican party nominee than someone whose made the change in my (a True Conservatives) position.

    I\’m tired of the bigot riddled Liberal MSM comments about religion when it comes to Romney and I\’m even more tired of bigoted \”True\” Conservatives eating their \”BS\” up and regurgitating it back to us giving them credibility and eating away at people who\’s backgrounds both personal and professional truly serves our needs as Americans.

    I\’m tired of it and any conservative who is a true conservative truly believes in AMERICA and the traditional values that this country was built on should go out and fight against this.

  9. Ardis Parshall on April 9, 2007 at 5:24 pm

    It would certainly be nice if we could stick to the topic of how Mormonism is perceived and how we talk about it, with Romney as the illustration, and not get threadjacked into yet another tired political screed.

  10. greenfrog on April 9, 2007 at 5:25 pm

    More than the ultimate fate of the Romney candidacy, I’m interested in Romney’s rhetorical situation. How do we represent our relationship to a church with more than its share of peculiarities and perceived oddities? …Can any explanation be trusted, if Mormon belief makes Mormon use of standard religious language suspect?

    I find these to be very interesting questions, as well.

    Often enough, I find myself wondering whether my own use of LDS-derived terminology is both honest and candid when I interact with members of my own (LDS) faith, since I hold non-orthodox beliefs regarding, for example, the nature of God that are decidedly distinct from a human-form person embodied in flesh.

    My conclusion: context and usage matter.

    If, when I use the term “God” in an LDS setting, I am referring to concepts or situations that do not depend upon the exact form of God, then I’ve no obligation to engage in the kinds of disambiguation that Jonathan marvelously describes as “unhelpful Mormon helpfulness.” Contrariwise, if I use the term “God” without disambiguation in a way that does depend, for its meaning, on the specific nature, form, or construction of God, then I’m not being either honest or candid, and I should footnote, verbally or otherwise, my statement accordingly.

    Of course, that approach makes for rotten politics. Perhaps Romney should consider this as an alternative:

    “I live by faith in God and in humanity. My faith is that God inspires me to be a better person than I am today. My faith is that God inspires my Muslim, Catholic, Hindu, Jewish, and Evangelical Christian sisters and brothers to the same end. In the end, the distinctions that divide us are less important than the common values that unite us.”

  11. Dan S. on April 9, 2007 at 5:30 pm

    I can’t say that Woodward doesn’t have a point that many of our views of God, family, Christ – and many of our religious practices – are different from what most “Christians” believe and practice, at least from an eternal perspective. Those fundamental “differences” in belief and practice are what make our theology peculiar, exciting. I think that most people should understand how those differences are really very thought provoking and worthy of acceptance, once understood. However, I disagree that Romney should be the “teacher” that will explain those differences. He’s got enough on his plate already dealing with political issues to turn his campaign into a missionary discussion.

    However, articles like this tend to support the hype that Romney could possibly go very far in this election campaign. If anything, I think that Woodward is saying that none of these “differences” (or perceived differences) should be a stumbling block to a potentially successful candidate like Romney.

  12. Kaimi Wenger on April 9, 2007 at 5:40 pm

    Gladiator,

    I’m not sure exactly who you’re complaining about or at. Your extensive use of second-person — repeated invocation of “you conservatives,” etc. — seems to suggest that you’re targeting either the poster or commenter here; however, your comment has almost nothing to do with the post or its comments (for example, no one on this thread has endorsed Giuliani or really said anything about him). This suggests that you’re ranting in the wrong place.

    In addition, let me say as one of the blog admins: Your overheated and insulting rhetoric — e.g., “you people are beginning to make me sick from your smell” — is not in line with T&S comment policies, and is not welcome here. Please read our comment policies and abide by them in any future comments.

  13. roland on April 9, 2007 at 5:40 pm

    “one of many church-owned businesses” [whaa…?]”

    … probably refering to all of the welfare farms.

  14. Dan on April 9, 2007 at 6:07 pm

    I think this should be yet another example of why we should not mix religion with politics. Romney has no choice but to talk about his religion because the constituents he wishes to court WANT their politician to mix their religion and politics. Romney is stuck. He should have converted to the Democrats and tried that way. I bet he would have better successes (though less Mormon money, seeing that most rich Mormons tend to be conservative).

  15. Seth R. on April 9, 2007 at 6:33 pm

    Jonathan,

    I’m not sure what the problem is with Woodward’s picture of Mormonism.

    It’s the same overall picture of Mormonism that I get here on the bloggernacle (I’m not certain what that says about the bloggernacle).

    Is this one of those cases where it’s OK if WE criticize our OWN “people” but not OK when an OUTSIDER does the same? Kind of like a Frenchman griping on endlessly about his country’s flaws but then indignantly shouting at you when you try to get in on the action?

  16. Mark N. on April 9, 2007 at 7:13 pm

    Adam, I think the point is that when Mormons say “family”, we are obviously referring to the Danites.

    … or Heavenly Mother.

  17. Kristine on April 9, 2007 at 7:34 pm

    Mark N.–I think that’s the one thing we can be absolutely sure we’re not referring to!!

  18. manaen on April 9, 2007 at 8:26 pm

    I notice that Mr. Woodward makes the mistake of confusing salvation with exaltation that frequently occurs among Church members. The labels redemption, salvation, and exaltation are used interchangably sometimes, but there are specific meanings we should remember and salvation for us means arguably the same thing as it does for evangelicals: saved from what would befall all sinners, hell with the devil, by grace, solely be accepting Christ as savior and not requiring any good works (or how will those in the Telestial Kingdom attain it?) That arch theological liberal, Jos. Fielding Smith, gave this definition, cited here.

  19. Geoff B on April 9, 2007 at 8:28 pm

    I’ve always been puzzled by the claim that Mormons tend to hire other Mormons. As a Mormon in the business world, I have never seen that happen and in fact many people I know are hestitant to hire people at church because, well, what if it doesn’t work out and you have to fire them? It is true that people sometimes hire people they know. And if you know other Mormons, you may hire them. But I don’t necessarily think you hire them BECAUSE they are Mormon. This may be the unique perspective of somebody out in the mission field — I’ve never lived in Utah or Idaho, where such things may be more common.

    Just one person’s perspective: the claim that Mormons tend to hire other Mormons doesn’t ring true with me.

  20. abe on April 9, 2007 at 8:52 pm

    I think Romney is already following Woodward’s advice. For example, instead of a pointless semantic debate over whether Mormons are Christian, we have the following from Romney:

    http://www.newsmax.com/romney/?promo_code=2A89-1&s=lh

    “The term ‘Christian’ means different things to different people,” Romney says. “And so I don’t try and describe my faith in terms of categories. Instead I tell them what I believe. And I believe in God. I believe in marriage. I believe in family. I believe in helping people, in service and compassion. I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and is my savior.

    “But there are people of other faiths who don’t believe that, and that’s of course their right. But I don’t try and describe my faith other than in terms of the fact that it has made me a better person than I would have been, and it has made my kids better than they would have been.”

    This is clearly the right idea. Evangelicals have been taught since they were four years old that Mormons are not Christian. Waging a battle over the term would only increase distrust. Woodward is probably also right that dwelling on the term “personal savior” is a losing strategy, for the same reason that wrapping himself in the term “Christian” is a losing strategy. I tend to think the term “family” is one he can get away with, but even there some caution is advisable, especially is he starts speaking of “divinely ordained family units” or something similar…

  21. manaen on April 9, 2007 at 9:13 pm

    20.
    especially is he starts speaking of “divinely ordained family units” or something similar…

    …like maybe “the family is the basic unit of the Church”

  22. Ivan Wolfe on April 9, 2007 at 9:46 pm

    Being the guy studying Rhetoric, perhaps I should say something about ” Romney’s rhetorical situation” – but, I have a dissertation to write, so I don’t have time to say anything in detail.

    Instead, I’ll just link to Hugh Hewitt’s interview of Woodward over this issue:
    http://hughhewitt.townhall.com/Transcript_Page.aspx?ContentGuid=52ee6f96-530f-45b9-87c8-835409bffa1c

    (I find it amazing that a Presbyterian is doing a lot of the heavy pro-Mormon pro-Mitt stuff – though Hugh Hewitt was good friends with Neal A. Maxwell.)

    some excerpts:
    HH: What I want to talk to you about are some of the statements made in your New York Times piece today, as whether or not you personally subscribe to them. For example, Kenneth Woodward, do you personally believe that the Mormon Church is clannish?

    KW: I think as a generalization, that’s true. And I don’t mean is so much negatively. If you can remember when Italians couldn’t get into an Irish union, never mind blacks getting into a white union, preserving jobs for their friends and so on, that’s a kind of thing that I’m talking about. I’m thinking about…but more importantly, look at their history. You know, they were people forged on an exodus, with a huge amount of intermarriage, a strong sense that the world was against them, and also, a Church as welfare state, the food in the basement, that kind of stuff. Now they do look after each other. I was talking to a friend of mind, a classmate, who was a National Security Advisor in Nixon’s administration. And we were talking about just that thing. They’ve got people in at a certain point, and certainly after a while, more Mormons were coming in and so on.

    HH: Now who was that?

    KW: Well, I’m not going to go into that, because it was a private conversation.
    HH: Okay, because I…
    KW: You can look it up.
    HH: Yeah, I knew most of the Nixon people, and I just don’t remember a Mormon being there, but a lot of Christian Scientists in the Nixon White House
    KW: Well, Haldeman was a…was he Christian…
    HH: Christian Scientist.
    KW: Christian Scientist.

    And here:

    HH: You also wrote that their Mormonism leaves little opportunity to cultivate close friendships with non-Mormon neighbors. Now I’ve got a lot of Mormons who are pretty good friends of mine, so that just didn’t ring true with me. Is that…
    KW: Well, I think they’re changing, and I think it’s possible, but less so because of busyness. They’ve opened up a lot more, at least in the years that I’ve covered them.
    HH: Well now, you and I grew up Catholic, and you know, you’ve got the Knights of Columbus, you’ve got the parish hall duties, you’ve got to go and teach the CCD, you’ve got to referee the kids’ Saturday basketball league. You know, Catholics are pretty busy, too. I don’t want to give up any…
    KW: Oh, they’re not nearly as busy as they used to be. Believe me.
    HH: Well, that might be the case, but…
    KW: Yeah.
    HH: …is it fair…
    KW: No, I think this is a lot…

    HH: Mormons are busier than Catholics?
    KW: …more so. The lay priesthood has a lot to do with it.
    HH: But Mormons are busier than Catholics?
    KW: Oh, I think so, especially today’s Catholics.

    And:

    HH: Okay, next paragraph. Any journalist who has covered the Church knows that Mormons speak one way among themselves, and another among outsiders.
    KW: Uh-huh.
    HH: Now I’m a journalist. I’ve covered the Church for more than ten years. I just don’t think that’s true. Can you give me a counter-example?
    KW: All right, well then…
    HH: What?
    KW: I do, so there you are. I mean…
    HH: Yeah, but you wrote any journalist.
    KW: Huh?
    HH: You wrote any journalist who has covered the Church. So…
    KW: Well, you would be the exception twice then. First, your story of the temple that you talked about, and now that you feel that nobody’s ever talked any differently to you.
    HH: But I mean, the temple wasn’t consecrated when I went in.
    KW: Uh-huh. I understand that.
    HH: What…

    KW: I think they do, because they have a slightly different language, okay? And that’s been one of the problems when they…that’s the point of that paragraph. I’m sure you realize.
    HH: But can you give me an example of how they speak differently to each other?
    KW: Because they use Mormon, they use Mormon language very often among themselves. There’s…there’s stuff out of the Mormon scriptures, which is peculiar to them.
    HH: Well, is it…
    KW: And I think they use them in different ways, that’s all.
    HH: Well, if you were, for example, a Kabbalah student, would you say the same thing, that Kabbalists speak one way among themselves, and another among outsiders?
    KW: Well, I think to some extent, every religion’s got its own language.

    There’s lots more goodies in the intervew. Read the whole thing. It gets very bizarre by the end.

    (now where did I put that dissertation….)

  23. MikeInWeHo on April 9, 2007 at 10:44 pm

    re: 13 There’s just a wee bit more than just the farms, friends.

    I read the Woodward editorial and found it quite sympathetic and thoughtful. He seems friendly toward the Church, and feels it is misunderstood by most Americans. He never states the Church is “soulless,” btw. He never says he personally agrees with some of the (mis) perceptions he describes.

    It’s not a non-sequitur for him to take “something we’re justly proud of” and connect it to well-known criticisms. He’s just saying: the Mormon community is profoundly misunderstood by most Americans, as well as theologically loathed by the Evangelicals. He seems to be offering some unsolicited advice on how to improve public understanding and defang the Evangelical critics. What could be more pro-Mormon than that?

  24. Clark on April 9, 2007 at 11:25 pm

    Not a lot to say about Romney. I think his flip flopping and pandering to social conservatives has pretty well done his campaign in. It was simply an unwise move to not be true to who he was. At this stage he doesn’t have a hope – especially as Thompson enters in. His Mormonism is almost irrelevant at this stage.

    Having said that though, I loved Friday’s Doonesbury. I confess that while I enjoy reading old collections from the 60′s and 70′s I don’t really enjoy reading the strip since the early 90′s. However this was a classic. For those too lazy to click:

    Interviewer: This is so disappointing Governor! You’re a Mormon – a person of devout conviction! How could all your core beliefs suddenly change at age 60?

    Romney: They haven’t changed, Mark, they’ve evolved!

    Interviewer: Evolved? Do Mormons even believe in evolution?

    Romney: Well, yes. Although I became a Creationist last week.

    Kind of revealing both about Romney and our perceptions…

  25. Clark on April 9, 2007 at 11:26 pm

    To add, I was just hugely happy someone knew Mormons weren’t Creationists.

  26. jessawhy on April 9, 2007 at 11:59 pm

    I was impressed to learn that Romney raised more money in the 1st quarter than any other Rep candidate. The article implied that much of the money came from LDS sources. Any way to know? Any thoughts on that?

  27. Jeremiah J. on April 10, 2007 at 12:00 am

    I agree, the Hewitt interview is indeed bizarre. Hewitt just plows ahead trying to pin Woodward into some uncomfortable spot, even when the former doesn’t really know what he’s talking about for most of the interview. Hewitt supposedly knows many Mormons and yet claims in all seriousness that there is nothing secretive about the temple ceremony. (And claiming the opposite is equivalent to trotting out the Protocols of the Elders of Zion!) He apparently wants to make it politically incorrect to say anything even slightly negative about Mormons (the “soul of a corporation” is a slur for Hewitt? “Bigoted”? Really, give me a break.) He’s throwing things at the wall hoping they stick (The authority of the Mormon prophet is no different than papal infallibility! Oh, it is different? Okay, on to my next point…) Hewitt’s offer is very tempting, since it offers to us a handy shield against criticism, even against any attempts at description at all–pre-emptive victimhood. It’s a temptation I think we should resist, however.

    Woodward’s piece really is a bit naive, thought, because while he knows something about the church and its members, he hasn’t really thought about why not only Mormons but many people of other religions speak a different language with outsiders than they do with insiders, especially in politics. I don’t think that Romney should see himself in the role of providing general enlightenment about the church and its doctrine to American voters, because there are many elements of the Gospel which are not relevant, useful, or even intelligible in the context of political discussion. So I think Romney has been wise to ignore these calls to make some grand clarifying statement on Mormonism.

  28. Jeremiah J. on April 10, 2007 at 12:18 am

    “At this stage he doesn’t have a hope – especially as Thompson enters in.”

    Money isn’t everything, but Romney has over $20 million, along with a lot of early connections and an established operation–the train is big, and it’s moving. Romney’s uncomfortable changes of opinion may wear on people in the coming 10 months, but then again he could begin to appear more authentic as time goes on and he sticks with it. It’s not as if we have Ted Kennedy or Arlen Specter trying be a conservative; we have fresh, boy scout Mormon guy trying to be a conservative. Besides, there is no juggernaut in that field, so there is a lot of room for error. FWIW I think Romney will be a legit contender a year from now, and I think he’s the favorite at this point.

    “I was just hugely happy someone knew Mormons weren’t Creationists”

    Indeed. Many Mormons have not yet received the news…

  29. Locke on April 10, 2007 at 1:12 am

    Romney indeed has a chance in the Republican nomination. Guilanni and McCain are losing ground quickly within their own party and trends will only continue as Romney will become the only candidate left to choose from ( as a true Republican/Conservative ) This by no means guarantees him victory, plainly him being a Mormon is political Kryponite ( Sen. Reid does not count ). After the Republican nomination is an entirely different story. Hugh Hewitt’s book and other pleas from the right have not convinced the body of evangelical Christians that it is OK to vote for a mormon. The hatred for the church is only to be understood by those who have served in the south or have had close associations with other faiths ( My disclaimer Christians are good people not all christians hate mormons.blah blah blah ). The hatred for mormons can only be countered by the equally strong hatred for the democrats that these evangelical christians share. Which hatred will win out? I am not sure. The Mormon factor will be huge and despite ones political views the whole church will be affected by Mitt Romney so let’s hope he is very careful on how he runs his campaign..which has been top notch so far.

  30. Sarah on April 10, 2007 at 5:44 am

    I don’t know what kind of challenges Romney might or might not have, rhetorically speaking, but as for me, I routinely say “Sunday school” on non-LDS blogs and bulletin boards, rather than “Primary” or “CTR-8,” when referring to my calling. It’s tiresome enough to have to explain “Relief Society” every time I use it (mostly because “my church’s women’s auxiliary organization” is so long and doesn’t actually say very much.)

    But I’m pretty sure that most of the time, when a ‘mainstream’ Christian and I are talking about Jesus Christ, neither of us is touching on the trinity issue, which is the main difference between us — it’s either his “life and ministry” stuff (which we both agree on) or the “he died for our sins” bit, which we definitely agree on. By “family” we both mean “my parents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, and so on, but mostly whichever subset of that group I live with now.” We’re usually both American (or at least ‘anglosphere’ British/Australian/South African/Canadian/etc. types) with a shared culture, and that’s where most Mormons get most of their definitions, just like everyone else. Our religion, moreover, comes from that same culture: when we mean to say something substantially new or different, we tend to make up a new word (or re-use an old one that isn’t getting much use anymore.)

    Admittedly I don’t tend to parenthesize a lot — “I’m going to be having dinner with my family this week (my eternal family, I mean, not those people who won’t get baptized and with whom I will NEVER spend any time with in heaven, oh wait, you might get the wrong impression if I use a loaded term like ‘heaven,’ so let me talk about kingdoms of glory now…)” — but I’d be rightly considered silly if I did so. My Protestant friends, thankfully, similarly refrain from veering off into diatribes over the roles of women in running the church, or at what age people should get baptized, or whether or not “joining” a church simply results in them giving you a mug with the church’s name on it. Though actually, my friend and I did laugh when she joined a church where that was exactly what it meant (to be fair, it’s because she’d been baptized somewhere else already.)

    Most of the hey, let’s talk about philosophy and religion in a non-threatening, friendly way, in a non-proselytizing context conversations that we can have with other Christians really don’t tread on the theological ground where grouchy people can choose to have heated arguments. Maybe if we worshiped the moon or thought it was immoral to wear clothing, we’d have to be doing rhetorical backflips (or avoid most fundamental aspects of our theology) to have an ordinary conversation with Presbyterians. But really, we’re not that strange, even if we are a peculiar people.

    (note re: #22: We really are that busy. This church is one of the more challenging ones for introverts, in my experience. If I didn’t have a testimony, there’s no way I’d spend this much time sitting around with other people talking about squishy things.)

  31. Aluwid on April 10, 2007 at 8:03 am

    It’s been pointed out by others the interesting results that occur if you substitute the Jewish faith instead of the Mormon faith in his comments:

    “Among the reasons Americans distrust the ‘Jews’ is ‘Jewish’ clannishness.”
    “A good ‘Jew’ is a busy ‘Jew’.”
    “To many Americans, ‘Judaism’ is a church with the soul of a corporation.”
    “Any journalist who has covered the church knows that ‘Jews’ speak one way among themselves, another among outsiders.”
    “‘Jews’ like to hire other ‘Jews’, and those who lose their jobs can count on the church networks to find them openings elsewhere.”

    I don’t find the piece to be very negative, mainly just annoying. People say things about Mormons that they would never dream of saying about other faiths and it gets old after awhile.

    Still, it does have this nugget that I appreciate:

    “It isn’t just evangelical Christians in the Republican base who find Mr. Romney’s religion a stumbling block. Among those who identify themselves as liberal, almost half say they would not support a Mormon for president.”

    If anything proves that Mormons are on the right path then this surely does! :-)

  32. Ivan Wolfe on April 10, 2007 at 10:09 am

    Jerimiah J. -

    I agree with your reading of the interview. Hugh is generally a Republican first and a conservative second, and he’s basically thrown himself into the Romney camp despite his “I haven’t made up my mind yet” rhetoric. But Hugh was trying to push Woodward into a spot where he had to admit he was a bigot, and Woodward wasn’t going for it. But Woodward didn’t do himself any favors either, as he came across as rather ignorant and superficial.

    (to be more fair to both, Hewitt is very concerned about religous bigotry in general and I think he sees an attack on any religion as the start of a slippery slope towards attacking all religions, and Woodward was somewhat ambushed by leading questions).

    One of the more entertaining interviews I’ve read in awhile.

  33. Eugene V. Debs on April 10, 2007 at 12:14 pm

    In defense of Mr. Woodward, it should be noted that he is absolutely correct about the rhetorical difficulties Romeny faces at Regents U. Bad advice sincerely given should get some credit. Unfortunately for Romney, I’m not sure that any advice–well informed or not–will do him any good because of the profound, visceral antipathy that fundamentalist christians have for Mormons. This is not just about theological differences, but is also about a deeply felt, subrational dislike. In very important ways, this particular rhetorical situation is best compared to a) Rush Limbaugh addressing the newly-reformed Students for a Democratic Society or b) Michael Moore addressing the Young Americans for Freedom.

  34. Ivan Wolfe on April 10, 2007 at 12:42 pm

    Eugene V. Debs -

    the question is, then, why have the most vehement attacks on Romney come from the secular left?

    (Woodward is a Catholic and wasn’t attacking, so I’m not including him in that statement – otherwise someone will assume I was). There have been grumblings on the religous right, but I think Clark is right – the attacks on Romeny from the right have to do with flip-flops (either real or not) over policy issues, whereas it seems the secular left has attacked Romney merely for being Mormon.

  35. Bill on April 10, 2007 at 1:55 pm

    Ivan, is James Dobson a secular leftist? While there are many on the religious right who have suggested either that Romney’s Mormonism disqualifies him, or that his insufficient bona fides on social issues (despite recent attempts to reassure) should disqualify him, I would be interested to know who on the secular left attacks Romney “merely for being Mormon”. Or maybe it just “seems” this way. Most of the attacks I’m aware of are along different lines altogether, that have little to do with Mormonism. For instance, this article suggests that Romney will be a tool of big business, and that his important financial support is coming less from Mormons than from the ultra-wealthy, who see him as their best hope to continue to enshrine their privileges.

  36. Ivan Wolfe on April 10, 2007 at 2:15 pm

    Bill -

    James Dobson’s comments were so mild that they barely register: I don’t believe that conservative Christians in large numbers will vote for a Mormon but that remains to be seen, I guess

    I’ve heard the same from Mormons. Hardly an out and out condemnation,

    On the other hand, we Damon Linker of the New Republic saying that with Romney in office, the Prophet will dictate policy, and Weisberg on Slate saying that because Mormoism is such a “transparent and recent fraud” belief in it should automatically disqualify Romney.

    Of course, many on the secular left don’t care or have no problem, but the religous right as a group has been very mild and restrained compared to the out and out attacks coming from those on the secular left.

  37. Seth R. on April 10, 2007 at 2:50 pm

    Ivan,

    I think that this may be something Mormons are unaware of – most of their critics in America are on the Left, and not the Right.

  38. jjohnsen on April 10, 2007 at 4:12 pm

    I was impressed to learn that Romney raised more money in the 1st quarter than any other Rep candidate. The article implied that much of the money came from LDS sources. Any way to know? Any thoughts on that?
    On KCRW’s political show (Left, Right and Center) the guy that writes for the Washington Post said much of Romney’s donations are new money. Meaning a large portion of the money he has raised is coming from people that don’t normally donate to political candidates. The same was said of Barack Obama in an article I read. Most of his money is from the usually paces, but a large part is ‘new money’. I assume Romney’s new money is probably from members of the church, because the other major group of friends he could raise money from is his business ties, and business donations are hardly ‘new money’.

    I change how I speak about the church to outsiders, not to be perceived as less odd, but because I don’t want to try to explain that I teach the Valiant A’s (or whatever I my calling happens to be at the time). “I teach Sunday school to eight-year-olds”, or “I get to play games with toddlers while their parents are in class” is much simpler.

    Kind of off topic (but related to Romney), has anyone started to see really in-depth stuff recently about blood oaths and temple stuff on blogs relating to Romney? Not just the left wing stuff Ivan is talking about, this is on the left and the right side of the blogosphere. Unfortunately I didn’t keep any of the links after I read them, this was all random surfing from blog to blog, getting lost in sideblog links until I didn’t realize how I’d got there. Anyway these places were talking about Romney then quoting word-for-word from the temple ceremony, taking it out of context, then applying it to how Romney would act. Really strange stuff, it only popped out at me because I saw it in more than one place. I wonder if stuff like that is going to continue to grow until we’re seeing full quotes from the temple ceremony on the front page of the New York Times or Washington Post to show how ‘weird’ we are.

  39. Timotheus on April 10, 2007 at 4:33 pm

    There has been some controversy about the Regents University Commencement speech brewing for some time amongst members of that community: http://presidentmittromney.blogspot.com/2007/03/regent-university-commencement.html

  40. Adam Greenwood on April 10, 2007 at 5:09 pm

    I assume Romney’s new money is probably from members of the church, because the other major group of friends he could raise money from is his business ties, and business donations are hardly ‘new money’.
    Many, many businessmen rarely, if ever, donate to political campaigns.

    It is theologically possible–even easy–for Mormons to be creationists. You have to jettison science, but theologically its fairly simple.

    When I say “family,” I mean grain alcohol.

  41. Jeremiah J. on April 10, 2007 at 6:09 pm

    Ivan W.: “Of course, many on the secular left don’t care or have no problem, but the religous right as a group has been very mild and restrained compared to the out and out attacks coming from those on the secular left.”

    I do think that this is true, but I suspect it’s mainly because while conservative opinion leaders see Mormons are a constituency to be well-tended, liberal opinion leaders see a block of voters who have mostly rejected their values. The liberals are more free to let their frustrations and antipathies fly and gin up opposition to a likely GOP nominee in the process. Ordinary voters (liberal and conservative), on the other hand, probably base their opposition on much less political considerations. It also seems to underline the fact that Christian conservatism is fundamentally a political movement which is not going to get hung up on theological details or cultural strangeness. They’re about policy outcomes.

  42. wgg on April 11, 2007 at 1:26 am

    The following may be helpful on the issue of Mitt Romney’s source of funding:
    From Hugh Hewitt’s blog from yesterday:
    U.S. News sends this valentine to Mitt Romney:
    What his adversaries don’t seem to realize is that Romney has, in his typically methodical way, constructed a fundraising network like no other. It is based on seven pillars: fellow Mormons, a very cohesive and affluent constituency; fellow Harvard graduates who want to see him succeed; Michigan contributors who fondly recall his father (the state’s former governor); admirers from the business world, where Romney made a fortune; associates from his successful stint as president and CEO of the Salt Lake City Olympic organizing committee; backers from Massachusetts; and traditional GOP donors he impressed as chairman of the Republican Governors’ Association.
    The report missed a couple of pillars, but you can add the folks suddenly aware that they aren’t on the fast train, and who are rushing to MittRomney.com to get their ticket date-stamped.
    http://hughhewitt.townhall.com/

    Kevin Mooney with CNSNews.com wrote the following on April 06, 2007 concerning the Romney fundraising prowess:

    There are just over five million Mormons in the U.S., Massie Ritsch, communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics told Cybercast News Service. It would take about 9,100 Mormons contributing the maximum allowed amount of $2,300 each to raise $20 million of the $23 million Romney acquired.

    “I don’t think this is what’s happening,” Ritsch speculated. “Like other groups in America only a small fraction of Mormons are probably contributing. I think it’s more likely the money is coming from private equity groups and the investment community.”

    And the Kevin Mooney article also clarifies where most of the Romney attacks have been originating:

    Madden, the [Romney] campaign’s national press secretary, suspects Democrats are becoming unnerved about Romney’s potential appeal in a general election. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) has been putting out 30 press releases a month attacking Romney’s record in Massachusetts, Madden told Cybercast News Service

    http://www.cnsnews.com/ViewPolitics.asp?Page=/Politics/archive/200704/POL20070406b.html

    My own opinion is that the liberal media such as the New York Times is in cahoots with the DNC and are attempting to raise issues like Mitt’s religion and his so-called “flip-flopping” in hopes of destroying him in his efforts to obtain the Republican nomination. So one thing that Woodward’ editorial does is further the view that Mormonism is a weird religion. As members we realize that there are differences. But in my opinion we have a great deal in common with the values and belief in God that most of the religious world shares, Christian or otherwise. For example, in a recent mission in Thailand we found that we share many values with our many Buddhist friends.

    As Hugh Hewitt points out very clearly that it is the secular community who hates religion and do not believe in God who are hoping to destroy Romney because of his Mormonism. Then it will be very easy to move to an attack on anyone who believes in a Bible which teaches visions, polygamy, healings, etc. So it is the likes of the New York Times that would have us believe that Conservative Christians will not vote for Romney.

    By the way I follow Hugh Hewitt’s blog and highly recommend his book, A Mormon in the Whitehouse. The last time I heard it was no. 25 on the New York Times Best Seller List. In my opinion he does a very able job of dealing with the Mormon issue, as well as introducing Mitt and his family to the public.

  43. Mark Butler on April 11, 2007 at 2:20 am

    Clark,

    I think most Mormons are probably a lot closer to Creationism than its polar opposite (Accidentalism). We do not have Creation rooms in temples for nothing, right?

    You can fairly say that we are typically not young earth creationists and certainly not ex nihilo creationists, but to me it seems an abuse of the language to claim that a religion that holds that God created / organized the earth and the form of all living things therein, first spiritually and then temporally is not properly characterized by the term, in its general sense.