Thursday, December 6, 2007

Romney's primary problem is not being LDS

Grant Gallicho, writing over on dotCommonweal provides links to several different responses to Governor Romney's speech last night. The link I most appreciated was to Kenneth Woodward's NY Times opinion piece as to why Romney's speech differs significantly from the 1960 speech given by JFK in Houston. His article is entitled Mitt Romney Is No Jack Kennedy.

For my own part, I think in the case of Governor Romney much too much is being made about religion, especially in explaining why Governor Huckabee is rising over and even eclipsing Romney, especially in Iowa. The religion explanation smacks of a case of the media trying to influence reality instead of reporting what is happening on the ground, especially in light of the many, many debates in which the candidates have participated. Now, I am not so bold as to suggest that religion plays no role in this electoral trend among Republicans. I just believe that it is not the main reason. A lot of it has to do both with personality (i.e., likability) and perceived authenticity (i.e., integrity). I read in yesterday's Salt Lake Tribune about a recent Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll that suggests as much. Here is a piece from the article:

"a new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg Poll shows that [Romney's] deeper problem is not his adherence to a faith that many conservative evangelicals view with skepticism.
"Instead, Romney has not overcome a record of shifting views on abortion and other social issues. His failure to present a clear picture of his faith and its role in his life appears to be just one part of a broader challenge: proving to GOP voters that he is being straightforward with them.
"Romney's predicament is underscored in the new poll, which found that he ranked last when Republican voters were asked which of the top-tier GOP candidates were 'best at saying what they believe, rather than saying what they think the voters want to hear.
"Just 8 percent said Romney was best at saying what he believes . . ."
Whereas, Huckabee leads Republican top-tier candidates with 20% of respondents agreeing that he is best at saying what he believes. My suspicion, though the article does not indicate it, is that Ron Paul has them all beat, but, alas, he is not a media-certified top-tier candidate

As the article points out, the religious issue only compounds the candidate's perceived short-comings. Add to that another recent poll that indicates that more than half of the people in the United States know little or nothing about the LDS and are somewhat suspicious of an organization they perceive as being somewhat secretive. Another SL Trib article, this one by historian Jan Shipps, a non-Mormon who has studied the LDS over several decades, speaks well to this issue.

So, it appears that last night Romney missed an opportunity to talk about the distinctives of his faith, the ones about which people may have concerns. In turn, he missed an opportunity to begin to close his credibility gap. In order to try to use the issue of his LDS faith to his political advantage, Governor Romney has to discuss LDS distinctives and not be content to stick with the pragmatic "At the end of day, we all pretty much believe the same thing, at least politically." Another opportunity was missed in a recent interview Romney gave to NPR's Robert Siegel, which aired on Monday. Here is the relevant excerpt:

Siegel: "One last point: In the CNN-You Tube debate, there was a moment when one of the people who submitted a question asked all the candidates whether they believed in every word of the Bible, and two of your rivals — Mayor [Rudolph] Giuliani and Gov. [Mike] Huckabee — both made a point of saying, 'Well, in some parts it's allegorical, in some parts it should be interpreted, but yet, I believe in the Bible.'

"And you seemed — if I read you right — to make a point of saying it's the word of God, and even when considering some modification, you backed up, said, 'No, I'll just stick with that. It's the word of God.' [That] left the impression — and I want to ask you — do you hold a literal belief, say, in the Genesis version of creation?"

Romney: "You know, I find it hard to believe that NPR is going to inquire on people's beliefs about various parts of the Bible in evaluating presidential candidates, and actually, I don't know that that's where America has come to — that you want to have us describing our particular beliefs with regards to Genesis and the Book of Revelations, so —"

Siegel: "I raise Genesis only because creationism is a national issue in a variety of ways, and —

Romney: "Well, but then you could ask me a question and say, 'Do you believe that we should teach creationism in our schools, in our science classes and so forth?' and I'm happy to give you an answer to that. But I don't know that going through books of the Bible and asking, 'Well, do you believe this book? And do you believe these words?', that that's terribly productive. Particularly when we face global jihad, when we have 47 million people without health insurance, when we have runaway costs in our entitlements, to be asking presidential candidates about their specific beliefs of books of the Bible is, in my view, something which really isn't part of the process which we should be using to select presidents.

"My point is the Bible is the word of God, and I try and live by it. I don't accept some commandments and reject others. I accept the commandments of the Bible as being applicable and do my best to try and live by them, although frankly, there's a big gap here and there. There are a lot of things I need to improve."

The eighth Article of [LDS] Faith would've served him quite well in that situation: "We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God." By word of God is meant literally true.

For example, not only do the LDS take the creation accounts found in the Book of Genesis literally, they believe that the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri. LDS Apostle, John A. Widtsoe, a man sustained, as all LDS apostles are, as "a prophet, seer, and revelator", writing in 1960 in his work Evidences and Reconciliations, tells us: "Latter-day Saints know, through modern revelation, that the Garden of Eden was on the North American continent and that Adam and Eve began their conquest of the earth in the upper part of what is now the state of Missouri. It seems very probable that the children of our first earthly parents moved down along the fertile, pleasant lands of the Mississippi valley." Among the LDS there is no problem reconciling the two very different creation accounts found in the Book of Genesis because these are synthesized for them in a revelation Joseph Smith, Jr. claimed to have received from God. This purported revelation is Selections from The Book of Moses: An extract from the translation of the Bible as revealed to Joseph Smith the Prophet, June 1830—February 1831, which is, according to Joseph Smith, Jr, the very same revelation given to Moses on the basis of which he wrote the first five books of the Bible. These selections can be found in the Pearl of Great Price, another book, like the Doctrine and Covenants, that the LDS believe to be the word of God, along with the Bible, insofar as it is translated correctly, and The Book of Mormon. Additionally, it is believed by the LDS faithful and clearly taught by LDS leaders that The Book of Mormon is a literal history of these Americas from roughly 400 BCE to 600 CE. The Pearl of Great Price also contains another extract of Joseph Smith's translation of the Bible, part of the Gospel according to Matthew, which is supposedly a more accurate rendering of part of this Gospel. On the subject of distinctive LDS beliefs, back in October, immediately following the semi-annual LDS General Conference, I posted on the distinctive LDS belief in God.

I also have to state that I find it odd, if not downright ironic, that a candidate who gives a speech on the need for religious tolerance is the only candidate to state publicly that he will preclude a Muslim from a being a member of his cabinet just because of her/his Islamic faith!

I want end this post by quoting from the conclusion of my previous post on the LDS:

"Let us not forget . . . that there is a distinction to be made between orthodoxy and orthopraxis. Ideally one (i.e., orthopraxis) flows from the other (i.e., orthodoxy). If forced to choose, however, orthopraxis wins every time. There will be no theology test to get into heaven. Rather, we will be judged on the basis of what we do, or do not do, after which we will all be found wanting. Our salvation will ultimately depend on God's grace given us in Jesus Christ. In St. Mark's Gospel we read this "John said to him, 'Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.' Jesus replied, 'Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us'" (Mark 9,38-40).

While I am frantically pushing hot buttons and bringing up matters political, I want to draw attention to Michael Fragoso's eloquently well-reasoned response to Prof. Stephanie Coontz's NY Times OpEd rant against marriage as a public institution, which can be read over on the First Things' blog Observations & Contentions.


  1. Great thoughts, David. Thanks for the link and the insight.

  2. Brother,

    Christ is in our midst! Feel free to jump into the ongoing dialog over at my blog. Your experience and insight would be helpful for everyone.

    On a non-related topic, do you know Dr. Glenn W. Olsen? I also have another friend there I want you to meet. Drop me an email when you have a free moment.



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