Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks in Bow, N.H. (Charles Dharapak / Associated…)
Mitt Romney continues to keep his Mormon faith off the presidential campaign stage, despite the quiet urgings of ideological allies to talk about his spiritual core. If he did, he might explode the soft bigotry of critics, particularly liberals who could use a little refresher course in their own values.
The Republican presidential candidate seems too calculating and cautious to talk about one of the most admirable pieces of his biography. His critics, meanwhile, seem blissfully unaware of how intolerant they sound when they poke fun at, say, the “Mormon underwear” that is a confirmation of faith. These are the same people who would be righteously offended by anyone who mocked someone wearing a yarmulke or prayer shawl.
There may be some method in Romney’s muteness, as suggested a couple of weeks ago by a Pew poll that showed 55% of Americans comfortable with his faith, or unconcerned about it.
That’s on top of 32% who didn’t even know Romney is a Mormon. So nearly nine in 10 don’t have a problem with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or at least Romney’s membership in it. And it’s not like most people are clamoring for a lot more information. The poll by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life also found that only 16% of Americans wanted to know more about Romney’s religious beliefs.
But by not talking about his religion out of concern for latent prejudice, it is much more than religion that Romney is carving out of his campaign. He’s effectively concealing his own heart, the best vehicle he has for revealing himself as a man of compassion. Most accounts of his time as a leader of the church have been filled with anecdotes about genuine humanity… if some unfortunate intransigence in one instance when one church member was seeking an abortion for health reasons.
“Romney's pressing need to inject some authenticity -- or at least some personality -- into his campaign is the primary reason he should talk more about his faith,” Michael Gerson wrote in a Washington Post op-ed piece this week.
“Take away Romney's religion and you are left with Harvard, Bain and various corporate boardrooms,” added Gerson, former speechwriter for President George W. Bush. “Mormonism has been one of the main stages for his leadership, as well as the main setting where he has displayed humanity.”
The Pew poll also found that the much-anticipated backlash against the Mormon Romney from evangelical voters had been somewhat muted.
A little more humanity and reflection should be on the agenda not just for Romney, but for the critics who could use a little reeducation on the values they tout in other contexts.
During a presidential debate earlier this year, New York Times columnist Charles Blow (frustrated about Romney’s praise of two-parent households) tweeted: “Let me just tell you this Mitt ‘Muddle Mouth’: I’m a single parent and my kids are *amazing*! Stick that in your magic underwear.” Blow later apologized.
A Washington Post editorial last summer that raised some legitimate questions about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — like the longtime ban on blacks from entering the clergy, lifted in 1978 — but included a gratuitous dart.
“There’s plenty about Mormonism that might strike a nonbeliever as strange or objectionable,” the commentary said. “Is it literally true that an angel helped Joseph Smith find a sacred book made of golden plates in rural New York almost 200 years ago?”
Mormon creation tales seem no more ridiculous than many other churches’, except for their more recent vintage. Date the stories in the Book of Mormon to 2,000 B.C. and everybody shrugs.
Americans voted in 2008 for a black man named Barack Obama, something that seemed unthinkable, even in 2008. But Obama embraced his other-ness, even wrote a book about it. Romney holds his essential self at arm’s length, but the longer he does, the longer he starves his candidacy of the soul — the elementary numen — it needs to thrive.