10/16/2007

T.E.R.R.O.R. (The Enmity Regarding Romney and Obama's Religion)

Although I am a news and political junkie, I am not an avid reader of traditional news magazines, such as Time or Newsweek. I do, however, subscribe to National Journal and am quite pleased. One of my favorite features of National Journal is their "Political Insiders Poll" which checks the pulse of Washington's top power players, such as consultants, campaign staffers, party officials, and even politicians themselves. This poll provides an excellent opportunity to contrast the mentality of the "Washington in-crowd" with the mentality of regular people.

This week's poll asked if Mitt Romney needed to address the issue of his religious faith the way that JFK did back in 1960. Here are the findings:

Among Republicans (83 respondents)
59% said do it soon
16% said do it only if he becomes the Republican nominee
23% said it's not necessary

Among Democrats (79 respondents)
44% said do it soon
42% said do it only if he becomes the Republican nominee
11% said it's not necessary

You have to subscribe to National Journal to read the comments associated with some of these responses, some of which were quite entertaining ("Faith voters will be so desperate to elect a Republican they can stomach [that] they will stick with him no matter what."). However, even without that added bit of color, these data reveal an unpleasant reality about our current state of politics and our nation's collective tolerance.

What a sad commentary.

Now consider this piece by the Politico's Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin. This piece addresses a widespread e-mail whisper campaign spreading disinformation about Barack Obama's religion. One of the e-mails is entitled "Who is Barack Obama?" and goes on to say that "Barack Hussein Obama has joined the United Church of Christ in an attempt to downplay his Muslim background." The e-mail goes on to make further insinuations playing on our fear of Muslims by suggesting that Obama would not be loyal to the United States.

How utterly contemptible.

The United States has made great striedes in the name of equality over the past few decades. However, this progress has been a bit more rapid for some groups than it has been for others, as is evidenced by this USA Today/Gallup poll measuring voters' comfort with electing "certain types" of candidates.

Globalization, immigration, the abolition of Jim Crow laws, and the civil rights and women's suffrage movements have made sexism and racism far less acceptable to the general public compared to 30 years ago. However, in this age of terrorism, religious bigotry is still considerably more acceptable among a lot more people.

September 11, the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the gruesome beheading videos have undeniably caused Muslims to be viewed with great suspicion. Radical Islamists, such as the Taliban and the Al Qaeda leadership, have come to be seen as the face of the Islamic faith. Their advocacy of sharia law, which is based on a strict interpretation of the Koran, seems to be the polar opposite of the freedoms we enjoy in the West. In addition to this, their record of violence and human rights abuses lead many others to believe that "most" Muslims are dangerous.

Opportunistic politicians are preying on this fear with Barack Obama. I believe Obama should be proud of his name because "Barack Obama" is who he is, however unusual his name may sound. His middle name happens to be "Hussein," which obviously lends more ammunition to his political enemies. I've heard many people, particularly (though not exclusively) conservative and Republican talk show hosts (i.e., Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, both of whom have audiences of tens of millions) commonly refer to Barack Obama as "Barack Hussein Obama" even though including his middle name is obviously unnecessary. However, while including Obama's middle name may be unnecessary regarding identifying who Obama is, it is quite effective at conveying what Obama may be. And it is contemptible.

Obama is obviously not a Muslim. And even if he were, it shouldn't matter at all. Who cares?

Needless to say, if so many Americans are willing to turn on one of their own as he aspires for holding the highest office in the land, it is easy to understand why there is such a gulf between the United States and the Islamic world. Simply put, "we" are scared of "them." And because we are scared of them, we cannot begin to understand them or lend credence to their views. This sets up a self-fulfilling prophecy in which they confirm their irrationality to us on a daily basis simply because we do not attempt to meet them halfway and only judge them on our terms. That's why the Iranian president's recent trip to New York was such a public relations disaster for the United States. (You can read more of my take on that here.)

So in short, we will continue to view Muslims and the Muslim world hostily as long as we remain willfully ignorant of who they really are. And analyzing them through our own Western Judeo-Christian lens serves only to further disappoint us while confirming our own convenient suspicions of them. Why should we expect Muslims abroad to be friendly towards us if we are trying so hard to turn them into enemies we should fear, as some are doing with our own Barack "LOOK AT ME!/MY NAME IS HUSSEIN!/I AM AN ISLAMIC TERRORIST!" Obama?

Such nonsense is not restricted to bigotry of the overt variety. It comes in more subtle forms as well, as Mitt Romney is finding out. Much has been written about the fact that Romney is a Mormon. Fairly or not, a lot of people view Mormonism with suspicion because of its previous positions on polygamy, prophets, and the inability of Blacks to serve as priests. Evangelical Christians in particular view Mormonism as a cult. This is a unique problem for Romney because these evangelical Christians make up a sizeable portion of the Republican base. It will be quite difficult for any Republican to win their party's nomination without the support of this constituency.

I can only imagine how many times Romney has been told on the campaign trail that he is going to hell or that he is not a "true Christian." The hypocrisy of these supposed "Christians" who would hold Romney's religious views against him is astounding. "Do unto others" and "Judge not, lest ye be judged" apparently don't mean anything.

There has been a long-running joke about the Republican frontrunners: The only candidate who hasn't had a bunch of wives is the Mormon. I don't find that particularly funny, but one would think that this alone would endear him to the "Christian family values" wing of the Republican Party. Yet the "Mormon cult" thing remains as a huge stumbling block.

So Romney is stuck.

However, if Romney were to play down his Mormonism or avoid talking about it at length, he would be blasted for trying to hide from who he really is (a cultist!). And of course, if he were to address the issue directly, it would likely be a brutal experience for him that would dominate a few news cycles. However, I believe this to be the best course of action for him to take. If he puts himself and his Mormonism out there, takes his lumps, and successfully allays the concerns of his skeptics, I believe he would become an even more formidable candidate than he is now. "Even though" he's a Mormon, he would be seen as "more normal" than many voters thought. And since neither Fred Thompson nor Rudy Giuliani is talking much about their faith, this could potentially allow Romney to become the preferred choice among evangelical Christians. Mike Huckabee's momentum would likely stall if evangelicals' support for Romney became firm.

So I would look for Romney to voluntarily become more open about his faith in the future. And look for Obama to make a few more visits to Christian churches as well. Obviously, there's nothing wrong with talking about your faith or visiting churches and worshipping together. But the fact that some politicians have to do this primarily to quiet disinformation campaigns from bigots is clearly disappointing.

5 comment(s):

oso diablo said...

I agree that Romney should talk about his faith, but i also believe he would be smart to couch it in a universally accepted way. By that, i mean he should downplay (ie, not address) anything peculiarly Mormon. Example:

Q. Governor Romney, how will your Mormon faith influence you as president?
A. My faith in God is very important to me. It shapes my views about what is most important in life. Things like respecting and protecting God's creation, be it Planet Earth or those most helpless among us, unborn children. Things like protecting families, ensuring that we can raise our children in a strong and safe America, one with a vibrant economy, one with freedom.

P.S. I agree with you about the Obama middle name thing. It's ridiculous. But take heart. Anyone even moderately reasonable can see right through it.

Bot said...

The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) is often accused by Evangelical pastors of not believing in Christ and, therefore, not being a Christian religion This article helps to clarify such misconceptions by examining early Christianity's comprehension of baptism, the Godhead, the deity of Jesus Christ and His Atonement.

· Baptism: .

Early Christian churches, practiced baptism of youth (not infants) by immersion by the father of the family. The local congregation had a lay ministry. An early Christian Church has been re-constructed at the Israel Museum, and the above can be verified. http://www.imj.org.il/eng/exhibitions/2000/christianity/ancientchurch/structure/index.html
The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) continues baptism and a lay ministry as taught by Jesus’ Apostles. Early Christians were persecuted for keeping their practices sacred, and prohibiting non-Christians from witnessing them.

· The Trinity: .

A literal reading of the New Testament points to God and Jesus Christ , His Son , being separate , divine beings , united in purpose. . To whom was Jesus praying in Gethsemane, and Who was speaking to Him and his apostles on the Mount of Transfiguration?

The Nicene Creed”s definition of the Trinity was influenced by scribes translating the Greek manuscripts into Latin. The scribes embellished on a passage explaining the Trinity , which is the Catholic and Protestant belief that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The oldest versions of the epistle of 1 John, read: "There are three that bear witness: the Spirit, the water and the blood and these three are one."

Scribes later added "the Father, the Word and the Spirit," and it remained in the epistle when it was translated into English for the King James Version, according to Dr. Bart Ehrman, Chairman of the Religion Department at UNC- Chapel Hill. He no longer believes in the Nicene Trinity. .

Scholars agree that Early Christians believed in an embodied God; it was neo-Platonist influences that later turned Him into a disembodied Spirit. Divinization, narrowing the space between God and humans, was also part of Early Christian belief. St. Athanasius of Alexandria (Eastern Orthodox) wrote, regarding theosis, "The Son of God became man, that we might become God. " . The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) views the Trinity as three separate divine beings , in accord with the earliest Greek New Testament manuscripts.

· The Deity of Jesus Christ

Mormons hold firmly to the deity of Christ. For members of the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS), Jesus is not only the Son of God but also God the Son. Evangelical pollster George Barna found in 2001 that while only 33 percent of American Catholics, Lutherans, and Methodists (28 percent of Episcopalians) agreed that Jesus was “without sin”, 70 percent of Mormons believe Jesus was sinless. http://www.adherents.com/misc/BarnaPoll.html

· The Cross and Christ’s Atonement: .

The Cross became popular as a Christian symbol in the Fifth Century A.D. . Members of the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) believe the proper Christian symbol is Christ’s resurrection , not his crucifixion on the Cross. Many Mormon chapels feature paintings of the resurrected Christ or His Second Coming. Furthermore, members of the church believe the major part of Christ’s atonement occurred in the Garden of Gethsemane as Christ took upon him the sins of all mankind.

· Definition of “Christian”: .

But Mormons don’t term Catholics and Protestants “non-Christian”. They believe Christ’s atonement applies to all mankind. The dictionary definition of a Christian is “of, pertaining to, believing in, or belonging to a religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ”: All of the above denominations are followers of Christ, and consider him divine, and the Messiah foretold in the Old Testament. They all worship the one and only true God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and address Him in prayer as prescribed in The Lord’s Prayer.

It’s important to understand the difference between Reformation and Restoration when we consider who might be authentic Christians. . Early Christians had certain rituals which defined a Christian http://sacred-texts.com/chr/ecf/207/2070037.htm , which members of the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) continue today. . If members of the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) embrace early Christian theology, they are likely more “Christian” than their detractors.

· The Need for a Restoration of the Christian Church:

The founder of the Baptist Church in America, Roger Williams, just prior to leaving the church he established, said this:

"There is no regularly constituted church of Christ on earth, nor any person qualified to administer any church ordinances; nor can there be until new apostles are sent by the Great Head of the Church for whose coming I am seeking.” (Picturesque America, p. 502.)

Martin Luther had similar thoughts: "Nor can a Christian believer be forced beyond sacred Scriptures,...unless some new and proved revelation should be added; for we are forbidden by divine law to believe except what is proved either through the divine Scriptures or through Manifest revelation."

He also wrote: "I have sought nothing beyond reforming the Church in conformity with the Holy Scriptures. The spiritual powers have been not only corrupted by sin, but absolutely destroyed; so that there is now nothing in them but a depraved reason and a will that is the enemy and opponent of God. I simply say that Christianity has ceased to exist among
those who should have preserved it."

The Lutheran, Baptist and Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) churches recognize an apostasy from early Christianity. The Lutheran and Baptist churches have attempted reform, but Mormonism (and Roger Williams, and perhaps Martin Luther) require inspired restoration, so as to re-establish an unbroken line of authority and apostolic succession.

* * *
· Christ-Like Lives:

The 2005 National Study of Youth and Religion published by UNC-Chapel Hill found that Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) youth (ages 13 to 17) were more likely to exhibit these Christian characteristics than Evangelicals (the next most observant group):


1. Attend Religious Services weekly
2. Importance of Religious Faith in shaping daily life – extremely important
3. Believes in life after death
4. Does not believe in psychics or fortune-tellers 5. Has taught religious education classes
6. Has fasted or denied something as spiritual discipline
7. Sabbath Observance
8. Shared religious faith with someone not of their faith
9. Family talks about God, scriptures, prayer daily
10. Supportiveness of church for parent in trying to raise teen (very supportive)
11. Church congregation has done an excellent job in helping teens better understand their own sexuality and sexual morality
LDS Evangelical
1. 71% 55%
2. 52 28
3. 76 62
4. 100 95
5. 42 28
6. 68 22

7. 67 40
8. 72 56
9. 50 19

10. 65 26

11. 84 35

Anthony Palmer said...

Oso,

Thanks for your comment. I do understand what you're saying about Romney addressing his religious beliefs in more general terms and staying away from the finer details of his Mormonism. But the reason why I don't think that will work is because that's arguably the strategy he's been pursuing so far. Think about Romney's previous statements on gay marriage, stem cell research, etc. I just don't think it's enough for him to continue to speak simply as a "Christian" because a lot of evangelicals have some very real questions that are unique to Mormonism.

Have you seen the recent polling out of Iowa? Mike Huckabee was at 18% in one of the polls I saw today. 18%! Huckabee is one of the main reasons why Romney needs to figure out this whole religious think pronto because his chief rival for the evangelical standard-bearer is only 10 points behind and fairly or unfairly, he doesn't have the Mormon baggage.

Thanks for reading The 7-10.

-----

Bot,

Wow! What a wealth of information! But where did you get that information? If you could kindly tell me the source, I'll do a bit of researching and use the information I find to make more accurate assessments of Romney's faith.

Thanks for your comment.

Mike Toreno said...

Bot, you are attempting to redefine Christianity so that Mormonism fits into it, but it doesn't, and the fact that you blather on endlessly trying to prove that Mormons "exhibit Christian characteristics" as interpreted by you tends to demonstrate that Mormonism isn't a Christian religion.

Christians adhere to the Nicene Creed, which holds that Jesus Christ is "begotten not made, of one being with the Father" Mormonism doesn't teach that Christ is "of one being with the Father".

q.e.d.

A great deal of your argument depends on the idea that orthodox Christian teaching is wrong. Who asked you?

Oh, and your list of "Christian characteristics" exhibited by Mormon youth is risible. Attend worship services weekly? So do Muslims. Fast? So do Muslims. So obviously those aren't Christian characteristics at all.

No, the intolerance doesn't lie in denying that Romney is a Christian, because he isn't a Christian. the intolerance lies in claiming that it makes a difference whether somebody is Christian or not.

And, of course, the problem with Mormonism isn't that it's not Christian, the problem with Mormonism is that it's an authoritarian cult.

Anonymous said...

Likewise, the problem with all religion is that its silly and made-up.

Copyright 2007-2008 by Anthony Palmer. This material may not be republished or redistributed in any manner without the expressed written permission of the author, nor may this material be cited elsewhere without proper attribution. All rights reserved. The 7-10 is syndicated by Newstex.