Is Religion Out of Bounds in a Presidential Campaign?

Sometimes it seems like the only time I mention some particular blogger that I like is to criticize something that I don’t like. Probably I should link to more sites with positive comments than I do- it might take away the perception that I dislike bloggers that I really actually like. All this is to say that I like Hugh Hewitt, in general.

However, he has quite a strange fixation with ensuring that nobody ever discusses Mitt Romney’s Mormonism.

I believe that attacks on Romney’s faith that are bigoted have to be vigorously denounced, not worried over. I expect conservatives, especially those with an understanding of the left’s long assault on the participation of people of faith in the politics, to understand that snide assaults on Mormon practice are going to be followed by snide asssaults on Catholic and evangelical beliefs and practices because religious bigots generally hate all religions except their own. Even if one can’t be persuaded that they have skin in the game, religious bigotry is itself an evil thing that deserves denunciation whenever it appears, just as all sorts of bigotry ought to be denounced. If Barack Obama gets slammed over his race or Hillary over her gender, you can be assured that the left won’t spend a lot of time worrying over whether those attacks are gaining traction, they’ll be blasting away –rightly– at the nutballs trading in the poisons that we have driven out of politics and should be working to keep far away from politics. Religious intolerance is one of those poisons. Professor Bainbridge is cavalier about its reappearance. I am not.

Is a man’s religion really completely out of bounds for discussion? Hugh Hewitt is a conservative evangelical. His political views are informed by his religious perspectives; reading through his blog makes that clear. And he’s a very strong supporter of Mitt Romney. Nothing wrong with any of these things, of course. I am also a conservative Christian whose political views are informed by my religion, though I am not all that wild about Romney.

But if Hewitt’s political views are affected by his religion, then surely he would expect that Romney’s would be as well? It’s my belief that everybody’s political views are informed by their religious and philosophical views. One’s religion (true religion; not necessarily what one professes) will always lie at the heart of who they are, and will inform everything else they do. Out of the heart come the issues of life, according to Proverbs 4:23. Now if the attacks against Romney are simply for being religious at all, then that’s a problem. But if they are discussions about the particular content of his religion and his views of those tenets and whether and how they will affect his job as president, how is that out of bounds?

If a Wahhabist Muslim wanted to run for president, would his religion be relevant? If the Mormon church still excluded blacks from their leadership, would that be relevant? JFK’s Catholicism was successfully taken off the table as an issue back in the 60’s, but only because he was not a particularly committed Catholic. And if the Catholic Church still demanded loyalty to the pope on behalf of political leaders, and might excommunicate them if they didn’t do the pope’s bidding, would that be relevant to a political campaign? Perhaps there’s some part of Hewitt’s argument that I missed sometime way back, but his message seems to be that any discussion of the man’s religion is simply bigotry, and that is not a very helpful argument.

In fact, it seems to me to play right into the worst prejudices of the left about religion and politics. They demand that religion be kept out of it, that anyone whose religion would inform their views is unsuitable for political office. If that is in fact true, and if it were possible to do so, then religion really would be something that could be set aside as meaningless trivia unrelated to the man’s likely performance as president, like the color of Obama’s skin. But it is not true, and not possible to do so. If Hewitt were successful in his campaign to take religion off the table as a legitimate matter of discussion, the effect of that, it would seem to me, would be to successfully sideline any candidate who did take his religion seriously.

If Romney in fact takes his Mormonism seriously, then it is completely relevant to look at that religion and see which elements of it might be a problem for him as president. And it’s not bigotry at all to wonder whether there are such elements in a religion, especially in the case of a religion of which many people are unfamiliar. I’m not saying I know that Mormonism definitely contains any such elements; I’m not saying I couldn’t support Mitt Romney because he is a Mormon. I’m saying that it’s not bigotry to ask the question.

3 thoughts on “Is Religion Out of Bounds in a Presidential Campaign?

  1. But Matt it is precisely because it is for the most partRomney’s religion itself, and not any political position he has, that Hewitt is critical.

    To date, all the comments about Romney’s religion have been about that religion itself, without extended discussion of any political implications of his religion. One gets the notion that the intent of the focus on his religion (and the bulk of this attention comes from the media) is to prejudice evangelical Christians against him.

    When you couple that with the Left’s new perestroika and glasnost about “God talk” I think the end-game is clear. Evangelicals, because they believe Mormonism a heresy, will desert a Republican Party that nominates Romney and vote Democrat, or stay at home. Either way, the Dems win.

    When non-media types talk about Romney’s religion (like when they call in to Hewitt’s show) they focus on Romney’s religion. When I listened to s segment devoted exlusively to Romney’s Mormonism the focus of evangelical Christian callers was the fact that Romney’s religion is heretical and that this fact disqualified him from office. There was very little focus on any political views which might be rooted in his religion. I just happen to agree with Hewitt: that is just what makes it bigotry.

    And I am not a Romney supporter.

  2. James,
    Thanks for reading, and I appreciate your comment. I agree, there’s a lot of anti-religious bigotry on the left and in the media. And I agree that is where a lot of the anti-Romney attacks will come from. But does that mean that any discussion of how Mormonism might affect Romney’s performance as president is bigotry? Because that’s what I hear Hewitt saying. Perhaps I am misreading him.

  3. I guess I fail to see how dismissing Romney because he is a Mormon is bigotry. One’s choice of religion speaks volumes about one’s intellectual abilities, one’s moral standard, and one’s character. It is not as if we are speaking of skin color. We are considering religion, which defines one’s way of life and thinking, at least ostensibly. I, for one, would never vote for a Mormon. If that translates into a Democratic victory, so be it. The Republicans should choose their candidates more wisely. A ticket with Romney at the top is a loser unless the Democratic candidate is simply intolerable to most Americans. The GOP candidate must take all of the traditionally red states and swing at least a few “moderate” states, such as Ohio and Florida.

    That being said, my main problem with Romney is not his religion. My problem with him is that he is boring–a talking head in a suit. He has no vision and offers no leadership or definitive direction. He is the personification of Republican status quo.


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