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Romney’s faith: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell


So Mitt Romney's taking questions from a crowd in Howard, Wisc., and this Ron Paul supporter manages to get the mic and raise the issue of racism in Mormonism by pointing to Moses 7:8 ("there was a blackness came upon all the children of Canaan, that they were despised among all people")--a passage from the authoritative Mormon scripture titled The Pearl of Great Price. Romney asks if the guy has a question, the guy reiterates his point, and Romney says, "We’re just not going to have a discussion about religion in my view, but if you have a question, I’ll be happy to answer your question.” Whereupon the guy asks if Romney believes it's "a sin for a white man to marry and procreate with a black?” "No," says Romney. "Next question."

Later, according to the report, Romney returns to the incident of his own accord.

This gentleman wanted to talk about the doctrines of my religion. I’ll talk about the practices of my faith. I had the occasion in my church to be asked to be the pastor, if you will, of a congregation. And I’ve served in that kind of role for about 10 years. And that gave me the occasion to work with people on a very personal basis that were dealing with unemployment, with marital difficulties, with health difficulties of their own and with their kids.

Distinguishing religious doctrines from religious practices in this way has some appeal, but I'm afraid it won't wash. It's one thing to say that you won't get into the details of Christology or the nature of salvation, quite another to treat doctrines that might have a bearing on one's conduct of office as beyond the pale of discussion. Race is a real issue in the history of Mormonism, just as it is in the history of, for example, the Southern Baptist Convention. The Ron Paul supporter's question was no doubt hostile, but so what? 

When Jack Kennedy ran for president, he made it clear that he opposed his church's position on two contentious issues of the day: aid to parochial schools and having an ambassador to the Vatican. He also made it clear that he would not be dictated to by Catholic hierarchs. In all the criticism of JFK's church-state separationism (by Rick Santorum most recently of course), the role of ecclesiastical authority (as opposed to the role of the politician's religious conscience) is never addressed. It's an issue we're entitled to raise.

Tags: mormon, romney


  1. Mark, Romney is NOT running so he can direct the spiritual life of any American. If you are concerned about Mormon doctrine or hustory, go ask the Church.  If you want to know the character of Romney and how his religion has affected how he relates to his fellow citizens, he is more than willing to discuss it.  Do you think it would be appropriate for Santorum to debate birth or the resurrection with an atheist or a Muslim? What does that have to do with the presidency?

    Romney’s answer was short but absolutely true. The Mormons have never called interracial marriage a sin. There are plenty of 80 year old Mormons in interracial marriages of all kinds. It is a natural putgrowth of the increasing diversity of Mormon membership.

    Lots of churches claim their tacist past is behind them, but their congrwgations are not as racially diverse as the mass of Mormons.  The Mormons are an integrated society, whuch does not judge people by race. It is the ideal that MLK Jr sought, but which America has never achieved. The Mormons are closer to it than most institutions that operate in the US.

  2. Let me illustrate with my own parents. My mother is Japanese, my Dad Swedish American. They met and married while he was serving in the US Occupation after WWII. Like several other servicemen, my Dad was called as a missionary to Japan by the Mormon Church.  My Mom served in the leadership of the Relief Society, the Mormon organization for adult women.

    Recall how racist America was toward Japan back then.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt supported the ban on all immigration from Japan enacted in 1923, only ten years before he became President.  Despite the assurance of the FBI and Department of Justice it was unnecessary, FDR ordered all 100,000 Japanese Americans in CA, OR, and WA evacuated into concentration camps without trial or compensation.  And wartime propaganda whipped up racial hatred toward “Japs” that was all too easy as huge casualties occurred in the Pacific.

    The Mormon attitude of not just acceptance of Japanese but eager efforts to recruit them into membership was a deep contrast to American law and official policy at that time.  When my Dad completed his 2 1/2 years of missionary service, my Mom was warmly accepted by her in-laws and the other Mormons of Utah, where they have lived ever since.

    If we can stop obsessing about the racism of FDR and many other Americans (he didn’t let Jewish refugees into the US until halfway through the war), why fixate on a peculiarly religious kind of discrimination (not denial of membership, but ordination) toward blacks (but not Japanese, Mexicans, Hawaiians or American Indians) that ended a full generation ago, and which was specifically tolerated by black Mormons as an anomaly they put up with because they nevertheless believed the Church brought them closer to God than other churches. Japanese Americans did not renounce America despite the far more severe injuries the government did them.  They were willing to forgive Earl Warren for his racist demands for incarceration of Japanese Americans when he was Attorney General in CA. No one asked JFK how he could belong to a political party that supported racial segregation laws in all the Southern states it dominated. 

    Mormons as a church did not deny blacks membership or segregate them. Utah did not have segregated schools.

    Once the anomaly of priesthood denial was ended, the Mormon Church began recruiting in Africa with the same vigor it applied in Asia, Polynesia and Latin America.  This is far more than lip service toward equality.  Africa is the fastest growing part of the Church.  The second and third generation of Mormons is rising in Ghana and Nigeria. In Brazil and the US, many black members are in mixed marriages, reflecting the larger society.  The Mormons have achieved racial equality in a way that always seems to be out of reach for other American institutions, other than the armed forces.  If a black person is concerned about any racial discrimination in the Mormon Church, let him call up the Mormon missionaries and tell them he wants to investigate membership, and they and the congregation will be ready to baptize and ordain him in a couple of weeks. Seriously.

  3. Coltakashi,
      All I intended to say was that some religious doctrines are relevant to how politicians conduct themselves in office, and that therefore we’re entitled to ask about their views on those doctrines, and how they would conduct themselves when their religion’s ecclesiastical authority is brought to bear on a particular issue.

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