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.