Southern Baptist Policy Pooh-Bah Richard Land, whom Princeton should have taught not to pilfer other peoples' prose, had the chutzpah to suggest last week that any media outlet that undertakes to describe the religion of GOP presidential nominee-presumptive Mitt Romney is ipso facto "in the tank" for President Obama. The news media, Land told CNN newsies, "are going to go into startling detail in specials about what will be considered by many independents the rather exotic beliefs of Mormonism, like baptism for the dead, in hopes they can turn off independents who say ‘I don’t want to vote for a guy that believes that.’”
I guess Land was talking about those independents who haven't seen South Park's "All About Mormons" or "The Book of Mormon" or "Big Love" or "Sister Wives," or who have missed the news reports over the years on the baptism-by-proxy of Anne Frank and other Holocaust victims. As for evangelicals, Land says they already know all the weird stuff (cf. The God Makers) and are prepared to vote for Romney in the general election "in spite of his Mormonism.” Mighty Christian of them, don't you think?
Land went on to boast about advising Romney that when journalists ask him to "defend … some of the more exotic beliefs of Mormonism," he should "pummel them around the head and shoulders with the Constitution and say there is no religious test for office and for you to inject my religious beliefs into this campaign is un-American.” It would have been nice to observe Land pummeling some of his co-religionists with the same Constitution during the GOP primaries, but regardless, it's going to be interesting to see if Romney can maintain his policy of treating his religion as beyond the pale of discussion going into the next phase of the campaign.
Romney co-religionist Sen. Orrin Hatch recently told a bunch of supporters in Utah that he's convinced the Obama campaign will "throw the Mormon church at him like you can't believe," and though the Obama campaign forswears any such pitch, over at WaPo Brad Hirschfield thinks they'll do it by attacking Romney's penchant for "secrecy." (Ah, those hidden Mormon rituals!) Meanwhile, Politico's Lois Romano has found a Republican or two who would like Romney to humanize himself by doing some Mormon things in public.
While "exotic" Mormon theological doctrines may be a significant stumbling block in the evangelical world, what's likely to matter to most Americans are Mormon social teachings, and the extent to which they influence the candidate. Pushed hard during his last run for president, Romney broke down and in early December 2007 gave a Kennedyesque religion speech in which he said:
Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin.
As Governor, I tried to do the right as best I knew it, serving the law and answering to the Constitution. I did not confuse the particular teachings of my church with the obligations of the office and of the Constitution--and of course, I would not do so as President. I will put no doctrine of any church above the plain duties of the office and the sovereign authority of the law.
That's a declaration worth repeating this time around.
A couple of years ago, Damon Linker published The Religious Test: Why We Must Question the Beliefs of Our Leaders, which took conservatives at their word and argued that if religious convictions have a place in the political arena, then it's appropriate to ask politicians how theirs have shaped their world view and their policy positions. Over at RealClearReligion, Jeff Weiss has listed seven questions about Mormon social teachings that would bear on Romney's conduct of the presidency. I'd like Richard Land to explain why the candidate shouldn't answer them.