Religion Under Fire

It was bound to happen eventually. Perhaps it is even surprising that it took so long. Yesterday, Mitt Romney’s religion came under fire in a major way for the first time this political season. At the Values Voter Summit in Washington, the pastor of a Dallas megachurch fired away at Mitt Romney and Mormonism. A Perry supporter, Jeffress described Romney in the following affectionate terms, “I do think that, again, he’s an immoral person…But being a fine person with a great family and great values does not get you to heaven.”

When asked to qualify his remarks, Jeffress labeled Mormonism a “cult.” He went on to say that, ‘It is only faith in Jesus Christ…that qualifies you as a Christian.” Of course, by that metric, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should pass with flying colors. But, as many will point out,  Mormons also profess a faith in men like Joseph Smith and regard as gospel several texts that are not part of the traditional biblical canon.

Whatever the case, it is not entirely obvious what Mormonism is. After all, the LDS Church is not particularly transparent. Church services, for example, are forbidden to non-members. But this is a debate for theologians in an ivory tower, not for politicians and preachers on a political stage. And although the Perry campaign distanced itself from Jeffress’ remarks, he did not go so far as to denounce them as he should have.

This morning, Romney was the last to speak at the Values Voter Summit. Many were wondering if he would address the attack. Yes and no, it turned out. Romney did eventually get to the point, but he failed to offer a direct rebuttal. He simply reminded the audience that, “Poisonous language doesn’t advance our cause. It’s never softened a single heart nor changed a single mind…The task before us is to focus on the conservative beliefs and the values that unite us.”

It is indeed a shame that we have come to expect our political debate to always trace back to religion. Though Mormonism is the fastest growing faith in the U.S., it will be a long time, if ever, that they will be accepted without inquisition. Until then, however, Romney might be wise to be a bit more assertive. The core principles of Mormonism are like those of any Christian denomination. Were Romney to spend five minutes explaining them, it might go a long way towards easing voters, many of whom have been swayed by the ignorant likes of Pastor Jeffress.

Thomas L. Hauch