My One Question, Mitt Romney, and the Values Voter Summit

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  October 6, 2011 — 46 Comments

On September 28th the Get Religion blog, which critiques religion coverage in the mainstream media, asked its readership a question: “Let’s pretend for a minute that you get to spend 30 minutes with any presidential candidate. What questions would you ask? How would you shape those questions that makes sense for your readership?” The author of that post, Sarah Pulliam Bailey, then narrowed that down to “you get one question to ask a candidate: Go.”

Here’s my response:

“Do you think this is a Christian nation? If so (or if not) what roles and rights should adherents to minority faith groups expect in the United States? Do you feel a follower of Wicca should have the same rights and expectations in this country as an evangelical Christian, mainline Protestant, or Catholic?”

Stretching my question into rules-bending multi-part territory, I would follow up and ask if they agreed with the notion that the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment only applied to Christians and Jews, a theory advanced by Christian pseudo-historian David Barton and American Family Association spokesman Bryan Fischer. Of course Barton’s and Fischer’s opinions regarding the First Amendment aren’t even remotely accurate or historically valid, but that hasn’t stopped them from becoming heavyweights within the politically-minded Christian conservative network.

It’s no great secret that it is vital to get the support of conservative Christians if you want to win the Republican nomination for president of the United States. They are the lifeblood of the Republican grass-roots, the ones who ultimately set the agenda, and tomorrow the Values Voter Summit, perhaps the ultimate symbol of that power, begins. The speakers list is a who’s who of the confluence between the Republican party and conservative Christianity, and all the Republican hopefuls will be there to try and garner more support going into the primaries. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney will be speaking at this event just before Bryan Fischer, and People For the American Way have called on him to publicly denounce his views.

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney

“At next week’s Values Voter Summit, Mitt Romney is scheduled to take the stage immediately before Bryan Fischer, an American Family Association (AFA) spokesman with a long and shocking record of bigotry against gays and lesbians, American Muslims, Native Americans and other minority groups. Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain and Rick Santorum are also scheduled to speak at the event, which is sponsored by the anti-gay Family Research Council, the AFA, and other Religious Right groups. PFAW is urging these candidates for our nation’s highest office to condemn bigotry.

What makes this even harder to ignore for Romney is the fact that Fischer has also publicly stated that Mormons aren’t entitled to First Amendment protection either, and that Church of Latter Day Saints still supports polygamy.

“On a recent episode of his television show Focal Point, Fischer said that the First Amendmentdoes not apply to Mormons and that the Church of Latter Day Saints still supports polygamy. But next week, Fischer will be sharing a stage with America’s most famous Mormon, presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, TPM reports in a story headlined “Awkward: Mitt Romney Set to Share Stage with Anti-Mormon Shock Jock.” Despite the “inflammatory, hateful and occasionally just plain bizarre remarks” Fischer has made on his show, Republicans vying for the presidency, including Tim Pawlenty, Mike Huckabee, Haley Barbour, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich all made appearances on Fischer’s show earlier this year, TPM reports.”

It really all comes down to my one question, do minority religions have the same rights and expectations as the politically and culturally dominant (Christian) faiths? I see this as a Rubicon moment, will Romney, who many believe will become the Republican nominee, actually say anything to repudiate the notion that his faith isn’t equal in standing to other Christian faiths? Does he have the courage of character to strike a blow for American pluralism, or will he make nice with Fischer, a man whose record of utterances are so vile even his own organization distanced itself from him.

“The American Family Association celebrates Religious Freedom for all people and for all beliefs as one of the foundational values that make the United States of America a great nation […] under American law all religions enjoy freedom from government interference.  However Joseph Story’s view continues to have proponents, including Bryan Fischer, one of American Family Radio’s talk show hosts.  However, the American Family Association (“AFA”) officially sides with Jefferson on this question.   AFA is confident that the truth of Christianity will prevail whenever it is allowed to freely compete in the marketplace of ideas.”

Andrew Sullivan says that the “Christianists” have succeeded in taking over the Republican party, and that this is the reason Romney isn’t a shoo-in for the nomination.

“Well, a few years later, examine the candidacies of the two front-runners for the GOP. One [Rick Perry] launched his campaign in a revival meeting calling for God to solve our economic problems (having previously led mass prayers for the end of the Texas drought); the other [Michelle Bachmann] emerges entirely out of Dominionist theology and built her entire career in the Christianist world of home-schooling, and anti-gay demonization. One reason Mitt Romney is not a shoo-in? Sectarianism, and his own previous deviations from binding orthodoxy. And it is this fundamentalist mindset – in which nothing doctrinal can be questioned, and the real world must be bent to the shape of a rigid theo-ideology – that defines these two candidates.”

I can’t remember a candidate for either party who was both a front-runner, yet almost universally disliked by the party he’s trying to woo. Clinton and Obama’s long 2008 primary battle may have been exhausting and divisive, but both managed to emerge unscathed and willing to work together when it was done. I’m not sure if the same can be said of Romney once this is all said and done. In any case, this is the moment. Romney can say to the values voters: “I’m with you, but as a Mormon I recognize that all faiths need to be respected under the First Amendment.” This can also be an opportunity for the other candidates to stand behind Romney on this one thing, if nothing else. Sadly, Mormon-raised religion commentator Joanna Brooks doesn’t think it will happen.

“It’s a marvelous image:  a strong-jawed Mitt Romney acting all presidential, crossing the stage and quietly holding Bryan Fischer accountable for his rancid bigotry, not only against Mormons, but against all of Americans who are non-white, non-straight, or non-Christian (as Fischer defines it). But it will never happen. […]  Saturday morning, Mitt Romney is going to look Bryan Fischer in the eyes and give him a handshake and a smile. If he’s feeling really passive-aggressive, maybe he’ll have Ann Romney come onstage and pass Fischer a plate of home-baked cookies. And if things get really heated, maybe Romney will love-bomb Fischer by sending a thousand free copies of the Book of Mormon to his radio studio.”

There’s little chance that I’m going to vote Republican in this, or any, election, but the seeming impossibility of Mitt Romney standing up for religious minorities saddens me.  If the eventual Republican party nominee can’t say “this is a nation where all faiths are allowed to the table, and protected by our Constitution” then something is fundamentally broken.  I’m not expecting any Republican to suddenly embrace Wiccans, or to showcase Dan Halloran at a campaign stop, but I am expecting a basic adherence to the notion that people of all religions are included and protected in our great democratic experiment.

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Mitt Romney, above all other candidates in the GOP field this year, *should* be supportive of Pagans and polytheists because he is one. Members of the LDS Church believe that God the Father (and his wife, but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms), Christ the Son, the Holy Ghost, and Satan are – all five of them – distinct and separate entities. Mormons are dyed-in-the-wool polytheists. They may recognize Jesus Christ as the living head of their church, but unlike other Christians they do not see Him as one part of a triune godhead: they literally believe that (apart from the Holy Ghost) all these people have flesh-and-blood bodies. If Mitt Romney doesn’t think he’s a polytheist, he’s only fooling himself.

    • Mrs. Buhls

      [Random off-topic attacks on other posters isn’t allowed.]

    • AnonGuest

      Mormons are Christians and not polytheistic/pagan. Also, though a previous thread tried to argue otherwise, Catholics are at least usually also not pagan/polytheistic. It’s a typical yarn by some Protestant Churches that denominations that look like theirs are the only “true” Christian church, but I find the whole not-so-subtle insult hinted by calling Christian religions pagan irksome since I a polytheist or pagan and don’t like said description being hinted at in a way that was not being made as a compliment to them.

      • I’m not trying to be difficult, I’m just saying – as a former member of the LDS Church – their belief that Heavenly Father, Heavenly Mother, Christ the Son, the Holy Ghost, and Satan are all separate, distinct entities does by its very definition mean that they are polytheists.

        • AnonGuest

          amused Pat Robertson is now disreputable because he called a Mormon Christian.
          does karma work? hehe

      • I get what you’re saying but I think (as a neutral thing, and not as an insult to the church of my ancestors) monotheism in the Catholic Church is more honored in the breach than in the practice. Theologians can split the fine hair that they honor Mary but do not worship her, but an awful lot of their parishioners definitely *do* worship her and are functionally polytheist in practice.

        • I think that there are probably a lot of those very same parishioners who know their catechism forwards and back who would strongly disagree with you. I’ve said the very same thing as you on a few occasions, and I can tell you first hand, they ‘get’ the fine points of their religion as much as we, as pagans, would like to justify our belief on how we perceive they practice theirs. Catholics are not brain dead, and most of the ones I know are quite mature in their spirituality.

          That said, I can’t really say the same thing about Mormons. (Speaking from personal experience – having quite a lot of family members who are RLDS.)

          • I didn’t say that Catholics (half my family, btw) are immature or brain-dead. I’m saying that in practice, religion is more malleable than its leaders might intend, and folk religion often goes its own way.

    • I think it is very instructive to learn that the term “monotheism” was not coined for well over a thousand years after Jesus was dead and buried.

      The true defining characteristic of “monotheisms” is not the number of beings that they worship, but rather the fact that they place themselves in complete opposition to anything and everything worshipped by anyone else. It has even been suggested that monotheisms do not constitute religions in the normal sense, but rather should be considered as “counter-religions” because they define themselves primarily in terms of what they oppose.

      • I don’t know what other definitions I’m supposed to be reading:

        Monotheism Mon”o*the*ism, n. [Mono- + Gr. ? god: cf. F.
        monoth[‘e]isme.] The doctrine or belief that there is but one God. [1913 Webster]

        Polytheism Pol”y*the*ism, n. [Poly- + Gr. ? cf. F. polyth[‘e]isme.] The doctrine of, or belief in, a plurality of gods. [1913 Webster]

        If you can suggest anything for me to read to show me why these definitions are wrong, please do so. I like to learn, but I can only go off what I already know and I haven’t yet read anything to show me that monotheisms are defined by their opposition.

        As a former member of the LDS Church, I was taught that God the Father was not the creator of our universe, but that Christ the Son created this universe at the direction of his Father.

        More, God the Father and Heavenly Mother (whose status as a deity deserving of praise and worship is a subject of frequent conflict among the Saints) literally have flesh and blood bodies and literally procreate to produce flesh and blood children. Why the necessity for a male god to procreate with a female god? That’s something I think a fair number of pagans and polytheists could appreciate.

        • You are of course using the world “monotheism” in its literal sense, which is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. But if this term accurately reflects such a foundational principle of Christianity then why did it take so long for the term itself to ever be used, or even invented?

          The idea of equating so-called “monotheism” with “counter-religion” is found in the writings of Jan Assmann, a scholar of the history of religions and of ancient Egyptian religion in particular. See in particular his book “The Price of Monotheism“. Assmann self-identifies as a monotheist and presents his ideas in the hope of reforming monotheism away from being a “counter-religion” defined primarily in negative terms, and turning it into something more positive and constructive. Personally I think that is a fool’s errand, but his analysis is still very useful for understanding this thing called monotheism.

          Assmann is hardly the first to note that Christianity, in particular, chose to define itself (right from the beginning) in terms of unalterable opposition to (and contempt for) all other religions, and that this distinguished it from the other religious traditions prevalent at the time, which did not define themselves in opposition to each other. But Assmann has succeeded in taking something that was already generally recognized and articulating it in a much more explicit and precise way than anyone had ever done before.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    We can only hope that this topic gets through the question filters that always surround such events. All the candidates’ answers would be telling but, for reasons Jason cites, Romney’s would be especially interesting.

    It is reasonable to view a craven answer as more likely, for political reasons, than a brave answer. This puts into perspective the question we have debated here as to the importance of the NAR and their ilk. If the political winds blow so stongly against a brave answer, it doesn’t matter how tiny NAR is; what matters is the strength of their ideas.

    • What matters is the strength of their turnout numbers. I’ve been saying for years that if moderate Republicans (if such a thing even exists anymore– I knew a ton of them ten years ago, hell, I *was* one of them ten years ago, but every single one I knew personally has left the party) would turn out as loudly and as reliably as the NAR and their ilk, the latter would lose much of their power.

      • Agreed. And it would go a long way towards political reconciliation as well. As it is, nothing is getting done with the stalemate.

  • David Kees


    “The liberal advocacy group People for the American Way has called on the presidential candidates, and especially Mr. Romney because he will share a stage, to publicly disassociate themselves from Mr. Fischer and what it called, in a statement on Wednesday, his “unmitigated bigotry.” The Southern Poverty Law Center has made similar appeals to the candidates.”


    “The Romney campaign did not immediately comment on the call to distance the candidate from Mr. Fischer.”


    Granted, that’s from yesterday, so maybe it takes a long time to figure out if you support the First Amendment……..

  • Wendy Griffin

    Beautifully written, Jason.

  • Crystal Kendrick

    “On a recent episode of his television show Focal Point, Fischer said that the First Amendment does not apply to Mormons and that the Church of Latter Day Saints still supports polygamy.” Oops! They thought Rick Perry would be the nominee.
    I wait with interest to see how this plays out if only to witness the reaction of Mormon supporters who might take exception to their supposed lack of rights.

  • Crystal Kendrick

    Otherwise, I’m more than a little relieved Romney is more than likely the nominee. He’s not completely insane.

    • Which is probably why he is so hated in their party.

      • I don’t get the impression that it’s ideological with Romney the same way it was with McCain. GOP politics is a pretty clubby club, and Romney (as I’ve heard it) isn’t a schmoozer and people think he believes he’s above them. They also think he’s not genuine, either as a conservative or as a person. They just plain don’t like the guy. What I don’t really know is how far that extends outside the Beltway– insiders don’t like him, but do voters feel that way too? (Beyond the ones who dislike him for his religion, that is.)

        • Anonymous

          speaking as someone who lived in NH while he was governor of MA, he wasn’t liked there very much either…that being said, he was a Republican governor of arguably the most liberal state in the union.

  • Leea

    Romney is one of the same presidential-wanna-bes that stayed silent when audience members booed a gay soldier. When they shouted ‘let him die’ at the idea of someone without health insurance needing expensive treatmment. He will stay silent on religious freedom too.

    • Charles Cosimano

      And that will not hurt him in the primaries at all.

  • That is a good question. I would also wish to know how an indivual’s religion or religious beliefs would influence their vote.

  • Kilmnrnock

    I’m with the previos commenter, at least Rommney isn’t raging frikkin insane as say , Backman is . He does have reasonable views on many things . From our point of view he is the most reasonable of all the republican nominees.And now atleast the wacko from wasilla isn’t running either, Palin.As a liberal Libritarian , Christie from Jersey would be a good choice as well. But i think he didn’t want to deal w/ all the Zealots.For Rommney to have any chance at the republican nomination he unfortunatly has to play nicey nicey w/ the NAR and thier ilk. I wouldn’t expect any contravervial statments from him until and if he becomes president. And Gods i hope he doesn’t sign any of those pledges to these radical xtian groups as a few new senators/reps have . For now w/ our current political climate for the foreseeable future i too will be voting democrat. Kilm

  • Kilmnrnock

    From my recent comment , i mean i am a liberal leaning libritarian .

  • I can remember at least one, and if memory serves two, candidates who were front-runners but disliked by their party. The Republican “base” hated McCain with a passion and thought him a “RINO”. Also, I think the Democratic base wasn’t terribly thrilled with Al Gore at first.

  • Ursyl

    “but I am expecting a basic adherence to the notion that people of all religions are included and protected in our great democratic experiment.”

    What a radical concept, that in a nation based on the rule of Law that said Law should apply equally to ALL.

    Such a small thing to expect. That it even has to be discussed is an appalling sign of how out of touch that party is.

  • For me I could not vote for an American Republican for many reasons, one of which is their intolerance of other faiths and spiritualities that they refuse to respect. Tolerance can bring us all together as human beings and I believe more of that is needed in this world, not less.

  • Anonymous

    “If the eventual Republican party nominee can’t say “this is a nation where all faiths are allowed to the table, and protected by our Constitution” then something is fundamentally broken.”

    What, besides wishful thinking, would lead you to believe something is NOT fundamentally broken?

  • AMH

    I appreciate you bringing up the question of Romney’s Mormonism while avoiding the other elephant in the room, The liberal notion that big government is a Republican and not a Liberal issue. That said, I think it is a mistkae on the part of minority faiths to expect Mormons to be anything other than what they are: Christians. Part of the problem with the pagan community is appropriating practices that have a tacit connection to Christianity. There are alot of anti Christian bigots in the pagan community just as there are numerous Anti Pagan bigots in the Christian ranks. I don’t see America’s secular sacred religion dichotomy being resolved by Romeny striking a blow for pluralism as you suggest.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      “Part of the problem with the pagan community is appropriating practices that have a tacit connection to Christianity.”

      Care to unpackage that a bit?

      • AMH

        I think it’s self explanatory when discussing Mormons to be honest. They believe they are Christian. And as a body worker, I know that one of the first rules of body work is that something doesn’t have to be REAL or TRUE for the body mind to respond as if it is REAL and TRUE. It’s a shame in my opinion that SOME pagans engage in a kind of psychic and psychosomatic philosophical symbiosis. It’s akin to Vampirism in my mind.

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          “a kind of psychic and psychosomatic philosophical symbiosis”

          I still don’t see exactly what you are complaining about, and even less so its “tacit connection to Christianity.”

  • In proper Utah parlance I ask… where the heck is Jon Huntsman?!?

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      In New Hampshire, circling the wagons for a do-or-die effort in that primary. FYI Michele Bachmann is doing the same in Iowa.

      • Thank you!

        It is a shame he isn’t a favourite. All things considered, he’s a pretty kind, intelligent man. I went to school w/some of his kids — I think he was a good father. My people (all exceedingly liberal) tell me he was a good governor as well (I didn’t live there at the time). While I may not agree w/all of his leanings, I think he could be a fair & more importantly, *sane* leader. I think the republicans are nuts for overlooking him.

  • I have a story about how some of my friends in Santeria think Mormons commit human sacrifice. And you should read what Christian evangelicals think of Mormons.

  • Cara

    Actually, Halloran is quite the darling of the GOP. He’s seen as a real up and comer and expected to go to higher elected office. Anytime a ‘higher’ GOP candidate stops in the area, Halloran is there with him or her. The GOP loves this guy and I’m pretty sure candidates will have him endorse or campaign for them for the 2012 election.

  • Verac1ty

    I would just like to know what the candidates truly believe the Founding Fathers said and thought about religious freedom in this country. Not what they think we want to hear, but what THEY really think. All that crap about them being against religious freedom, or even staunchly Christian, has been proven to be a lot of hooey. But people believe what Kool-aide is served to them. I love this quote from James Madison (and this is an actual quote, as opposed to the crap David Barton quotes that no historian can find a record of):

    In 1785, Madison wrote in his Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments:

    “During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.”

    “What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not.”

    There is also a quote from a debate within a Continental Congress that I am trying to re-find, one in which a Carolinian member who WAS a devout Christian argued that we HAVE to keep religion out of politics, we HAVE to let people of all religions (and he says specifically Jews, Hindus, Muslems, and Pagans) serve if they are elected, because if we put 1 rule restricted anyone because of religion, we open ourselves up to restrictions that none of us can agree on. I will try to find the quote, because it was brilliant. He basically said he would rather than all representatives be Christian (in fact, Presbyterian), because that is what religion he follows, but he knew most people in Maryland would rather they all be Catholic and so on; that because no 2 people will ever completely agree on religion, trying to restrict any government to YOUR religion means you are asking for a government where everyone believes EXACTLY as you do, which is impossible, no matter what religion you follow, if any, and this kind of thinking leads to total anarchy. There was no way to let any religion have sway in a fair democratic government and presume to represent ALL people; therefore, religion MUST be kept separate from politics.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Scariest thing about Romney to me is his notion of the American Century, that America must lead the world because that’s God’s plan. I fear a string of “little” wars that look more like Somalia than Libya.

  • kenneth

    The one thing that gives me encouragement is the fact that extremists sooner or later turn on each other. We are seeing this even now as evengelicals turn on Romney for not being a “real” Christian. Their infighting will neutralize the one candidate that has a reasonable chance of victory.

  • Daniel

    The irony of the Republican Party drawing upon those who profess to follow the teachings of Jesus, while pursuing an agenda that makes the poor and disenfranchised become poorer and less enfranchised never ceases to astound me.

  • Na304

    I am unsure about the other readers, but I am a fan of Johnson, and if after interviewing him, if you, the reader, like what he has to say, and would like to find out more about him then I suggest doing so. If we want to fix this country then check out Gary Johnson at Im a former Democrat, and just as I did, if you want to support him or see him in the white house then you MUST register as a Republican in your state ASAP in order to vote him in for the GOP nomination.

    • Na304

      sorry, wrong article i replied too.