One of the reasons it’s important to have reporters who understand religion is so that they don’t miss the subtext or deeper meaning of words spoken by those they cover. Usually that’s just important for covering average people in their day-to-day affairs. But it’s also important for understanding how politicians speak in the rhetoric of civil religion.
After the tragedy Colorado suffered this week, we heard various political figures discuss the situation. And from reading the Salt Lake Tribune, I learned that Mitt Romney “harked back to a passage from his faith’s signature scripture, the Book of Mormon,” in his remarks.
That discussion was further expounded upon at CNN, which began:
In a speech to a wounded nation, presidential hopeful Mitt Romney returned to his roots of faith in the face of a national tragedy.
It was a rare public expression of faith for the candidate who has kept much of his faith private.
Romney, who was the head of a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints congregation in Boston, quoted heavily from the Bible and the Book of Mormon as he stood before a small crowd in New Hampshire.
The story then gives the exact references to the Gospel of Matthew, followed by:
Romney continued, “And we can mourn with those who mourn in Colorado.” That phrase “mourn with those who mourn” is found in the New Testament and is also found in the Book of Mormon.
“Our prayer is that the comforter might bring the peace to their souls that surpasses understanding,” he said, evoking the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians.
Romney also left no doubt about his source material in his next line when he said, “The Apostle Paul explained – “Blessed be God who comforteth us in all our tribulations, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble.” He was quoting from 2 Corinthians 1:4 using the King James Version of the text, a translation favored by Mormons.
Romney also said grieving families could know they were being lifted in prayer by “people in every part of our great nation.”
The phrase “mourn with those who mourn” is found in the New Testament, but not in the King James Version, so I was happy to see that the Mormon preference was explained.
The story goes on to explain the “so what” of the remarks and why evangelical voters might care. The head of the Family Research Council weighs in on the speech as well as talking about meetings Romney has had with evangelicals.
The article mentions that 18 percent of voters have traditionally expressed reticence about voting for a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And it shows what Romney has done to reach out to evangelicals, including the relevant quotes from his commencement speech at Liberty. And a Mormon editor weighs in as well:
“The speech would be completely at home in a Mormon meeting and yet was carefully ecumenical,” added Kristine Haglund, the editor of Dialogue, a quarterly journal on Mormon thought that is independent of the church.
Haglund noted that “mourn for those who mourn,” which is found in the Book of Mormon in Mosiah 18:9, “is in the top 10 passages for Mormons.”
The article even discusses Mormon views of afterlife, and Haglund’s sense that Romney offered an olive branch to evangelicals by using the phrase “lifting up in prayer.” She says that’s not typical Mormon language.
The variety of perspectives really made this a worthwhile story. Good catch from a variety of reporters showing how a candidate’s faith makes an appearance in his rhetoric.