Playing the same-sex marriage card

Over the weekend, the better half stirred up quite a hornet’s nest for a post noting that some in the media aren’t the slightest bit interested in covering the same-sex marriage debate with any degree of impartiality or nuance. The verdict she reached is damning, and that conclusion can be reached simply by accurately quoting journalists about why they don’t bother quoting gay marriage opponents.

In any event, this lack of nuance and unwillingness to dig a little deeper tends to make a hash out of even the most basic reportage on the issue. And so we have this report from the Baltimore Sun, “‘Superman’ author’s gay rights opposition prompts local boycott.” The gist of the story is that DC Comics recently hired Orson Scott Card to write a new Superman series. Card also happens to be a practicing Mormon and a board member at the National Organization for Marriage. One comic book store in Baltimore, citing Card’s opposition to gay marriage, won’t sell the series. Here’s how the Sun introduces Card and characterizes his views:

Card, who is on the board of the National Organization for Marriage, has campaigned vigorously against gay marriage. Opinion pieces the author has written have linked same-sex marriage to the end of civilization.

“[M]arriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy,” he wrote in 2008 in the Mormon Times.

More than 14,000 people have signed an online petition asking the company to drop Card.

“We need to let DC Comics know they can’t support Orson Scott Card or his work to keep LGBT people as second-class citizens,” wrote the petition’s creator, All Out, an organization that supports gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights. “By hiring Orson Scott Card despite his anti-gay efforts, you are giving him a new platform and supporting his hate.”

The controversy comes as marriage equality gains momentum nationwide. In November, Maryland, Maine and Washington voters approved referendums legalizing same-sex marriages, making a total of nine states and the District of Columbia that allow them.

First, saying Card is “well-known” is a bit of an understatement. He’s a legend in the world of science fiction. When NPR polled 60,000 people on what their 100 favorite science fiction novels were, Ender’s Game came in third behind Lord of the Rings and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Published in 1985, Ender’s Game is about a future where, facing the annihilation of humanity, child soldiers are conscripted to fight a war against insectoid aliens.The book largely revolves around the moral implications of that terrifying scenario, and aside from being deeply resonant with a popular audience, Card’s mediation on what happens to your essential humanity when you are forced to kill for survival landed it on the reading list that the commandant recommends for the entire Marine Corps. Now Card can be excitable — he once wrote he would work to “destroy” any government that redefined marriage. But on balance, he’s hardly a fringe character, nor are his views outside the mainstream.

I understand that it’s in the interest of gay marriage advocates to make anyone who vocally opposes their agenda subject to a blizzard of negative press, but the Sun‘s report is premised on pretty thin gruel. The justification is that one local comic book store saying they won’t carry the Card-authored Superman series, and an internet petition with 14,000 signatures. There’s also the obviously loaded language — “The controversy comes as marriage equality gains momentum nationwide.” (Hmm. I was unaware that Card was opposed to ‘equality.’) And in a spectacular bit of editorial judgment, the article is also paired on line with a TMZ-esque video report about a comic book store owner in Dallas who is uncritically quoted as saying Card is a “bigot,” fond of “hate speech,” and “venomously anti-gay.”

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Media, Mormonism and meaning

I think it’s fair to say that while Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacy has forced the media to do more and better coverage of Mormonism, the religion is still treated as a cultural and theological oddity. Much of the coverage is still sensational — as I type this, The Daily Beast is hyping an interview with “a direct descendant of Brigham Young, Sue Emmett [who] left the church because of the very values she says would make Romney a frightening president.” I hate to break it to The Daily Beast, but Brigham Young had 55 wives and 57 children. A gathering of his third generation descendents would look like Calcutta on Free Malaria Shot Day. Finding one of them who would disavow Mitt Romney and their great-great grandfather’s legacy is a matter of simple probability, and it’s neither novel or illuminating.

Tabloids aside, I wish I could say that the coverage from respectable outlets was automatically better. But it was with dread that I learned that The New Yorker had published a sweeping essay about “Mormonism and its meanings.” While The New Yorker is largely an outlet for criticism and opinion, the magazine carries with it a totemic status among my fellow reporters — even those I know who largely disagree with its center-left politics — and often sets the tone for any future coverage by the rest of the media establishment once it’s weighed in on a given issue.

Making matters worse, the essay in question is written by Adam Gopnik. Gopnik is a very witty and perceptive writer; however, if anyone on the masthead perfectly embodies cocooned Manhattan liberalism, it’s Gopnik. I suppose the fact that Gopnik’s fellow Manhattan literary stereotypes feel comfortable inveighing against him as “tone-poet of post-9/11 Manhattan, drizzling pixie dust across a cityscape that no longer bears the hearty flavor of ‘smoked mozzarella,’ as he notoriously described the downtown death smell,” that should tell you something. Indeed, take a gander at this nugget from Gopnik’s essay on Mormons. I think it is supposed to deemed amusing:

Walk by the Latter-day Saints church on the Upper East Side of New York, and you will see only images of Jesus and scenes from the Gospels, even if the Mormon Jesus looks more corn-fed and burly than the gaunt, ascetic one in the Protestant church around the corner. The continuing Mormon suspicion of Evangelicals, and the Evangelical hostility toward Mormons, could be politically significant only if the guy on the other side is a credible Evangelical, at least in emotional style. When the other guy is at best an intellectual and at worst an Arab, political solidarity is bound to trump inter-sectarian mistrust.

So, uh, that’s what we’re dealing with — a guy who’s personal experience with Mormonism doesn’t involve going below 59th street and who otherwise thinks huge swaths of religious America mistrust intellectuals. The fact this latter assertion is simultaneously condescending and grossly simplistic would seem to belie the soundness of Gopnik’s judgement here, let alone his status as an intellectual. To paraphrase an apocryphal Martin Luther line, I’m sure a lot of evangelicals and Mormons would gladly vote for a wise Turk who can get unemployment below 8 percent.

Now having said all that, I can’t easily dismiss Gopnik’s essay. That’s because Gopnik understands some nuances about Mormonism that I’ve seen repeatedly trip up other reporters. Here’s how he handles some of the church’s more controversial doctrines:

Mormonism had other assets. Smith held (especially in the sermons he preached toward the end of his life) that God and angels and men were all members of the same species. “God that sits enthroned is a man like one of you” and “God Himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man” were two of his most emphatic aphorisms on the subject. …

This doctrine led in turn to various theological niceties, which seem to have risen and receded in the faith’s theology over the years: one is that the birth of Jesus had to have been the consequence of a “natural action”—i.e., that God the Father knew Mary in a carnal way, in order to produce the Messiah. (This doctrine is currently in disfavor, but it had a long life.) Another is that God, being an exalted man, must have a wife, or several wives, as men do; she is known as the Heavenly Mother, and is a being distinct from Mary. (Smith’s belief in exaltation evolved into the belief that other planets were inhabited by men even more exalted than we are; Smith taught that the truly exalted will get not just entry into Heaven but a planet of their own to run. This is now taken, or taught, metaphorically, the way conventional Christians often think of Hell, but it was part of the story.)

Again, LDS members might disagree with the tone here — but Gopnik at least grasps that there’s some tension here between the logical extension of some of the church’s doctrines and whether or not Mormons believe these things to literally be true. I’ve seen many writers just assume that Mormons believe a great many “rococo cosmologies” — as Gopnik calls them — said to be implied by Smith’s teachings without doing much to factor in the metaphorical and the mystical.

Gopnik also picks up on some odd cultural details that I found fascinating.  I didn’t know that artist Arnold Friberg, who did many of the iconic Book of Mormon illustrations, was the set designer for “The Ten Commandments.” And I’ll be darned, Gopnik’s right that Friberg’s depiction of Nephi — see the picture above — does look a lot like Romney. But Gopnik’s impressive powers of observation are constantly undercut by a breezy tone that’s entirely unwarranted. He treats weighty subjects so glibly that it borders on infuriating:

One could presumably make a case that beleaguered faiths always shy from admitting errancy in public. Dominant faiths can afford tales of failure and redemption, with sinners becoming saints and saints dropping in and out of the calendar like blue-plate specials; beleaguered ones have to put on a good face in public and never lose it. Donny Osmond talks about the anxieties that arose from a need to appear perfect, and the impossibility of admitting in public to flaws or errors. Better to have a new revelation about, say, health-care mandates that renders the previous one instantly inoperable than spend time apologizing for the old ways. When, in 1978, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints abandoned the rule prohibiting blacks from serving as priests, one church leader, Bruce McConkie, explained, “It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June 1978.” You could find, or think you’ve found, a similar logic behind Romney’s blithe amnesia when it comes to the things he used to think and say.

Yet class surely tells more than creed when it comes to American manners, and Romney is better understood as a late-twentieth-century American tycoon than as any kind of believer. Most of what is distinct about him seems specific to the rich managerial class of the nineteen-eighties and nineties, and is best explained so—just as you would grasp more about Jack Kennedy from F. Scott Fitzgerald (an Irish and a Catholic ascending to Wasp manners) than from St. Augustine. In another way, though, this is precisely where faith really does walk in, since commerce and belief seem complementary in Romney’s tradition. It’s just that this tradition is not merely Mormon. Joseph Smith’s strange faith has become a denomination within the bigger creed of commerce. It’s unfair to say, as some might, that Mitt Romney believes in nothing except his own ambition. He believes, with shining certainty, in his own success, and, more broadly, in the American Gospel of Wealth that lies behind it: the idea that rich people got rich by being good, that the riches are a sign of their virtue, and that they should therefore be allowed to rule.

There’s actually much about these two paragraphs I think is very perceptive. But Gopnik whistles past so many issues here from sin to politics to commercialism that it’s hard to see where Mormonism is the common thread running through them. Gopnik may observe that Mormons believing in God as Man creates some problematic theological niceties, but he doesn’t seem bothered by the fact his unearned authorial omniscience on complex theological matters raises more questions than it answers.  I give Gopnik a lot of credit for devising an elegant launching pad for discussing “Mormonism and its meanings,” but ultimately he’s unable elevate the subject matter to a place of real understanding.

Having said all that, I can heartily recommend another piece that covers some similar territory — Jesse Walker has a primer on Mormonism and its accompanying political tensions in the latest Reason magazine. Reason is a political magazine, but its libertarian bent often assures that it doesn’t view culture and politics in a predictable fashion. Walker’s piece is a straightforward tour through some esoteric political history. It manages to be remarkably evenhanded — no easy feat — by noting the widespread and irrational anti-Mormon prejudice and less flattering aspects of the early church. For instance, here’s Walker explaining an interesting historical tidbit:

In 1884 the Idaho territory made it illegal for Latter-day Saints to vote, hold office, or serve on a jury. Legislators invoked the standard anti-Mormon conspiracy theories, but lurking behind those exotic charges were more ordinary resentments: opposition to plural marriage, jealousy of the Mormon co-ops’ economic clout, and, above all, Republicans’ eagerness to disenfranchise a group that in Idaho voted overwhelmingly for the Democrats.

Walker’s piece is mostly historical, but his goal is to flesh out your understanding of some of the contemporary religious friction surrounding Romney’s candidacy. He succeeds admirably, and I recommend reading the whole thing.

A Mormon thumbsucker

A while back, one of my colleagues — who, as it happens, has written some pretty terrific things on the subject of religion — asked me if I was familiar with the writer Walter Kirn. Knowing that we were both ex-Mormons and Kirn often wrote about religious themes, he wondered what I thought of Kirn’s work. I spent a lot of time in the creative writing department as an undergrad in the mid-late 90s just as Kirn’s career as a novelist was taking off, and he’d been recommended to me several times though I’d never gotten around to exploring any of his books. (More recently, you might be aware that his book Up in the Air had been made into the eponymous and rather acclaimed movie.)

Being that this seems to be something of a Mormon moment, I finally broke down and checked his second novel Thumbsucker out of the library. It’s a really funny and endearing book about a teenager navigating a variety of adolescent problems that play out against the backdrop of his troubled family converting to Mormonism. The experiences recounted in the book were in many ways instantly familiar to my own life as a teenage Mormon. Even though it was fiction, given what I knew about Kirn’s basic biography, I always wondered how much of a roman à clef the book was.

Then Mollie directed me to Kirn’s fantastic essay in the The New Republic, Confessions of an Ex-Mormon: A personal history of America’s most misunderstood religion, by telling me that “he writes like you talk about Mormons.” Alas, I wish I’d ever formed my thoughts about the Mormon church as gracefully as Kirn does here. Not surprisingly, Kirn is frustrated by how Mitt Romney’s candidacy has suddenly resulted in a spate of anti-Mormon sentiment among those who should know better:

As for Romney himself, the man, the person, I empathized with him and his predicament. He no more stood for Mormonism than I did, but he was often presumed to stand for it by journalists who knew little about his faith, let alone the culture surrounding it, other than that some Americans distrusted it and certain others despised it outright. When a writer for The New York Times, Charles Blow, urged Romney to “stick that in your magic underwear!” I half hoped that Romney would lose his banker’s cool and tell the bigoted anti-Mormon twits to stick something else somewhere else, until it hurt. I further hoped he’d sit his critics down and thoughtfully explain that Mormonism is more than a ceremonial endeavor; it constitutes our country’s longest experiment with communitarian idealism, promoting an ethic of frontier-era burden-sharing that has been lost in contemporary America, with increasingly dire social consequences. Instead, Romney showed restraint, which disappointed me. I no longer practiced Mormonism, true, but it was still a part of me, apparently, and a bigger part than I’d appreciated.

Sometimes a person doesn’t know what he’s made of until strangers try to tear it down.

Indeed, what makes the essay so powerful is that while Kirn has rejected the church’s doctrines, he remains incredibly fond of many of the cultural aspects of the church — which is exactly how I’ve always felt about things. The really vocal ex-Mormons are often very negative, though I’d like to believe that some vestigial fondness for the healthier aspects of the church’s culture is more representative. For instance, the reference above to the “our country’s longest experiment with communitarian idealism, promoting an ethic of frontier-era burden-sharing that has been lost in contemporary America, with increasingly dire social consequences” goes a long way toward explaining the church’s appeal as well as setting a positive example for non-Mormons.

The interesting thing is that Kirn does a wonderful job illustrating such lofty observations with his personal remembrances. I don’t know how much the details were exaggerated, but based on Kirn’s recollections in this essay, the events of his life do match up with Thumbsucker closely. (Also, revel in the irony that “thumbsucker” is journalism slang for “a lengthy story or opinion piece based on a vast, complex topic; a journalist who writes such articles.“) But the essay goes beyond Kirn’s teenage years, relating a much more recent event in Kirn’s life where he finds himself  living in a group home full of young Mormons in L.A. while he’s working on the film for Up in the Air.  He’d had trouble finding a place to stay, and it turns out his prospective Mormon housemates had read his Wikipedia page and unearthed his history with the church. Kirn comes to reconnect with his former faith, not as an impressionable teenager, but as as 46 year-old divorcée. The experience was surprisingly revelatory. He comes to dub the house “Beverly Zion”:

It dawned on me that the purpose of Beverly Zion was not to seal out Hollywood at all, but to provide a setting for the enjoyment of a mutualistic way of life familiar from childhood homes and churches. Well, good enough: It kept me fed. It kept me company when I wasn’t writing and when [Kirn's girlfriend] Amanda, also a writer, was on assignment. It provided me with a car when mine broke down, with a truck when I bought a used sofa and had to fetch it, with laundry supplies when I ran out of them, and with dog-sitters for Amanda’s poodle when we flew to St. Louis to watch the filming of Up in the Air. It also provided me, thanks to Bobby’s father, a product designer for a Big Three auto company, with an insider’s discount on a new car that saved me a sweet 4,000 bucks. And in repayment for these kindnesses? Nothing. I asked. Just help finish this Jell-O salad.

“I mean it: Are they for real?” Amanda kept asking me. She’d grown up a Roman Catholic in Chicago and felt guilty about accepting favors that she couldn’t instantly return. Beverly Zion soon overwhelmed this attitude.

This is obviously a deeply personal essay, and as such it isn’t the typical GetReligion fodder. Still, this essay does a better job about getting at the truths of the Mormon experience than just about every strictly news article on the church I’ve ever read. The article isn’t uniformly bullish on Mormonism, but Kirn has a gift for promoting understanding even as he’s articulating differences or telling an unflattering truth. That is largely a testimony to Kirn’s skill as a writer. And at at time when many in the media are still reflexively dumping on Mormons for no other reason than they think they can get away with it — I’m looking at you, Bloomberg Businessweek — Kirn’s essay is a much needed corrective and a great example of why it helps to have people writing on religious topics who are intimately familiar with the experiences and practices of believers. It also doesn’t hurt to have someone such as Kirn addressing the topic, such that many readers approach the topic with an open mind. Kirn’s essay has already drawn a lot of praise, to I suspect the reaction would be muted if many of the same observations were made by a writer of lesser skill and reputation.

But however you want to dissect it, in the case of this essay the relationship between the writer, subject matter, and cultural relevance has produced the kind of lightning in a bottle that augurs well for the revamped New Republic. As a journalist who’s an ex-Mormon, I get frequent inquiries into the subject these days. From here on out, anyone inclined to spout off about Mormonism who asks me about it will be directed to read Kirn’s essay, though I can assure them reading it will be more pleasure than punishment.

Politico hangs a story on a thread

So the Politico recently published another lengthy story on Mitt Romney. Now that’s hardly an atypical event for Politico, but this one was a little different.

Let me summarize it for you: Mormon, Mormon, Mormon, Mormon, Mormon, Mormon, Mormon, Mormon.

Just the other day, I looked at Jodi Kantor’s New York Times profile of Romney’s faith, which had some pretty significant problems factual and otherwise, but was mostly a good faith effort. I’m less inclined to give this Politico piece by Edward-Isaac Dovere the benefit of the doubt given its less-than-auspicious beginning:

Mitt Romney wants voters to see him as the man to save the economy and right the country, the redeeming American hero riding in on the proverbial white horse.

Just not that White Horse.

That’s the one in the old Mormon prophecy attributed to Joseph Smith, which predicts that after the banks fail and when the Constitution is nearing collapse, Mormons flush with wealth — the White Horse, in the prophecy’s metaphor — will rise and lead America back to greatness.

Ah, the old White Horse prophecy. As someone raised in the Mormon church, I was only vaguely aware that it existed — until a few years ago when it started being dredged up the first time Romney ran. Among Mormons it’s discussed only as a curiosity, and the rare times it is brought up it’s always with the understanding that it’s essentially folklore of disputed origin and not church doctrine.

You’d think the reporter would know better than to use this, of all things, to connect Romney’s secular presidential run to his private faith. Oh wait, he does. Skip ahead a couple of grafs:

The White Horse prophecy itself was discounted by the church almost a hundred years ago but Mormon political figures like Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and even Romney himself still get asked about it from time to time. And even though it’s long been discredited by the church, there are pieces of the prophecy that echo with important themes of mainstream Mormonism today: church members believe the Framers were divinely inspired, and Mormons have a special role to play in preserving the Constitution and the nation as a whole.

Now wouldn’t the fact that Mormons believe the founding of America is divinely inspired make the same point as the writer is reaching for — trying to connect Romney’s political motivations to his private religion — by invoking the White Horse prophecy? It’s also less sensational and its an agreed upon doctrine.

Making matters worse, the entire framing of the the Politico article is the same lazy device Kantor fell back on in her Times profile:

Now that Romney’s essentially secured the Republican nomination, the media attention to his religious beliefs has already kicked off a sort of national Mormonism 101. Deep into his second run for president, Romney’s Mormonism remains one of his great mysteries — and obstacles — in many voters’ minds. The Senate has more Mormons than Episcopalians or Lutherans, but polls consistently show that Romney’s religion has remained a factor.

“Many voters minds”? OK, can we hear from some of those voters who claim to have a problem with Mormonism?

“Polls consistently show”? Polls show a lot of things about Mormonism, and if you’re gong to rely on the really dismal science of public opinion polls, it would be nice if you could actually tell us something specific about what they say, rather than just lazily reinforcing this narrative that people have a problem with Mormons. A narrative that, by the way, is contradicted by the next sentence where it’s pointed out that Mormons are overrepresented in the Senate. (Yes, I know that the Senate isn’t exactly proportional representation and Western demographics skew things, but I think the point still stands.)

It gets worse:

And with religion flaring up in the 2012 race recently amid revelations about proposed ads linking President Barack Obama to his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright —some Democrats have lashed back with suggestions that discussing Romney’s religion is now fair game, too.

One, if you’re going to invoke the recent revelations that an independent GOP superPAC considered a proposal to run ads about Jeremiah Wright, you should clarify that this had no connection to the Romney campaign which disavowed such a line of attack.

Two, “some Democrats have lashed back”? Which Democrats? To their credit, the Obama campaign has said they are explicitly going to steer clear of Romney’s religion.

If there are any prominent Democrats that have said Romney’s religion is fair game, that’s news to me. Maybe I missed this, but name names if that’s the case. Considering two Democratic Senators are Mormon, things could get awkward.

I can’t, however, say the same about the press corps which seems to have no problem making attacks on Romney’s religion. (Thanks for edifying us Martin Bashir and Charles Blow! I look forward to more concern trolling about how Republican extremists are poisoning the discourse.) In any event, the hits keep on coming:

Yet Romney, for the most part, has steered clear of answering detailed questions about his religious beliefs—referring to “people of different faiths, like yours and mine” in his commencement address to the evangelical Liberty University is about as far as he’s gone in the 2012 campaign.

If you’re keeping score, at this point I’ve had issues with everyone of the article’s first seven paragraphs. To what extent has Romney has “steered clear of answering detailed questions about his religious beliefs”? The better question is what politician doesn’t? And is there a double standard at work here because Romney’s Mormon? If anyone asked Catholic Nancy Pelosi to explain transubstantiation at a news conference would there be some sort of outcry if she dismissed the question as irrelevant to her job?

Let’s not forget that Romney gave a detailed speech about his religion that political reporters endlessly dissected just four years ago. And now we descend into the realm of self-parody. On to paragraph numero ocho:

That leaves journalists and other observers searching for clues, and the attention already going to Mormon views of the Constitution, which has percolated up from the blogs to the New York Times, provides a window into how this can play out on the campaign trail.

Because Mitt Romney won’t talk about the granular details of his religion, it’s his own fault that the media is going to go on writing ill-advised and wildly speculative pieces about obscure bits of Mormon folklore. After all, “blogs” and the New York Times – Charles Blow’s employer! — demand answers. And this alleged hunger for information about Mormonism — which is not an obscure subject this day and age — “provides a window into how this can play out on the campaign trail”?

Huh. As a voter in a swing state, I await my elite media marching orders! Now that we properly understand what’s at stake, who wants to read 34 more paragraphs on the White Horse prophecy? Especially when it’s, again, frustratingly non-specific:

It is well-known to many church members, and continues to be an active topic of conversation among Mormons today. That sense echoes through the speeches of Mormon leaders and the beliefs of rank-and-file church members, including top LDS leaders in the church and politics. Among them: Romney’s father, who said at the outset of his own presidential run that he believed in the special role Mormons had to play in preserving the Constitution.

Now about that last part involving George Romney, it is true that Mormons revere America and its founding documents as divinely inspired. Toward the end of the piece we get a better sense of what this means for Mormons with some sort-of helpful quotes:

“That’s a folklore — we’ve heard it, and I think everybody’s heard it. It’s been out there for many years,” said Robert McKim, a Republican Wyoming state representative and a Mormon. “The next question some people ask me, ‘Well, you think Mitt Romney’s that person?’ I say, ‘I don’t have no idea about that.’ I really don’t worry about it, because I believe we have prophets at the head of the church, and I think if that time comes, they’ll tell us. It’s a passing comment that you don’t speculate on, because you have no way to prove or disprove it.”

David Campbell, a Mormon himself and professor at Notre Dame who has studied his fellow church members’ views on the prophecy, as well as the intersection of the church and politics, said McKim’s far from alone.

“If you asked a more general question, ‘Do you believe that one day the Constitution will hang by a thread and it will be a Mormon who saves it?’ we know from data that I’ve collected that many Mormons actually do endorse that idea, but they would not necessarily know that that came from something known as the White Horse prophecy,” Campbell said. “They just know that there’s going to be a time of Constitutional crisis maybe, and it will be a member of the LDS faith who will come and save things.”

We’re finally getting at something worthwhile here.

How Mormons view their role in preserving American political traditions and freedom in a more general sense is a very deep and rich angle to explore, and does have some theological connection. But every time Dovere scratches the surface of this more general question, the piece seems to lead everything back to the White Horse Prophecy. Now if you’re going to do a story on how Mormons view their political role in America I would be hard pressed to say the White Horse Prophecy is insignificant enough so as not to merit a mention, and Dovere provides a few good historical examples and quotes showing why that’s the case. But it’s a small and controversial part of a bigger story. Using it almost exclusively as the lens to view Mormons in a political context, is inevitably going make things seem a bit warped. The Politico piece’s undue focus on the White Horse Prophecy only gets in the way of what could have been a better and more interesting story.

Predictably, MSNBC — Martin Bashir’s employer! — is already hyperventilating over Dovere’s story and playing up the nakedly political angle in a way that’s not flattering or particularly fair to Romney:

“Because he hasn’t talked much about his faith, people have gone online,” [MSNBC's Tamron] Hall notes of Romney, and they have found things like the “White Horse” prophecy, which have concerned many.

Again, it seems much more likely that we’re talking about this because the media want to talk about it, not because there’s widespread interest in an obscure 19th century story Romney’s church explicitly disavows. But if you really are curious about it, the Mormon organization Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR) has a good paper that explains the White Horse Prophecy and its context from an LDS perspective. You can download it here (pdf).

The New York Times discovers Romney is Mormon

Hey, did you know that GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney is Mormon?

Crazy, huh! The New York Times seems to be intent on telling us all about this fascinating new bit of biographical information. All right, all right — I’ll dispense with the sarcasm. I’m just trying to get the airing of the New York Times grievances out of the way, and I confess it’s hard to get past the weird degree of arrogance involved in seeing the New York Times weigh in on a topic that’s already been well-covered by other outlets for the sole reason that the Paper of Record believes it is, in fact, still the paper of record.

Anyway, Times reporter Jodi Kantor weighed in a few days ago with a big picture look at the influence of the Mormon faith on Romney. It’s not bad, and parts of it are genuinely perceptive. However, there were a number of factual errors that the Salt Lake Tribune’s ace religion reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack was quick to point out:

For instance, perhaps someone should have told The New York Times’ Jodi Kantor that “deseret” is a noun in LDS-speak meaning “honeybee,” not an adjective suggesting “industriousness.” Mormons such as Mitt Romney generally don’t “belt out” or even sing the Protestant hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” White temple clothes don’t necessarily indicate an “elevated state.” And Nephites and Lamanites are not in the Bible.

Facts aside, I confess I was a bit chuffed by how the article was framed right off the bat:

Now, as the presumptive Republican nominee for president, Mr. Romney speaks so sparingly about his faith — he and his aides frequently stipulate that he does not impose his beliefs on others — that its influence on him can be difficult to detect.

Romney’s Mormonism is difficult to detect? Really? It’s my impression that Romney’s inescapable public perception, for better and for worse, is that he’s the Ur-Mormon. As for speaking about his faith, he gave a major address about it when he ran in the last election and he’s spoken openly about his faith throughout a fairly extensive career. As for the fact he’s not eager to address it at this moment, could it be related to how every week publications with occasionally suspect political agendas write, say, long pieces dissecting distant, totally irrelevant episodes from the church’s history as if that’s relevant to Romney’s secular vocation? It’s understandable that he wouldn’t want to provide these people any more rope. By contrast, the coverage of the president’s religion has been such that I doubt one in 20 voters could name the specific Christian denomination of the church he attended in Chicago, and also recall that the New York Times, the same outlet now falling back on questionable pretenses to pretend it’s difficult to detect Mitt Romney’s Mormonism, went six whole months during the last election cycle before quoting Obama’s long-time pastor as saying something incendiary that might not sit well with the voting public. (Ok, so maybe I still had a few grievances to air.)

Moving on, I don’t think this bit was necessarily intentional but it does expose the difference between understanding church life and viewing everything through a political prism:

Mr. Romney’s penchant for rules mirrors that of his church, where he once excommunicated adulterers and sometimes discouraged mothers from working outside the home.

The characterization that Romney “discouraged mothers from working outside the home” as function of his “penchant for rules” is loaded. The Mormon church, while it has fairly conventional ideas about marriage roles, has no prescription on women working outside the home. I’m pretty sure that if you asked Romney about this, he would say that as a Mormon bishop he gave women counsel about how to best uphold Mormon family values by weighing their individual circumstances and financial pressures. That’s very different from telling women to follow the rules.

Ok, now the good. Kantor does a very good job grasping the how Mormons port their values over into the secular realm:

When Mr. Romney’s former Sunday school students listen to him campaign, they sometimes hear echoes of messages he delivered to them years before: beliefs that stem at least in part from his faith, in a way that casual observers may miss. He is not proselytizing but translating, they say — taking powerful ideas and lessons from the church and applying them in another realm.

Just as Ronald Reagan deployed acting skills on the trail and Barack Obama relied on the language of community organizing, Mitt Romney bears the marks of the theology and culture of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Mr. Romney declined to be interviewed.)

Mormons have a long tradition of achieving success by sharing secular versions of their tenets, said Matthew Bowman, author of “The Mormon People,” citing Stephen R. Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” which he called Latter-day Saint theology repackaged as career advice.

Kantor also highlights a Mormon belief that isn’t picked up on much, and for once, it is relevant to his worldview as a secular politician:

Or take Mr. Romney’s frequent tributes to American exceptionalism. “I refuse to believe that America is just another place on the map with a flag,” he said in announcing his bid for the presidency last June. Every presidential candidate highlights patriotism, but Mr. Romney’s is backed by the Mormon belief that the United States was chosen by God to play a special role in history, its Constitution divinely inspired.

There’s also this perceptive bit about how Romney’s image problem is that he doesn’t have an image problem. Mormon culture is so much about striving to be wholesome, that it appears fake:

Similarly, he said, Mr. Romney’s squeaky-clean persona — only recently did he stop using words like “golly” in public — can make him seem “too plastic, the Ken side of a Ken and Barbie doll,” Mr. Barlow said.

He and others say that wholesomeness is deeply authentic to Mr. Romney, whose spiritual life revolves around personal rectitude. In Mormonism, salvation depends in part on constantly making oneself purer and therefore more godlike.

But again, there’s a great deal of ink expended explaining that one of Romney’s defining characteristics is his fondness for following the rules, and how this is a direct extension of his faith. Maybe there’s an argument to be made that Mormons are sticklers for strictures moreso than most. But I don’t think Kantor always makes the case very well:

He often urged adherence even to rules that could seem overly harsh. One fellow worshiper, Justin Brown, recalled in an interview that when he was a young man leaving for his mission abroad, Mr. Romney warned him that some parameters would make no sense, but to follow them anyway and trust that they had unseen value.

Telling a 19-year-old kid about to depart on a Mormon mission in a foreign country to follow the rules is pretty basic advice to dole out to teenagers who think they know more than they do. It’s true that Mormon missionaries have limited contact with their families and are supposed to abstain from popular entertainment and other distractions from their religious focus. But if the rules for Mormon missionaries “could seem overly harsh,” I wonder what Kantor thinks of what they do to teenagers in the Marine Corps.

Still, I give Kantor an A for effort. There’s a wealth of reported details and quotes from many sources. The section on the end about how Romney handles anti-Mormon prejudice is not just good, it’s surprisingly empathetic. If you want to read a piece on Romney’s religious life that has even more detail, I recommend this sprawling CNN piece I kicked the tires on back in November.

Christopher Halloran /

BYU Gets Better?

So there’s this college in Provo, Utah, that’s run by a socially conservative church. All of the students who choose to attend the school agree to adhere to a pretty strict honor code that governs the way they dress, forbids them from drinking alcohol, and explicitly bans students from having sex. I am, of course, talking about Brigham Young University and it shouldn’t exactly be news that the place exists or that students there are held to pretty strict moral standards.

But despite the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ somewhat undeserved reputation for a being comprised of a bunch of catalog models marching lockstep, I know from personal experience that BYU is a pretty diverse place ideologically and otherwise. (My mother and sister went there and a number of family friends have worked or taught there as well.)

College kids, as they are wont to do, have bucked the school’s honor codes in any number of ways over the years from various forms of public protest to publishing underground satirical newspapers. There have always been students determined not to adhere to the honor code. My sister attended BYU while Jim McMahon was the school’s quarterback and I don’t think I’m divulging any big secrets to say that he didn’t win awards for piety while he was a student there.

The bottom line is that BYU has an honor code and the students are supposed to abide by it. The Mormon church penalizes flagrant violations of the code, but isn’t running a prison camp here. Nor is BYU unique in running a religious college where students are expected to voluntarily adhere to certain moral standards.

So all that said, the Associated Press’s Cristina Silva recently made waves with a story about gay students at BYU making a video that has been included in Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign. While this development is undeniably news, and clearly worthy of mainstream coverage, Silva reports this story with an unwarranted tone of breathlessness throughout:

The video has sent tremors through the Mormon community and represents the latest effort to reconcile the church’s conservative values with a growing acceptance toward gay relationships. The video estimates there are more than 1,800 LGBT students at BYU. It also notes that the school is consistently ranked as one of the most unfriendly campuses for those students in the nation.

“Sent tremors through the Mormon community”? It would be nice to see generalizations such as that documented, otherwise it reads like editorializing. And in a story as potentially contentious as this, I’m not sure it’s the best journalistic practice to uncritically repeat statistics, without at least attempting to understand the basis for their figures. Silva does note how the church has evolved in recent years:

A mere five years ago, BYU students weren’t allowed to discuss their sexual orientation without risking expulsion under the school’s strict honor code. A clarification in 2007 stressed that “one’s stated sexual orientation is not an Honor Code issue.”

In 2010, BYU lifted a ban on advocacy of homosexuality. That same year, students formed Understanding Same-Gender Attraction. The support group drew eight people to its first meeting. This semester more than 80 students have attended the weekly meetings on campus.

Gay students must still adhere to much stricter standards than their heterosexual classmates under the updated honor code. While premarital sex is off limits to all BYU students, straight couples are allowed to kiss and cuddle openly on campus. Gay students cannot.

A “mere” five years ago? Such a loaded word reeks of editorializing. More broadly, much of the honor code at BYU would be considered strict in comparison to the behavior that’s come to define college life. If you’re looking for keggers, classes on post-structuralist theory, or an environment that is constantly affirming of a panoply of sexual behaviors — it shouldn’t be news that BYU is a different kind of university. This is being framed almost as if it’s an obvious injustice, instead of what every student should expect the place to be like before they matriculate.

That said, I suppose the video does represent how gay Mormons are becoming more vocal and this is an interesting development. I just wished Silva talked about it in a more serious fashion rather than relying on sympathetic anecdotes:

Adam White, a sophomore featured in the video, said he struggled with his sexual orientation during his first year at BYU.

“It was a very dark time for me because I was just feeling so confused,” he said. “I mean, I was living in an all-male dorm, and just being in such close contact. Everything I had suppressed was coming at me.” …

Joshua Behn, a gay activist and former BYU student who recently left the church, said he had doubts about the student video when he first heard of it.

“I was afraid it was going to be, `oh, you can deny your sexuality,’” he said. “But watching, they don’t make judgments about that. They are saying, `there are other people out there. You are not alone.’”

Randall Thacker, 39, said he “was completely closeted, completely ashamed” about his attraction to men when he graduated from BYU in 1997. A church leader sent him to therapy to change his sexual orientation.

“To see the video gives me so much incredible hope for the future,” said Thacker, a gay activist in Washington, D.C. “It seems like a miracle.”

These are certainly illuminating stories, but it would be nice if they were in any way balanced out with some perspectives from BYU administrators or church leaders. There’s also no discussion of what the church actually teaches about homosexuality from a religious standpoint, and how that affects BYU’s evolving policies here. Ultimately, there’s little doubt about where Silva’s sympathies lie here.

And my final bone to pick here is that, per the Behn anecdote above, Silva refers to gay Mormons being sent away for therapy by the church multiple times, and drops this on us:

Gay church members were often sent to rehabilitative therapy to “get fixed.”

Attention all news editors: Whenever scare quotes are used, especially in sensitive and unsubstantiated contexts like this, it should set off klaxons in the newsroom and the writer should have their knuckles rapped. I’m pretty sure therapy for gay members was never an official church policy — local bishops have a wide degree of latitude for how they help members of their wards. I don’t doubt that it did happen, but the impression here is as if sending gay Mormons off for reparative therapy was commonplace. Maybe it was, but given what I know about the church I’m skeptical. And given the way this allegation is cavalierly thrown out in this story, I’m doubly skeptical.

Overall, there are enough interesting details to be gleaned from Silva’s reporting and I give her lots of credit for understanding how to this video project is pushing the boundaries of the church’s increasing public tolerance of homosexuality. But if this story certainly deserved to be written, the distinct lack of balance ultimately gets in the way of a more complete understanding.

Bibi vs. The New York Times

Unbeknown to me, George was working on something for GetReligion that was a big picture look about how the New York Times handles the Arab-Israeli conflict. He did an admirable job and I heartily recommend reading that piece.

However, I’m going to hit that same issue again just a few days later.

When a major world leader singles out a major American news organ and blasts its coverage of his country, that’s a significant development. Even odder, this incident prompted relatively little discussion or notice — especially in media critic circles.

There are some obvious reasons why this is the case. It’s probably not surprising that the liberal editors of The New York Times don’t think much of the right-wing government of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Still, when the Times asked Bibi to pen an op-ed for the paper he could have respectfully declined. Instead, Netanyahu, who’s not known for his subtlety, fired off a response blasting the paper for asking him to do so, given what he sees as the newspaper’s bias. Then, turning up the heat even more, he leaked his broadside to the Jerusalem Post:

[Senior Netanyahu adiser Ron] Dermer made clear that this had much to do with the fact that 19 of the paper’s 20 op-ed pieces on Israel since September were negative.

Ironically, the one positive piece was written by Richard Goldstone — chairman of the UN’s Goldstone Commission Report — defending Israel against charges of apartheid.

“We wouldn’t want to be seen as ‘Bibiwashing’ the op-ed page of The New York Times,” Dermer said, in reference to a piece called “Israel and Pinkwashing” from November. In that piece, a City University of New York humanities professor lambasted Israel for, as Dermer wrote, “having the temerity to champion its record on gay rights.”

That piece, he wrote, “set a new bar that will be hard for you to lower in the future.”

Interestingly enough, Dermer also lodged this criticism against another specific op-ed:

Dermer also took the paper to task for running an op-ed piece by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in May that asserted that shortly after the UN voted for the partition of Palestine in November 1947, “Zionist forces expelled Palestinian Arabs to ensure a decisive Jewish majority in the future state of Israel, and Arab armies intervened. War and further expulsions ensued.”

Those lines, Dermer wrote, “effectively turn on its head an event within living memory in which the Palestinians rejected the UN partition plan accepted by the Jews, and then joined five Arab states in launching a war to annihilate the embryonic Jewish state. It should not have made it past the most rudimentary fact-checking.”

That it did find its way into the op-ed pages of the “paper of record,” he wrote, showed the degree to which the paper had not internalized former senator Daniel Moynihan’s admonition that “everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but … no one is entitled to their own facts.”

OK, now I know what many of you are thinking.

GetReligion doesn’t generally concern itself with op-eds or editorial stances. However, I think that these journalistic critiques offered by the Netanyahu government raise a couple of relevant issues of interest to readers of this blog. Yes, there is expected to be a strict wall of separation between news and editorial — I once worked at a paper where they moved the editorial writers’ desks for fear that the proximity to the newsroom would encourage editorial writers and news reporters to have conversations with each other. But that doesn’t mean expected journalistic standards for news coverage stop at the door of the editorial department, allowing opinions to reign supreme.

Now it’s one thing to accept that someone doesn’t agree with you, but people are less inclined to let disagreements slide when they feel that the arguments being used against you are dishonest. Netanyahu’s government is trying to establish that the New York Times’ Israel coverage is unfair, not because of honest disagreement but because the Times is using editorial license to distort the factual record.

That’s a pretty serious accusation. Netanyahu was hardly alone in thinking that “pinkwashing” piece was disconnected from factual reality. However, the dispute here isn’t about the specifics of the piece, so much as it is asserting that the entire premise is broadly untrue. This argument against the piece pits American cultural politics against perceptions about how religious tolerance is actually practiced in Israel, a very diverse society. Even if you think one side in this debate is more wrong than the other on balance, there are lots of specific circumstances that could be cited to challenge assumptions all around.

Because the disputes over Israel are largely driven by acrimony between two religions, it seems like the tendency is to try and argue every dispute as black and white where one side is morally superior. Along these lines, I certainly see why Dermer was annoyed that the paper let Abbas elide over the inconvenient details regarding how the Arab states rejected the U.N. plan and launched and offensive war. But, and I say this as someone who’s spent a great deal of time recently excoriating the media for passing opinions off as facts, I’m not sure Abbas’ statement can be seen as anything other than interpretative.

Perhaps you can argue that the sins of omission in Abbas’ statement are discrediting, but there’s a very fine line between that and saying the paper should have rejected his version of events as a matter of “fact-checking.” Everyone likes to use “the facts” as a cudgel, but in the process of pummeling their opponents, people are far too willing to pretend something is an objective truth when it’s not.

I don’t know what the New York Times’ current policy on this is, or whether a more stringent attitude toward fact-checking would have resulted in Netanyahu being more pleased with the paper’s coverage of Israel.

However, I will say that  one of journalism’s dirty little secrets is that almost no columns or op-eds are fact-checked before they go to print. (USA TODAY is one of the few outlets I’m aware of where they make a point of running op-eds through a separate fact check in addition to the typical editing routine where they may or may not catch any errors.) The attitude seems to be that since it’s labeled opinion, the byline will suffer more damage to its reputation than the outlet where it was published.

One can debate whether or not the Times is entitled to let its editorial freak flag fly here or is so biased against Israel it’s willing to let the facts be distorted. But I do think instituting a higher standard of factual rigor on op-ed pages would be helpful — particularly on religious issues — which are often the most complex and divisive issues addressed by columnists. How more factual rigor would be instituted, I’m not sure.

Would you be more inclined to read certain columns or op-ed pages if you knew they’d been through a fact-checking process before publication? And I also wonder if, despite the “wall of separation” between news and editorial staffers, does there come a point where a disproportionate and egregious editorial opining starts to affect your perception of the paper’s credibility and news coverage on particular topic?

I think we know where Netanyahu comes down on these questions and it’s pretty absolutist. For his part, Bill Keller, the former executive editor of the Times, has essentially argued that the Times is unbiased on politics, but not culture, morals and religion. Unfortunately for Keller, Israel is a Gordian Knot comprised of all of those aforementioned ideological strands. So I’m curious to know what factual standards you think opinion pages should adhere to to preserve their credibility.


About that new Mormon PR blitz…

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, either because you haven’t paid close attention or don’t live in one of the areas currently being bombarded with ads, but the Mormon church has launched a flashy new public relations campaign. The Mormon church running ads is not new, but an article by The New York Times’ Laurie Goodstein explains why this campaign is different:

Brandon Burton, president and general manager of Bonneville Communications, an advertising agency owned by the church, said that the church’s previous, long-running media campaign promoted the church’s doctrine, providing a toll-free number to call for a free Bible or Book of Mormon. However, this new campaign introduces doctrine only if a viewer seeks out the Web site

The Prop 8 battle has brought some more scrutiny on the church. This isn’t really a criticism, but Goodstein only touches on how the church’s advertising campaigns have evolved in various places. I would have enjoyed more background on the history here. Anyway, Goodstein explains why the church is taking a new tack:

After Sunday worship in recent months, Mormon bishops around the country gathered their congregations for an unusual PowerPoint presentation to unveil the church’s latest strategy for overcoming what it calls its “perception problem.”

Top Mormon leaders had hired two big-name advertising agencies in 2009, Ogilvy & Mather and Hall & Partners, to find out what Americans think of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Using focus groups and surveys, they found that Americans who had any opinion at all used adjectives that were downright negative: “secretive,” “cultish,” “sexist,” “controlling,” “pushy,” “anti-gay.”

She also explains what the new campaign looks like:

On seeing these results, some of those watching the presentation booed while others laughed, according to people at the meetings. But then they were told that the church was ready with a response: a multimillion-dollar television, billboard and Internet advertising campaign that uses the tagline, “I’m a Mormon.” The campaign, which began last year but was recently extended to 21 media markets, features the personal stories of members who defy stereotyping, including a Hawaiian longboard surfing champion, a fashion designer and single father in New York City and a Haitian-American woman who is mayor of a small Utah city.

One interesting detail that Goodstein doesn’t mention here is that maybe the most talked about aspect of the new campaign is the fact that the LDS church managed to snag Brandon Flowers, lead singer of rock band The Killers and Mormon, to do one of the ads. (We learn he’s even named one of his children Ammon.)  There’s no shortage of Mormon celebrities and artists, but the really high profile ones tend to be ex-Mormons or have a very complicated relationship with the church. (See Ryan Gosling, Eliza Dushku, Aaron Eckhart, Neil LaBute, Walter Kirn et al.) Flowers is a rare bird in that he’s a genuine celebrity publicly speaking out about his Mormonism. Anyway, the Flowers ad made something of a splash and I’m surprised it goes unmentioned — espeicially since The Grey Lady has reported on his religion in the past.

Speaking of well-known Mormons, Goodstein raises some interesting questions about how the two Mormon presidential candidates relate to the church’s new campaign:

Church leaders like Mr. Allen say that the timing and tenor of the campaign have nothing to do with the political campaigns of two Mormons running for president: Mitt Romney, the putative front-runner, and Jon M. Huntsman Jr., both former Republican governors. To avoid the percep-tion that it was trying to influence politics, the church is intentionally not airing the campaign in states that have early primaries, going so far as to cancel their advertising in Las Vegas when Nevada moved up its primary, said Mr. Allen.

And yet, the church’s campaign could prove to be a pivotal factor in the race for the presidency. The Mormon image problem is a problem not only for the church, but also for Mr. Romney.

That’s interesting. When I was working for National Review in 2007 the church requested an editorial meeting with the publication. I was there and met with some of the church’s General Authorities. They weren’t pushing a political agenda at all, so much as to say that the church was well aware that Romney’s candidacy had raised a lot of questions about the church and that they were happy to be of assistance answering questions. While the new ad campaign is decidedly non-political, it’s bizarre to say the timing of the campaign has nothing to do with the increased scrutiny brought on by the campaign or for representatives of the church to say they’re not sensitive about Mormonism intersects with politics. Indeed, she later quotes someone as saying: “You would think … that the higher Romney’s profile, the better it is for the church. It’s actually the opposite.”

Then there’s this passage:

In many ways, Mr. Romney and Mr. Huntsman embody the Mormon archetype: clean-cut, Republican American family men. The church’s campaign is designed to introduce a rainbow of Mormon faces who counter the stereotype. These Mormons are not only white, but also Asian, black and Hispanic, and from countries other than the United States. There are plenty of traditional two-parent families, but there are also single parents, working women and stay-at-home fathers, and even an interracial couple — all family arrangements rare among Mormons until recently.

It’s true that the LDS church’s has had serious issues race relations and the changes to the doctrine not allowing blacks to hold the priesthood in the church didn’t occur that long ago in historical terms. It’s also true to some extent that Mormon stereotypes exist for a reason, particularly if you spend some time in small town Idaho or Utah suburbs. But commenting on the evolution of stereotypes in vague temporal terms is something that I think journalists should do with more precision. It’s also a missed opportunity for discussing some of the church’s unique doctrinal beliefs — for instance, the church’s beliefs about marriage explain a lot about family arrangements in the church.

These (relatively) minor criticisms aside, on the whole it’s really well done as you would expect from Laurie Goodstein. Lots of great quotes and background, and the issue of of Mormon doctrinal differences is handled reasonably well. It’s well worth reading.

And speaking of Mormons and politics, also worth noting is this article from The Daily Caller – “What would the White House be like with a Mormon president? Pretty much the same“:

“There’d be a Book of Mormon, maybe, in the nightstand,” said Brooks, grasping at straws to come up with some things that would change. Of course, she pointed out, there’s already one in the nightstand in every Marriott hotel room in America.

Mormons obey the Word of Wisdom, a religious law that prohibits consumption of alcohol, tobacco, coffee, tea and illegal drugs. But does that mean that under a President Romney or Huntsman, the White House would go dry and sleep-deprived aides wouldn’t be permitted to refuel with coffee?

“I would absolutely predict and bet a thousand bucks that you would not have a dry White House,” Chuck Warren, a Republican strategist and a practicing Mormon, told The Daily Caller.

It’s probably not too revelatory an article for GetReligions’ savvy consumers of religion news, but I bet the Daily Caller article will answer a lot of questions for a lot of people.