Digging for facts on dog-whistle politics

dog whistleA few weeks ago, I stumbled across this post at Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire that cited a CNN interview in which President Bush said that history would judge the Iraq war as “just a comma.” He subsequently repeated the statement elsewhere and the good folks at Political Wire suggested that it was code meant for the religious right:

While it seems an odd thing to say, a Political Wire reader suggests it’s designed to speak to the religious right while not unnecessarily alarming others. In other words, it’s a classic example of “dog whistle politics” used to energize his base.

The Christian proverb Bush was evidently referring to is “Never put a period where God has put a comma.” In essence, trust in God to make a bad situation better.

Puzzled by these comments, I put out a feeler and Doug informed me that the only reference he had seen to this “Christian proverb” is a public relations campaign of the United Church of Christ, which used it to reference the idea of continuous revelation.

silent dog whistleThen came Peter Baker’s coverage and analysis in The Washington Post. This would not be the first case of the president’s dropping code words. But the comma proverb provided an interesting twist, and Baker was spot on:

The comma remark, though, offers an especially intriguing case study in how a few words can trigger many interpretations. Bush used it in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer aired on Sept. 24 in talking about Iraq. He noted the bloodshed shown on television but hailed the resiliency of the Iraqi people and cited the election last December in which 12 million came to the polls despite the violence.

. . . Then Ian Welsh, on his Agonist blog, postulated a theory about the hidden meaning of the comment, citing the “never put a period” saying and calling it a “dog whistle” comment that only some would understand: “He is constantly littering his speeches with code words and phrases meant for the religious right. Other people don’t hear them, but they do, and most of the time it allows Bush both to say what those who aren’t evangelical or born again want to hear, while still reassuring the religious right [what it] wants to hear.”

But it turns out that the phrase “never put a period” originated not with a Christian conservative figure or biblical passage but with Gracie Allen, the comedienne wife of George Burns. And the phrase is a favorite not of the religious right but of the religious left. The United Church of Christ, which is devoted to fighting for what it calls social justice and opposes the war, adopted the phrase in January 2002.

“I needed something short and succinct,” said Ron Buford, the marketing director who came up with it. “When I saw the Gracie Allen quote, I was up all night thinking about it — God is still speaking, there’s more for us to know.”

When he heard about Bush’s comment, Buford was stunned. “It’s ironic that, as savvy as they are about using these quotes to strengthen their base, that he would use a quote that we’ve been using lately,” Buford said.

I doubt that President Bush’s speechwriters are intentionally using a slogan from the theological left in an attempt to connect with his base. But it was a fair enough question to ask. Congrats to Baker for rooting out the back story of the allegation and putting the speculation to rest.

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Birth of Contemporary Christian Cinema?

FacingGiantsThe faith-and-football flick Facing the Giants continues to get quite a bit of press out there, especially since it has now been linked in many media minds with the post-Passion decision over at Fox to create a DVD and indie division called Fox Faith.

Last weekend, Jeffrey Weiss of The Dallas Morning News included the flick in an interesting wrap-up of some, yes, post-Passion trends in marketing small movies about religious faith. I was struck by the following section of the story, centering on a chat with Matthew Crouch, son of Trinity Broadcasting Network founders Paul and Jan Crouch. While Mel Gibson’s breakthrough was crucial, Crouch the younger also stressed that religious people — including some on the real Christian right — have “have decided it’s OK to make Hollywood movies.”

That wasn’t always true. Mr. Crouch recalls that his grandmother once told his dad if he were at a movie when Jesus came back, he’d go to hell. But today, evangelicals believe they need to be in the world, he said.

“We’re supposed to define culture,” Mr. Crouch said. “Hollywood is a part of that.”

The problem, of course, is that creating this kind of culture is really hard work that takes talent, patience, skill and teamwork — teamwork that almost always is going to include seeking excellence among unbelievers as well as believers. There are, of course, serious (and diverse) networks of Christians already doing fine (and commercially hot) work in Hollywood. They make real Hollywood movies for audiences of normal moviegoers.

The question, it seems to me, is whether we are about to witness the birth of what can only be called the Contemporary Christian Movie industry. Wait, that “CCM” thing has already been claimed. Contemporary Christian Cinema? CCC? Is this kind of niche market strategy (again) a good idea for faith in popular culture?

There is, however, an interesting story behind Facing the Giants and the team of Southern Baptist amateurs who have managed to get their $100,000 evangelistic movie onto 400 screens in smaller markets across the country and to make about $3 million so far. Washington Post reporter Peter Whoriskey actually ventured down to Albany, Ga., to take a refreshingly low-key look at this story, which drew the rather over-the-top headline “Filmmakers Say God Was Their Co-Producer — ‘Facing the Giants,’ Shot On a Shoestring and a Prayer, Does Miraculously at Box Office.”

Here’s the heart of this report from a red-zip-code backlot:

The “Giants” box office tally doesn’t even include some of the nation’s largest metropolitan markets, which distributors skipped over in recognition of the cultural divide in this country. For now, the movie is not playing anywhere near Washington (unless you consider Richmond nearby). According to Julie Fairchild, a spokeswoman for Provident Films, “There’s a sort of imaginary line where Christian films don’t play.” Where it is showing, she says, is the “flyover country that Hollywood has been ignoring.”

A world removed from the realm of most indie filmmakers, the cast and crew were for the most part completely lacking in experience, and in Hollywood terms, this makes for an appealing back story. The female lead is a homemaker with no acting credits aside from being “part of the crowd” in a church production; the male lead is a balding associate pastor with a passing resemblance to Dan Aykroyd. One of the screenwriters sums up his artistic experience this way: “I wrote a poem in fifth grade.”

culture 43 0Now this is where the plot thickens.

If one assumes that the goal of this movie is evangelism, that would also assume that the movie needs to attract people who are not already believers. Yet, as Whoriskey demonstrates, Facing the Giants is almost certainly going to be a financial success to one degree or another because it speaks the language of the people who are already in the pews. It treats their stories with respect, for a change.

The movie preaches and this audience likes preaching.

Yet it may be that preaching is exactly what will make it successful. . . . (For) the appreciative and tearful crowds filing out of a theater here last week, none of that mattered. What they repeated over and over is that the script seemed so faithful to their view of the world.

“It was so real,” said Linda Kile, 59, a school bookkeeper. “If you believe in the Bible, it’s just so real.”

“What I liked is that it didn’t seem made up,” said Adam Rodriguez, 28, a sales specialist at Sherwin Williams.

“Hollywood movies are fake,” said Melissa Goodwin, 42, a sales rep. “Just a lot of cussing. That was a real movie about real life.”

Do you see the irony? This is a solid niche market. But it will not help shape the mainstream. Also, it is hard to imagine how Contemporary Christian Cinema will reach many people who do not already believe. This is evangelism for the already evangelized.

On a personal note, my Scripps Howard News Service column for this week focuses on the long road that the Rev. Alex Kendrick has taken from his young Star Wars dreams of making movies to his role as writer, director and actor in Facing the Giants. I’ve been covering this PG-rated story from the beginning and I still find it poignant that Kendrick wanted to study how to make movies, but had almost zero chance to do so in a Christian context, growing up when he did. There are options now, of course. Here is a tiny clip from the new column:

Kendrick never had a real chance to study screenwriting, editing, directing or acting. When the time came to pick a career, he did what many young media-driven believers end up doing. He entered the ministry.

It’s hard to explain to outsiders how this kind of thing happens.

“I kept trying to find people who felt the same way as I did,” he said in an interview just before a ratings tussle with the Motion Picture Association of America that sparked a media firestorm. “I could see that movies were shaping our culture and I couldn’t understand why so many other people couldn’t see that. It was hard to find people who understood what I wanted to do.”

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Imagine this church-state scenario

542401b Woman Praying W Rosary Beads PostersOK, here’s the plan.

Clearly, there is ugly anti-Catholic prejudice left in American life, especially in terms of bias against the most devout and traditional forms of the faith. So what would happen if public educators floated a plan to have all students learn more about this important world religion by practicing this faith during their school days?

The teacher could stand at the front of the classroom and, all together, as part of a taxpayer-funded class activity, with the teacher grading students on their participation, everyone present would learn how to say the following:

Hail Mary, Full of Grace, The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of death.

All of the students — Protestants, Muslims, Mormons, Jews, Hindus, you name it — could learn about fasting, memorizing Bible passages, making the sign of the Cross and saying confession (maybe they could do that on a field trip). Wouldn’t this be great for promoting interfaith understanding in this tense age? I’m sure there wouldn’t be protests about this from strict church-state separationists, secularists, fundamentalist Protestants and others. Right? It would be an educational exercise. That’s the ticket.

Well, maybe a few people would be upset. But it seems that this kind of interfaith education is kosher these days. After all, click here and read this story from the San Francisco Chronicle about a U.S. Supreme Court non-decision:

The court, without comment, left intact a ruling by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco last November in favor of the Byron Union School District in eastern Contra Costa. The suit challenged the content of a seventh-grade history course at Excelsior Middle School in Byron in the fall of 2001. The teacher, using an instructional guide, told students they would adopt roles as Muslims for three weeks to help them learn what Muslims believe.

She encouraged them to use Muslim names, recited prayers in class, had them memorize and recite a passage from the Quran and made them give up something for a day, such as television or candy, to simulate fasting during the month of Ramadan.

What’s my point? We really don’t need to debate the ruling itself or the wisdom of the program.

What I found interesting is that the newspaper editors didn’t seem to realize what would have happened, say in Northern California, if anyone had attempted to mandate a similar program for Orthodox Judaism, Evangelical Protestantism, Catholicism, etc.

Would the newspaper have considered that a threatening violation of the DMZ between church and state? Or what if a charismatic, Pentecostal Christian educator worked up some taxpayer-funded class activities based on learning how to speak in tongues, evangelism, the laying on of hands for healing, watching Pat Robertson videos, handling snakes …

What would the ACLU think of that? What would the editors think of that? Just asking.

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Smells like teen spirit

teens for jesusThe New York Times‘ Laurie Goodstein continues her in-depth coverage of evangelicals. She picks up on an evangelical campaign warning that teenagers are abandoning Christianity.

The campaign is based, as Goodstein notes, on a fairly laughable statistic that only 4 percent of teenagers will be “Bible-believing Christians” by the time they reach adulthood. I’m not sure how the statistic-inventer defines Bible-believing Christians, but that compares to 35 percent of Baby Boomers and 65 percent of the World War II generation. Some 6,000 pastors are attending meetings across the country to address the problem:

While some critics say the statistics are greatly exaggerated (one evangelical magazine for youth ministers dubbed it “the 4 percent panic attack”), there is widespread consensus among evangelical leaders that they risk losing their teenagers.

“I’m looking at the data,” said Ron Luce, who organized the meetings and founded Teen Mania, a 20-year-old youth ministry, “and we’ve become post-Christian America, like post-Christian Europe. We’ve been working as hard as we know how to work — everyone in youth ministry is working hard — but we’re losing.”

The board of the National Association of Evangelicals, an umbrella group representing 60 denominations and dozens of ministries, passed a resolution this year deploring “the epidemic of young people leaving the evangelical church.”

Among the leaders speaking at the meetings are Ted Haggard, president of the evangelical association; the Rev. Jerry Falwell; and nationally known preachers like Jack Hayford and Tommy Barnett.

Ted Haggard, eh? Would that be the same Ted Haggard who told Frank Lockwood of the Lexington Herald-Leader — also known as the Bible Belt Blogger — that the 4 percent claim was a scam? Here’s what Lockwood reported on Sept. 11:

A full-page advertisement in this month’s Christianity Today warns that America’s evangelicals may soon be on the endangered species list — as rare as snail darters, spotted owls and Chinook salmon.

But the ad, which is endorsed by the National Association of Evangelicals, is a false alarm — or at least an exaggeration — according to the group’s president — Pastor Ted Haggard.

“We’re church people. We always use fear and guilt to motivate people,” Haggard told Bible Belt Blogger, punctuating the quip with hearty laughter.

Ha ha ha! Anyway, it’s not that Goodstein fell for the ruse. She goes to great lengths to document just how ridiculous the 4 percent claim is. But she tries to get at the heart of the story by interviewing teens and others who seem to earnestly believe that Bible-believing Christians are threatened. She gets specifics from Christian teens trying to avoid immoral behavior in a world that countenances much of it. She interviews Notre Dame’s Christian Smith for perspective. She also interviews an author who tells of kids who felt peer pressure to become Christian:

The phenomenon may not be that young evangelicals are abandoning their faith, but that they are abandoning the institutional church, said Lauren Sandler, author of “Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement” (Viking, 2006). Ms. Sandler, who calls herself a secular liberal, said she found the movement frighteningly robust.

“This generation is not about church,” said Ms. Sandler, an editor at Salon.com. “They always say, ‘We take our faith outside the four walls.’ For a lot of young evangelicals, church is a rock festival, or a skate park or hanging out in someone’s basement.”

Wouldn’t that be interesting if that were the case? After years of reinforcing the idea that church is a rock festival, skate park or small group — growing teenagers had no institutional church to go back to? It’s definitely something worth looking into. Better data on what, if anything, is happening with evangelical teenagers would help stories tracking the group. The Barna Research Group, which specializes in surveying Christians, has put out books on teenagers in recent years. What other hard data are out there? What do recent surveys, such as the ones showing teens are less likely to have sex, have to do with this?

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Report the political wildfire

speaker hastertApparently GetReligion’s post on the Foley scandal was featured on the front page of Yahoo on Thursday morning, which drew responses from across the political spectrum. For those of you who are new to the blog, note that we are not here to debate faith but to discuss the media’s coverage of faith. Hence our name: GetReligion.

While your well-reasoned, and some not-so-well-reasoned, thoughts are great, there are millions of other blogs out there that serve that purpose. Allow GetReligion to be a place to discuss the media’s coverage of the religious issues in our society. Comments outside the realm of media analysis will be considered for deletion.

As a short follow-up to Thursday’s post on Foley and the subsequent media firestorm and Drudge-induced crazy twists and turns, I want to note George Will’s Washington Post column that says this scandal has revealed the fault lines in the GOP. Much of it explains the quiet, and some not-so-quiet, GOP calls for the resignation of House Speaker Dennis Hastert, a Wheaton College graduate:

Their story, of late, has been that theirs is the lonely burden of defending all that is wholesome. But the problem with claiming to have cornered the market on virtue is that people will get snippy when they spot vice in your ranks. This is one awkward aspect of what is supposed to have been the happy fusion between, but which involves unresolved tensions between, two flavors of conservatism — Western and Southern.

The former is largely libertarian, holding that pruning big government will allow civil society — and virtues nourished by it and by the responsibilities of freedom — to flourish. The Southern, essentially religious, strand of conservatism is explained by Ryan Sager in his new book, “The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians, and the Battle to Control the Republican Party”:

“Whereas conservative Christian parents once thought it was inappropriate for public schools to teach their kids about sex, now they want the schools to preach abstinence to children. Whereas conservative Christians used to be unhappy with evolution being taught in public schools, now they want Intelligent Design taught instead (or at least in addition). Whereas conservative Christians used to want the federal government to leave them alone, now they demand that more and more federal funds be directed to local churches and religious groups through Bush’s faith-based initiatives program.”

To a Republican Party increasingly defined by the ascendancy of the religious right, the Foley episode is doubly deadly. His behavior was disgusting, and some Republican reactions seem more calculating than indignant.

firestormGetReligion would like to throw in another fault line: Reagan Democrats-conservative Catholics.

While it’s clear that some Republicans will back Hastert, others are outraged and want heads to roll. Identifying the source of that outrage will speak volumes about the Republican Party and its commitment to values voters.

The media would do us all a real favor if they spent less time with talking heads, cut back on the commentary and devote more time to talking with everyday members of Congress, or even your average loyal Republican. Reporters’ inboxes were bombarded Thursday with news releases from the House majority citing the number of Republicans who are supporting Hastert. I have a feeling that those news releases instigated this Washington Post article describing House Republicans closing ranks around their leader.

Reporters don’t have to bring these people onto radio or television shows, or quote them in newspapers, but they should talk to everyday members of the GOP and get a feel for how they are reacting to the scandal. When they’re on the record, politicos, even values-focused politicos, will be more likely to follow marching orders, but how they feel in their hearts and souls could be an entirely different matter.

To highlight a great example of this type of reporting, check out this Morning Edition report in which a handful of rural values voters are asked about how the Foley scandal will affect their vote. Their answer? Not at all. Issues such as Iraq and their values matter more. While admitting that its own small-sample poll is not scientific, NPR also cites this very scientific poll from the Pew Research Center to support its conclusion.

Alan Cooperman of The Washington Post came to a more wishy-washy conclusion using different numbers from what seems to be the same Pew poll. Cooperman’s story contends that the GOP hold on the evangelical vote is weakening, but does not tie that weakening to the Foley scandal. There are other issues at stake, such as Iraq. But there’s a problem. I cannot find any of the statistics cited in Cooperman’s article in the Pew poll. Is there another poll out there that Pew has not released on its website?

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Couric courts Red America?

download phpBless her heart, I think Katie Couric — in an attempt to tweak her image in Middle America — tried to engineer herself a Sister Souljah moment the other night. There are reports that some of her staff producers and reporters freaked out.

The question is whether CBS News should have allowed the father of one of the victims of the Columbine High School massacre to voice his beliefs about America’s “culture of death,” to use that now familiar Pope John Paul II phrase, during the new gosh-we-hope-this-is-controversial “freeSpeech” segment on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.

Here is the crucial segment of the script for Brian Rohrbough’s short commentary, delivered in the wake of the Amish school killings:

This country is in a moral free-fall. For over two generations, the public school system has taught in a moral vacuum, expelling God from the school and from the government, replacing him with evolution, where the strong kill the weak, without moral consequences and life has no inherent value.

We teach there are no absolutes, no right or wrong. And I assure you the murder of innocent children is always wrong, including by abortion. Abortion has diminished the value of children. Suicide has become an acceptable action and has further emboldened these criminals. And we are seeing an epidemic increase in murder-suicide attacks on our children.

Sadly, our schools are not safe. In fact, we now witness that within our schools. Our children have become a target of terrorists from within the United States.

Couric said the obvious in one of her online commentaries, after quoting strong emails from the cultural left and right:

When we approached Brian Rohrbough and asked him his thoughts about this latest school shooting, this essay was the result. We understood that people may disagree with what he said, and with what he believes. But censoring or attempting to re-shape his opinion would be antithetical to the very idea of free speech.

This is a nation built on dialogue and debate. And, most importantly, on freedom of speech. As George Washington once said, “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”

The key phrase — “when we approached” — must have jumped out at many readers on the cultural left.

There is, of course, no right to free speech on the CBS Evening News.

CBS sought out this controversy and can either be praised or jeered for doing so. Rohrbough’s views were strongly stated, but millions of Americans would affirm all, most or much of what he said. Like I keep saying, the polls consistently suggest that about 20 percent of the population is made up of strong cultural conservatives, about 20 percent strong cultural liberals and in between is OprahAmerica, where people slide all over the place depending on how poll questions are worded.

So CBS gave someone on the cultural right a brief moment of air time. It is interesting that some people on the left reacted by saying that it was wrong for CBS to have done so. Not “dumb” or “bad strategy,” but “wrong.” “Evil,” perhaps?

As Howard Kurtz reported in The Washington Post, it is also important that some of the protests came from inside the CBS newsroom. Will the same thing happen when filmmaker Michael Moore gets a 90-second spot? Or has he already done his thing?

The crucial issue, of course, is not whether Americans on the cultural right (and candid voices on the cultural left) are allowed to do commentary pieces. The key is whether their views are accurately represented in news stories about abortion, marriage, public education, speech codes, etc. That’s what matters.

Commentary is easy. Journalism is hard.

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Covering split GOP values voters

mark foleyThe reporting of ABC News’ Brian Ross has done to conservative Christians what the war in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina and the Jack Abramoff corruption scandal failed to do. He has divided them, and the rest of the mainstream media is having a joyous time covering the aftermath.

Since journalists revealed that the House leadership could have potentially ignored at best and covered up at worst the sexual wrongdoing of Rep. Mark Foley, R.-Fla., conservatives everywhere are either calling for heads to roll or arguing that scandal is the fault of hypocritical liberals, a Florida newspaper that knew about Foley’s behavior but didn’t do anything, the mainstream media, homosexuals and Democratic political opportunists.

The party of family values, morality, justice and protecting innocent children failed for years to oust a sexual predator in its midst. Elected Republican leaders believe that values voters will not be thrilled to support politicians who allowed this to happen.

Check out The New York Times on Wednesday morning:

WASHINGTON, Oct. 3 — Backed by measured words of support from President Bush, Speaker J. Dennis Hastert opened an intense drive on Tuesday to hold on to his post, but behind the scenes senior Republicans weighed whether he could survive the scandal surrounding former Representative Mark Foley.

Among the options being considered by senior Republicans is for Mr. Hastert to announce that he will stay on as speaker through this year but not seek re-election to the post assuming Republicans retain control of the House, said people on and off Capitol Hill who were involved in the discussions. They said the advantage of such a step would be to postpone a disruptive leadership fight until after Election Day.

Christianity Today‘s Ted Olsen compiled a great selection of articles chronicling the various positions held by conservative leaders, from the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins to James Dobson of Focus on the Family. The consensus among these leaders is that, yes, the scandal is reprehensible, but vote GOP in November anyway because the Democrats are much worse. That’s the kind of encouragement voters need this fall.

SilhouetteThe Washington Post‘s Dana Milbank highlights The Washington Times’ editorial calls for Hastert’s resignation and then details Hastert’s recovery plan:

Four months ago, Hastert was feted as the longest-serving Republican speaker, earning tributes from all segments of the party. “He’s done a great job, and he’s been a great partner to me and a great mentor to me,” [Majority Leader John] Boehner said then.

And now, he’s a great fall guy, too. “The clerk of the House, who runs the page program, the Page Board — all report to the speaker,” Boehner declared yesterday.

It was time for Hastert to take action to put down the mutiny. So he called Rush Limbaugh. And Sean Hannity. And Hugh Hewitt. And Lars Larson. And Roger Hedgecock. Even Neal Boortz, who said Hastert should find a “better excuse” for his inaction on Foley. “We’re going to do them all,” said Hastert aide Ron Bonjean.

Then there’s this Post Style section ruling that details Foley’s history as a closeted gay Congressman. What’s clear is that Foley’s misdeeds and the reaction of the House leadership have split the leaders of the GOP, but it has yet to be proven that this will affect the values voters in next month’s election.

If the House or Senate flips parties, can the media legitimately pin the result on Foley and the leadership’s failure to oust him earlier? Polling data and the events between now and Nov. 7 will help determine that story line, but the media have made one thing clear: conservatives are divided over how to guard their image as the party that stands for values.

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Is a Mormon the top candidate for the religious right?

mitt romneyLet’s get the ball rolling on picking the religious right’s candidate for the 2008 presidential campaign. The Economist, a no-slouch publication when it comes to American politics, has anointed Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney on the basis that both Sens. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and George Allen, R-Va., have taken themselves out of contention. Frist is out for poor Senate leadership and Allen for, well, you know.

It’s an interesting hypothesis, and it will be interesting whether the Romney for President campaign gains momentum on the religious right. My guess is that we are going to have to wait till after Nov. 7, which seems like an eternity right now.

The big hiccup in Romney’s path is of course his Mormon faith, which was delightfully depicted by The Economist in a cartoon that I won’t reproduce on this blog because I don’t need the magazine’s art editor breathing down my neck. The Economist does not demur from highlighting the difficulties Romney will face in receiving acceptance among conservative evangelicals, but presents a compelling case for why it is possible:

Yet Mr Romney is a devoted Mormon — a former bishop, no less — at a time when religion is playing a growing role in American politics. Opinion polls suggest that anti-Mormon feeling is one of the most enduring religious prejudices in America. An LATimes/Bloomberg poll in June found that 37% of Americans would not vote for a Mormon presidential candidate; other polls put the figure at 17%.

Anti-Mormon feeling is particularly strong among Bible-believing Christians, a vital part of the Republican base. Many evangelicals regard Mormonism as nothing more than a cult: and a cult, moreover, that is based not only on a false theology but also on a willingness to tamper with the inerrant word of God that is the Bible.

mitt romney2Oh the joys political reporters will encounter in covering a Romney candidacy. First of all, as Doug pointed out in an e-mail to me, being a bishop in the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not quite like being a bishop in, say, the Church of England. One should not expect to see any photos of a President Romney in the Oval Office dressed like the CofE’s Bishop of London. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is a former Mormon bishop and he has also run for president.

What The Economist did get right is the bigger picture — the evangelical right is flexible and far from monolithic. While some are still upset over President Reagan’s divorce and, how should I put it, unusual theological views, a huge majority were OK with it. Even George W. Bush was not the religious right’s ideal choice. Britons may fuss over Cherie Blair’s Catholicism, but Americans are less inclined to think of their political leaders as also being religious leaders. Those in the religious right care more about issues when it comes to their politicians.

The potential harshness that religious conservatives could show to a Romney candidacy should not be underestimated, though. Doctrinally, some mainline Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox Christians consider the group a cult. But for whom will this matter when it comes to issues like abortion and same-sex marriage? What will Pat Robertson and James Dobson say? What will mainline Protestant denominations say?

Will Romney be up-front about these issues? Will he publicly affirm all of the beliefs of Mormonism? Or will he downplay them and hope nobody notices?

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