Amazingly enough, it now seems that either Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee for President. The idea that Gingrich could win almost 15 years after he resigned from the House in disgrace boggles the mind. As for Mitt Romney, he’s got no end of problems. One of those problems is that he’s a Mormon.
This fact has sparked a deal of controversy, dealing less with whether it’s appropriate for a Mormon to be President than with whether it’s appropriate to ask whether it’s appropriate for a Mormon to be President. Some popular opinion-makers have suggested that it’s not okay to even ask questions about Romney’s religion. The typical argument goes like this. Mitt Romney is running for President. We should judge him by qualities that will affect his performance in that job. His religious beliefs won’t affect anything he does as President. Thus we shouldn’t even ask him anything about his religious beliefs.
If you objected to third sentence in that four-sentence argument, then you think about this much as I do. It’s absurd to suggest that personal religious beliefs don’t affect anyone’s readiness to be President. Personal religious beliefs are the most important thing to look at when judging someone’s readiness to be President.
Of course it’s important to know where a candidate stands on political issues. We have many means to find that out, at least for a presidential candidate. We have campaign speeches, debates, interviews, books the candidate authored, past political record, and so forth. While it’s good to peruse such things, they don’t tell us everything. They are inadequate for two particular reasons.
First, we don’t know what issues a President will have to focus on while in office. During the 2000 campaign, nobody knew that the winner would have to determine the nation’s response to the biggest terrorist attack in history. Likewise, no one knows today what major events will occur between 2012 and 2016, and therefore we can’t ask a candidate how he’ll respond to those events.
Second, it’s possible for a candidate to lie. I know this may be shocking to some, but politicians have been known to say things which aren’t actually true.
So when judging a candidate for office, we need to plunge deeper than merely what they say about political issues. The best way to do that is to plumb their personal beliefs. “Personal beliefs” are many in number, but religious beliefs or the absense thereof are certainly primary among them. And there is no dividing line that separates religious beliefs from important beliefs. That idea springs from the assumption that religion is trivial, an assumption which does not stand up to scrutiny.
In fact a person’s religion generally shapes that person’s politics. It is true now and always has been. My religion determines my values: what I call right and wrong, what I call important and unimportant. To pretend otherwise is rank foolishness.
So what about Mitt Romney and Mormonism? I’ve already made plain my feelings about the Mormon religion in this post. If Mitt Romney truly believes all that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints teaches, then he believes an enormous amount of nutty stuff, which should certainly color our judgment of his readiness for high office. If he claims to be a Mormon but doesn’t believe that stuff, that also should color our judgment of his readiness for high office. But, in addition to the silly stuff, there’s also the bad stuff. For instance, there’s the fact that the LDS Church taught for over a century that black people were morally inferior and banned them from the priesthood based on this. They reversed course on this issue in 1978, suspiciously close after they learned that they’d lose their tax-exempt status if they didn’t start admitting blacks. Mitt Romeny claims to be a lifelong Mormon. How did he feel about this prior to 1977? We deserve to know.