Monday, February 13, 2012

Mitt Already Has Problems & If He Isn't Careful That Could Include His Religion

A person's faith should in no way be a disqualifier for the presidency or any other public office. That certainly was true of John F. Kennedy's Catholicism in 1960 and that is true of Mitt Romney's Mormonism in 2012, but there the similarities end because there are aspects of Romney's relationship with the Church of Latter Day Saints that do not necessarily disqualify him but do raise troubling questions -- questions that are likely to go unanswered.

The fact that some people -- predominantly evangelicals -- believe that Mormonism is a cult and not a religion is not a disqualifier. I happen to believe that it is a bit of both, while there are aspects of other faiths that are . . . uh, unusual compared to the religious mainstream.

The fact that the Mormon church does not respect separation of church and state is not a disqualifier. Highly aggravating, but not a disqualifier.

The fact that the Mormon church, which is referred to as the General Motors of religions is obscenely wealthy with an estimated tax-exempt wealth in excess of $40 billion, is not a disqualifier.

The fact that the Mormon church is anti-gay and spends buckets of money to try to block same sex marriage initiatives, sometimes through shadow groups that intentionally hide their ties to the church, is not a disqualifier.

The fact that the Mormon church was extremely slow to welcome men of African descent into its priesthood, failing to do so until 1978, and remains overwhelmingly white is not a disqualifier.

The fact that some vestiges of polygamy still exist on the fringes of the Mormon church is not a disqualifier. (Romney's great-great grandfather had 12 wives and his great grandparents moved to Mexico to avoid anti-polygamy laws.)

And the fact that Romney refuses to criticize less positive aspects of the church and reaffirms his faith in only the most general terms also is not a disqualifier, nor has he faced the kind of scrutiny that he did in 2008 when he was prompted to give a speech in Dallas reaffirming his faith.

What is at issue is:

* The incestuous relationship between the church, Romney and Bain Capital, the private equity house where he became filthy rich as CEO.

Bain has donated millions of dollars in stock to the church, and while there is nothing illegal about a firm making charitable contributions, the relationship is troubling because neither Bain nor the church are likely to make public any details. Same for Romney, who has released personal income tax information only because his refusal to do so became a drag on his campaign.

* Whether, in the event Romney is elected, he would be influenced by a church that makes meddling in politics a full-time preoccupation. Would he drag its beliefs into our lives?

In 1964, when his father George was in his second year as Michigan governor, he received a letter from a member of the top Mormon governing body reminding him of the teaching of the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith that "the Lord had placed the curse upon the Negro" and urged him to drop his support for the 1964 Civil Rights Bill lest God strike him dead for his apostasy.

In response, George Romney redoubled his commitment and led a march the following year in downtown Detroit in solidarity with Martin Luther King for voting rights in Selma, Alabama. It seems less likely that Mitt Romney would have his father's backbone if the church beckoned.

As I noted, questions about Romney and his financial relationship with the church and its relationship with Bain will go unanswered. This is because his faith isn't creating ripples this election year -- a good thing in and of itself -- despite increased interest in Mormonism because of "Big Love," the recently ended HBO series on a fictional fundamentalist Mormon family that practices polygamy.

Finally, Romney fulminates about religious liberty, which he recently has been wont to do, at his own risk. Same for gay rights.

This will inconveniently remind voters of less mainstream aspects of Mormonism past and present, as well as the fact that the church by some estimates dropped $20 million bucks into the fight to pass Proposition 8 in California. The now overturned ballot initiative mandated that there be a provision in the state constitution that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized.

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