To be very candid, I was not all that excited about Mitt Romney running for President last cycle--and it has nothing to do with his policies. I am fairly flexible politically. There are elements and thoughts in each party I relate to and agree with and elements and people with whom I disagree. I remain personally agnostic about the election next year. Moreover, I don't like to talk about politics on this blog too much.
So, I'm not addressing Romney's candidacy as a political matter. I'm approaching it as someone who happens to belong to the same church as Romney. And that is why I was not thrilled to see him run for President.
I suspected then that such a candidacy would create all kinds of opportunities for "Mormons-are-weird" snarkiness. Some would be inspired by political opponents, some would be cloaked as hard-hitting investigative journalism, and some would just be people trying to be funny.
Well, I was right. It happened then, and now that Romney appears to be a more viable candidate with a real shot, it's happening again.
Let me be clear, to borrow a phrase from another politician of national standing: I am not afraid of this. My own faith is not dependent on what late night comics say or whatever conventional wisdom the editorial page of the New York Times decides to reify. I believe my faith will survive and I think the larger Church will survive just fine. In fact, it's a pretty open secret that opposition and anti-Mormon sentiment has historically yielded periods of growth in the Church.
Still, I didn't and don't relish this because my faith is of great value to me and we can all pretend that we are tough and don't care, but I don't think that any of us humans like it much when one our loyalties or identity markers is mocked. And let's face it: there are plenty of things for someone to mock about ANY faith or lack of faith. In fact, I maintain that you can take any philosophy or belief system and mock it or even frame it in a way that makes it appear crazy and scary.
It remains a matter of great disappointment to me that enlightened people who would never consider laughing at a joke about women or ethnic minorities will chortle at jokes about unenlightened rubes like Mormons. But whatever. I think it's hypocritical, but that is for other people's own consciences to work through.
What I really do abhor, though, is bigotry. I think it is ugly , ugly, ugly--and it is equally ugly when it's directed at Jews or Mormons, Irish, Catholics, or African-Americans, men or women.
So, I particularly appreciated Walter Russell Mead's take on anti-Mormon bigotry occasioned by an op-ed in the NYT by Prof. Harold Bloom. Mead is someone I find very much worth reading on any subject because he is tough-but-fair minded and does not hew to the pieties and dogmas on either side. He's as close to an intellectually honest commentator as I've ever found (something that, in my opinion, is absolutely necessary to civil dialogue and is as rare as it is important). I think his whole piece is worth reading (here), but I liked these paragraphs especially:"This is not about Governor Romney, and it is not about the faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS). Via Meadiatakes no view at this early stage about the merits or demerits of the various candidates, and our inveterate Anglicanism gets in the way of embracing the Mormon faith. But bigotry is something that needs to be fought in all its forms; unreasonable fears and prejudices based on religion will always be with us, but such fears belong in the gutter among the wackos, the haters and the tin-foil hat brigades on both the right and the left. When they rise from the sewers and the swamps into mainstream publications and can be casually uttered in polite company by distinguished professors, something is going very wrong, and people who believe in the American way need to speak up."
And this one in which he lays bare the partisan bias of the bigotry: "I say nothing about the motives of Professor Bloom or the New York Times. But so far as I know, neither has ever expressed any concern over the stout Mormon faith of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. If creeping Mormonism is a threat to our secular way of life, shouldn’t we be critical of those in both parties who are members of this allegedly terrifying church?
"There are scores of other Mormon congressmen and elected officialsfrom both parties who escape the censure of Professor Bloom and the Times. The only one who seems to worry them is the one who might end up getting the Republican nomination for president. In some circles, this would look like a cheap shot: stirring up religious bigotry to slime a candidate you feared. It would look like the kind of thing that any Yale professor would be ashamed to do, and the kind of piece that a great newspaper would refuse to run."
Well done, Professor Meade. Thank you for your candor and honesty--and for realizing that bigotry is ugly no matter which target it decides to smear. Agree or disagree with Romney, vote against him or for him--but do so based on the positions he holds and the policies he espouses. Not on your perception of what he believes.
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