By Hugh Hewitt
Review by Eric Johnson
In late 2006, when the 2008 nomination of the President of the United States was more than two years away, many political observers were marveling at how the potential candidates had already begun their maneuvering for position. With a number of states considering earlier primaries for 2008, many felt time was of the essence and getting an early jump off the blocks was considered quite the advantage.
On February 13, 2007, Mitt Romney—the former governor of Massachusetts who was the savior of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002—officially threw his hat into the presidential ring. Polls taken in April 2007 indicated that he was the third or fourth strongest Republican candidate. In an effort to accelerate his candidacy, conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt decided to write a book (published by political conservative publisher Regency and released in March 2007) about why Americans should consider voting for a Mormon candidate rather than Rudy Giuliani or John McCain, both of whom Hewitt says are too liberal and would therefore not garner the support of conservatives in the Republican party.
While his book is not officially tied into the Romney campaign, Hewitt did have Romney’s full cooperation; in fact, Hewitt does not hide the fact that he likes the “telegenic, intelligent, and charismatic” Mormon candidate. Since a number of polls do show that up to 40% of potential voters—especially those in the South—would not vote for a candidate who was a Latter-day Saint, Hewitt’s goal was to show why Romney “stands among the front-runners” and is an electable candidate for 2008.
“10 things” voters should know
The 10 chapters discuss why Hewitt says you should vote for Romney, including:
- This isn’t Romney’s first presidential race (his father George also ran in 1968);
- He is a successful businessman, having made a great impact at Bain Capital;
- He helped save the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City;
- He raised a nice family;
- He is Pro-Life;
- He defends traditional marriage;
- He was a successful governor in the liberal state of Massachusetts;
- He has advantages over the other Republican candidates;
- He can defeat the “too perfect” critique;
- His Mormonism is not a negative aspect to this presidential candidate.
So what about the Mormon problem?
Given the title of the book, Hewitt obviously sees Romney’s religion as being his biggest setback. The faith of Romney, who grew up Mormon and is a devout Latter-day Saint, is most dealt with in the book’s last chapter titled “Mitt Romney’s Got a Mormon Problem (and So Does a Lot of the Country).” I have to say that, like Hewitt, I am a political conservative who has voted for every Republican presidential candidate since I was first eligible to vote (for Ronald Reagan) in 1980. So I am on Hewitt’s side when it comes to desiring conservative values for the person residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave in Washington, D.C.
Yet Hewitt does something throughout his book that takes away much of the book’s credibility. Those who would not vote for Romney based in part or whole on the Mormon issue are, as he calls them, “bigots.” For instance, on pages 7 and 8 Hewitt refers to a columnist who wrote that “Romney’s religion will become an issue with moderate and secular voters—and rightly so. Objecting to someone because of his religious beliefs is not the same thing as prejudice based on religious heritage, race, or gender.” Hewitt explains how the writer “returned to Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith, declaring him ‘an obvious con man,’ and adding ‘Romney has every right to believe in con men, but I want to know if he does, and if so, I don’t want him running the country.’” Hewitt’s response: “Such overt bigotry, directed at, say, a Muslim or a Catholic would ignite a storm of justified outrage from the guardians of those groups’ public profiles.” (p. 8)
First of all, using the word bigot to refer to voters who will not vote for Romney because of his Mormonism is a logical fallacy known as an ad hominem attack, which literally means “against the man.” Thus, anyone who chooses against Romney based on his Mormonism is labeled with this pejorative, a word that is as ugly as, say, racist or homophobe.
Unfortunately, Hewitt never really defines the word bigot. When you look at the American Heritage Dictionary, a bigot is “one who is strongly partial to one’s own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ.” Based on this definition, several questions must be asked:
- What exactly does intolerant mean? If I vote against a candidate because I don’t like his lifestyle (like, let’s say he’s homosexual) or the fact that he’s a Democrat, does this make me intolerant as well?
- What if Romney’s Mormonism happens to be just one item on a list with ten or eleven reasons why the voter is deciding against Romney? Is this person a bigot?
- Does Hewitt have a pejorative for those many Mormon voters who will undoubtedly mark Romney’s name on their ballot merely because he is a Mormon? Are these folks guilty of being bigoted against non-Mormon candidates?
Let me set some parameters here. I believe that the ethnicity or gender of the candidates should not be in consideration for voting against them because these are things they did not freely choose. However, the personal preferences and choices of candidates that are freely chosen should be considered fair game in the political arena. After all, this is America, or at least it was the last time I checked! This country’s electoral system is based on the fact that all Americans are free to decide who they believe would make the best president. It is their prerogative to use whatever factors they decide are important to them. Issues that ought to be fair game should include the candidate’s religion (i.e., Is he/she Atheist? Born Again? Catholic? Buddhist? Muslim? etc), sexual preference/history (i.e., Straight? Bisexual? Homosexual? Polygamous? Adulterer? etc.), and historical issues (i.e., Did the candidate ever get arrested? Did the candidate get out of the draft with political maneuvering? Did the candidate use drugs? etc.).
In this “politically correct” world, what I am saying may not be popular—and let it be known that I speak for myself and nobody else at MRM. Yet I think we need to understand that every voter comes with built-in presuppositions and preferences. I’m sure Hewitt would not be jumping up and down with joy if Romney were a homosexual or Islamic candidate, but even money says he wouldn’t have written this book had Romney been gay or if he had been a Wahhabi Muslim, no matter how conservative the candidate’s political views really were.
At this point, I would like to point out that I haven’t yet tipped my hand about whether I believe a Christian should refrain from voting for Romney. All I am saying, though, is it is unfair to call someone intolerant just because the voter disagrees with the candidate’s standards or choices. We have elections so that voters can pick their favorites. Voting against a candidate based in part (or even in whole) on a person’s religion should be no more “intolerant” than voting for a candidate based in part (or even in whole) on a person’s religion.
Dr. Al Mohler of the Southern Baptist Convention had an excellent response to a question Hewitt posed on page 256. Hewitt asked Mohler if it was bigoted for a person to not vote for a candidate who had a different world view. Mohler replied, “That’s even the wrong use of the word bigotry. Bigotry means prejudice based without substance, and I just don’t accept for a moment the fact that a Christian response to Mormonism being unbiblical and not a form of Christianity and all the rest [is] bigotry. It’s just a natural response to intellectual honesty.” (p. 256-257) Mohler is exactly right. To be classified as a bigot just because my preferences don’t agree with yours seems to be the ultimate double standard. Hewitt doesn’t seem to understand that disagreeing with another person’s religion does not automatically make someone “intolerant” or “bigoted.”
Hewitt continually uses the loaded word “anti-Mormon” over and over throughout his book to label anyone who disagrees with Mormonism. In fact, Hewitt writes this on page 216: “Perhaps because Mormons are close at hand, and perhaps because of the historical and deep-seated antipathy to them dating from the second half of the nineteenth century before the Church rejected polygamy, some corners of American Christianity have nurtured a particular focus on anti-Mormon argument. In front of me on my desk are some examples: The Mormon Conspiracy, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Mormons, and The 10 Most Important Things You Can Say to a Mormon are just three of dozens of titles in this crowded corner of the Christian publishing world. When I first came upon this literature, I was astounded that of all the religions in the world, Christians have dedicated this much hostility towards Mormonism.”
While Hewitt may not understand why Christians put so much emphasis in having their people understand the Mormon religion, many Christians do. After all, it has been said that more than half of all Mormon converts have some type of Catholic or Protestant background. Young Mormon missionaries don’t hesitate telling prospective converts that they are “Christian” and are often more than happy to convert Catholics or Protestants to their faith. I have no problem with proselytizing, as everyone should have what Mormons call “free agency” to make up their own mind.
Unfortunately, while Mormonism denies or distorts every fundamental teaching of the historic Christian church, the potential convert has to be knowledgeable of those differences or it will be easy to be confused. After all, Mormon leaders have never claimed that Christianity in its full form can be found in any other religion or denomination other than Mormonism. (For more information on this topic, see here or here. The purpose of the books that Hewitt mentions, then, is to help Christians better understand another faith (like Mormonism) so that they can 1) be aware of what this religion really does teach and thus stay out of it; 2) help others around them understand the basic tenets of this religion.
In our book Mormonism 101, Bill McKeever and I addressed the complaint that those who want to explain Mormonism to others have “hostility” (Hewitt’s word) toward the Mormon people:
“It is unfortunate that some Latter-day Saints may assume that we were motivated to write this book out of hatred or bigotry. Be assured that we are moved with the same compassion felt by the LDS missionaries and lay members who attempt to defend what they believe to be true. While the facts as presented in this book may be ignored by certain readers who would question our motives, we echo the apostle Paul when he addressed the church of Galatia: ‘Am I therefore your enemy, because I tell you the truth?’ (Gal. 4:16). This book is the result of our concern for those who belong to the LDS faith as well as for those Christians who want to better understand the beliefs of their Mormon friends, relatives, and neighbors.” (p. 12. 2000 edition).
Too many people today tend to equate disagreement with hatred or bigotry. However, ideas—including those pertaining to the political and religious worlds—should be open to discussion, so to say Mormonism is not Christian should not earn someone the title “anti-Mormon.”
It is interesting to note that, while Hewitt continually uses the word “anti-Mormon,” he doesn’t like anyone to use the word “cult” in association with Mormonism. In fact, he rails against Dr. Walter Martin’s book The Kingdom of the Cults, which is the most popular Christian book ever written on other religions. Hewitt writes this on page 218:
“The first thing to notice is that the title includes the term ‘cult,’ which almost spits itself from the cover as it does the lips of most people who use it. ‘Cult’ is a term of opprobrium usually reserved for Jim Jones’s ‘People’s Temple,’ David Koresh’s Branch Davidians, or the Hale-Bopp hitchhiker-suicides of the Heaven’s Gate cult. For most Americans ‘cult’ carries with it at least a hint (and usually quite a bit more) of physical coercion and brainwashing, as well as an implication of devious secrecy….Thus Martin’s title The Kingdom of the Cults carries with it the almost audible deep chords of an enormous organ wheezing out doom and deep distrust. But this vision of ‘cult’ is difficult to square with the sunny Mormons one encounters at Boy Scout jamborees, on city councils across the land, or in the professions and business.”
In his Zondervan booklet Unmasking the Cults, Dr. Alan W. Gomes rightly points out that cult should not be considered a loaded word. He states on page 7:
“A cult of Christianity is a group of people, which claiming to be Christian, embraces a particular doctrinal system taught by an individual leader, group of leaders, or organization, which (system) denies (either explicitly or implicitly) one or more of the central doctrines of the Christian faith as taught in the sixty-six books of the Bible.”
On page 15 he adds that “the word cult should be retained and used,” saying that the word “has an established history of usage, long before the secular media or social sciences got hold of it.”
Indeed, just because the political climate has changed in recent years does not necessitate that we eliminate a word that has made sense for a long time. Mormonism is no more the same as Christianity than Christianity is the same as Scientology or Mormonism is the same as Jehovah’s Witnesses. For many years Mormons have believed that their church has the “restored Gospel” and completes the gospel as revealed in the Bible. They are, after all, called the “Latter-day Saints.” The Mormon scripture Doctrine and Covenants 1:30 clearly states that the Mormon Church is “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased.” Many LDS leaders such as Bruce R. McConkie have made this very clear, as the Mormon apostle even said that “there is no salvation outside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 670)
Truly to say that Mormonism is the same as Christianity does a disservice to members of both groups. It only confuses the issue when Mormons want to be classified as “Christian” so their religion can gain more acceptance in the public marketplace. If we don’t use the word cult, then I invite the Mormon to come up with another term to denote how this church is different from the historic Christian church. Or maybe Mormons won’t mind if Christians simply call Mormonism a wrong path to Jesus? No matter how we phrase it, it will just sound “intolerant,” but in the interest of clarity, the differences need to be noted.
Issues about Mormonism that voters need to know
Romney has been reluctant to talk about his LDS faith. In fact, when he is asked by the media about it, he says inquirers should “ask the church.” I believe this is a cop out. Indeed, there are a number of questions that I need answered before I would feel comfortable voting for Romney. Here are just four areas he needs to address:
- Before 1890, your church used to encourage polygamous relationships. Then the prophet received a revelation saying polygamy was not right. Would you say polygamy was right before 1890 and wrong after 1890? What if the law of the land changed regarding homosexual marriage? Would you think that polygamous marriages should then also be legalized?
- You were a Latter-day Saint before 1978, a time when Blacks were denied the priesthood, thus making them ineligible for the highest level of heaven called the Celestial Kingdom. This was changed by your prophet in 1978. Were you in agreement with your church leadership to not allow Blacks to hold the priesthood before 1978? And do you believe that dark skin was a mark from God that was meant to distinguish those who were eligible to hold the priesthood, as opposed to those who were not? (See http://www.mrm.org/topics/miscellaneous/black-skin-and-seed-cain)
- Do you believe, as did Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, that eventually there would be a theocracy in America? What is your view about this?
- Do you feel the First Amendment allows citizens to question the religious beliefs of a faith group without fear of being accused of hate speech?
I believe that these are fair questions. After all, we’re talking about the highest office in the land, and I believe a potential Chief Executive needs to be willing to share insights on his personal views. It certainly isn’t enough to say “ask the church” and try to ignore the issues.
A voter should cast his or her ballot for the person who best represents the voter’s views. But not voting for Romney based in part or in whole on his Mormonism should not be considered bigoted. At the same time, we shouldn’t pretend that we will be able to vote for those candidates who always agree with our spiritual point of view. With the exception of George W. Bush, I have never been sure that any presidential candidate for whom I have voted really was a Born Again Christian, even though all of them attended church and claimed to be Christian. A candidate’s religion should not be a litmus test.
Instead, you should ask if your candidate stands for the issues you deem important. If this candidate is better aligned to your point of view than the others, then I believe he or she is worthy of your vote. If not, then vote for someone else. It’s really no more complicated than that.