On last night’s Special Report (which I assume all of you watch), Shannon Bream did a segment on the attacks on Mitt Romney’s Mormonism and religion in politics generally. It was a good piece but one soundbite hit an off note.
Ryan Clayton, a Democratic strategist said: “I don’t think people should be attacking Mitt Romney for his faith, just like they shouldn’t be attacking President Obama for his Christianity. You know, faith and politics, if you mix it together, becomes kind of a tinder box and can explode in your face.”
Now, I’m just having a hard time parsing that statement. Read one way, there’s a lot of false equivalence here. Yes, I suppose some folks have been attacking Obama’s Christianity, but for the most part they’ve been doing so from the perspective of saying he’s not sufficiently Christian, or that the Christianity he followed during his years in Chicago under Jeremiah Wright’s tutelage should be viewed skeptically given it’s political valences and strong current of anti-Americanism. A smaller number of people have charged that Obama is some kind of secret Muslim (a claim that always struck me as non-starter), but that’s presumably not what Clayton means by referring to Obama’s “Christian faith.”
But there’s another way to read it as well. I understand that theologically, there’s a lot of controversy about how to characterize Mormonism. Many devout Christians believe Mormonism isn’t Christianity and believe it is important to say so. Many devout Mormons believe it is. I am not going to wade into all of that.
But this formulation from Clayton clearly picks a side. When you say “we shouldn’t criticize Romney for being a Mormon anymore than we should criticize Obama for being a Christian” you are declaring yourself in the Mormonism is not Christianity camp, at least rhetorically.
I’m not saying that was Clayton’s intent or that he doesn’t have the right to say it if it was, but you can see in the outlines of this formulation a way for Democrats to dogwhistle Romney’s Mormonism relentlessly. “I for one will not attack anyone’s religion, be they devout Christian or whatever the Hell Mitt Romney is.” I expect to hear more of it, a lot more of it.
Update: From a reader:
Jonah,Just for your information, coming from a “devout” Mormon, all devout Mormons consider themselves Christian, without exception. I’d say even the non-devout ones would not deny that we worship Christ as our Savior and Redeemer. After all, the actual name of the church since it’s inception has been “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.” The Mormon sobriquet was originally applied by antagonists toward members of the religion and only later adopted by the church as an acceptable label for its members. Most members of the church remain mystified that opponents could ever consider us non-Christians though we understand their basis for doing so. I suppose it is true that our understanding of who and what Christ is diverges from the Nicene version which, by the way, was not universally accepted as valid by many believers in Jesus when it was originally formulated.