Friday, February 15, 2008

No Context Required

Last Friday, Susan Sataline penned a piece in the Wall Street Journal (sub req) that in my opinion grossly exaggerated the role of religious bigotry in Mitt Romney's failed bid to win the GOP nomination. It also grossly mischaracterized the position of Father Richard John Neuhaus on the possibility of a Mormon in the White House (that would make for a great book title, wouldn't it?) and lumped in him with people who truly were attacking Romney because of his faith:

On the Internet, the Romney bid prompted an outpouring of broadsides against Mormonism from both the secular and religious worlds. Evangelical Christian speakers who consider it their mission to criticize Mormon beliefs lectured to church congregations across the country. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of the Catholic journal First Things, wrote that a Mormon presidency would threaten Christian faiths. Atheist author Christopher Hitchens called Mormonism "a mad cult" on Slate.com, and Bill Keller, a former convict who runs an online ministry in Florida, told a national radio audience that a vote for Mr. Romney was a vote for Satan.

For the record, what Neuhaus said was that if Romney was elected President it would enhance the image and visibility of the LDS and likely lead to an increase in their numbers. And that it was something that could legitimately be considered by voters:

It is not an unreasonable prejudice for people who, unlike Alan Wolfe et al., care about true religion to take their concern about Mormonism into account in considering the candidacy of Mr. Romney. The question is not whether, as president, Mr. Romney would take orders from Salt Lake City. I doubt whether many people think he would. The questions are: Would a Mormon as president of the United States give greater credibility and prestige to Mormonism? The answer is almost certainly yes. Would it therefore help advance the missionary goals of what many view as a false religion? The answer is almost certainly yes. Is it legitimate for those Americans to take these questions into account in voting for a presidential nominee or candidate? The answer is certainly yes.

But he was also very clear from the beginning of the campaign that he didn't believe that Romney's religion was more important than his political views and those views would be what determined who he would vote for. He said as much when we interviewed him last March on the NARN.

To cherry-pick and mischaracterize his comment and include it in the same paragraph as remarks from Hitchens (an atheist) and Keller (an ex-con) was dishonest and disreputable. It was shoddy and sloppy journalism.

To its credit, the Journal did allow Neuhaus to respond in yesterday's Letters to the Editor:

I object to your characterization that I "wrote that a Mormon presidency would threaten Christian faiths." I do not believe that. What I did write on several occasions is that Gov. Romney is a very attractive candidate but we should not underestimate the number of people who would not vote for a Mormon for president. Nor, I wrote, should we arrogantly dismiss these people as bigots. My point was and is that for many of these people the religious factor trumps the political. I did not agree with them in the instance of the Romney candidacy, but theirs is a defensible position that should not be caricatured as an irrational prejudice, which is what, unfortunately, your story does.

The Rev. Richard John Neuhaus

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