Saturday, October 7, 2006
Theological question a reporter should ask Romney.
With Mitt Romney off and running to be president, here's my advice to political reporters who want a question to ask him about the way his Mormon faith might inform his politics: First, do some background reading on Joseph Smith's prophecy that the U.S. Constitution will one day "hang by a thread" and that elders of the Mormon Church will come in to rescue it. Six other Mormon Church presidents — who are considered "prophets, seers, and revelators," just like Joseph Smith — have also used this image, and it's a perennial fixture of popular Mormon discourse about politics. Romney must be familiar with the image — you don't grow up Mormon in America without hearing it — so I'd be curious how he interprets it.
In 1991, Brigham Young University president and former U.S. solicitor general Rex E. Lee — Samuel Alito's boss — cautioned BYU students not to jump to hasty conclusions about what "hanging by a thread" means. He then added:
Even though we have not been given the exact meaning of the prophets' statements about the Constitution hanging by a thread, the scriptures do define the conditions on which freedom in the land of America ultimately depends. I am satisfied that whatever else may eventually hang in the constitutional balance, this much is clear: The continuation of the blessings of liberty depends finally on our spiritual righteousness. As the Lord told the Jaredites in the Book of Ether [one of the books in the Book of Mormon], this is a "land of promise." And "whatsoever nation shall possess it shall be free from bondage, and from captivity, . . . if they will but serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ." If the people fail to keep this covenant, they "shall be swept off when the fulness of his wrath shall come upon them. And the fulness of his wrath cometh upon them when they are ripened in iniquity" (Ether 2:9-12).
Ask Romney about that. Lee was offering a restrained interpretation of this bit of Mormon theology. How does Romney's view compare?
An unfair question? Too arcane? I don't think so. This a place where church doctrine directly addresses the U.S. Constitutional order. It suggests not only a theological interpretation of politics but a potentially theocratic politics that may well be contrary to liberal democratic pluralism. Can American Jews and Hindus and Muslims and Unitarians and Pagans and atheists and others participate in a national "covenant" with "the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ"?
Do I think a President Romney would spend much time thinking about Mormon eschatology? No: I actually think his father's more moderate Mormonism rubbed off on him more than he can afford to reveal, making him more pragmatic and calculating and less idealistic or ideological. (Or so I hope.) But if his faith — by which I mean his own religious tradition, not his pandering to the social views of conservative Evangelicals and Roman Catholics — matters in the presidential race, it matters especially on those points where his tradition has something very particular to say about the purpose and fate of the U.S. government.
Copyright © 2006 by Philocrites | Posted 7 October 2006 at 11:30 AM