The Case for Discrimination
Mitt Romney, Herman Cain, and the diversity of blacks and Mormons.
The central point Hitchens and Weisberg are trying to make is that it isn’t bigoted to ask a Mormon about his religious views. They’re right. But that question has to be asked with a fair and open mind. According to Sunday’s New York Times, Romney led a Mormon congregation and a diocese-sized district (he liked to be called “Bishop Romney”) and once pressed the church’s anti-abortion doctrine on a pregnant woman:
In 1990, Exponent II, a Mormon feminist magazine … published an article by a married mother of four who recounted her own experience after doctors advised her to terminate her pregnancy when she was being treated for a potentially dangerous blood clot. Her bishop [Romney] got wind of the situation, she wrote, and showed up unannounced at the hospital, warning her sternly not to go forward.
But the Times also notes that as a Massachusetts Senate candidate, “Romney angered higher-ups in Salt Lake with his independent stance on abortion; he said that he was personally opposed, but favored laws allowing women to choose.” (More recently, he has renounced abortion rights.) And Romney’s record as a church leader sometimes shows a subtler, gentler side. Once, “when a congregant asked to be released from his church duties during a difficult divorce, Mr. Romney said no; he did not want to send a message that divorced people could not serve.” On another occasion, when a couple “felt overwhelmed by church obligations,” Romney showed up at their door and told them, “I was just driving home from work, and I had a feeling that I needed to stop by and tell you that God loves you.” When a young addict sought Romney’s counsel, Romney told him that as long as he was “trying to do better … you’re a saint.”
What I see in these stories is moderation, metaphor, and some distance from church doctrine. But if Romney’s too orthodox for you, consider Huntsman. He says he embraces “many different types of religions.” He married an Episcopalian and was never sealed to her in a Mormon temple as his church prescribes. His kids go to Catholic schools. His eldest sons didn’t go on Mormon missions. His daughter married a non-Mormon in an Episcopal church. He’s raising his two adopted daughters with exposure to Hinduism and Buddhism, the faiths of their birth parents. As governor of Utah, he relaxed the state’s alcohol laws and extended state benefits to cover partners of unmarried employees, including gay couples.
Last month, Huntsman told CNN that “the Mormon population is more diverse, a lot more heterogeneous, and lot more free-thinking in certain instances, than people may give it credit for.” A Mormon professor says Huntsman arguably represents “reform Mormonism … someone who is culturally Mormon, who identifies with the tradition, who has been shaped by Mormon thought in his upbringing, but doesn't necessarily maintain orthodoxy on doctrinal beliefs.”
If the lesson of Obama and Cain is that not all blacks think alike, the lesson of Romney and Huntsman is that not all Mormons think alike. And while we’re at it, look at Rick Perry and Ron Paul, two conservative Texans with very different views on foreign policy and legislating morality. Or Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty, two Minnesota evangelicals with very different instincts about discussing faith. Or Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich—a lifelong Catholic on his first marriage, and a converted Catholic on his third. Look at all those “racist” Tea Party members who, as Slate’s David Weigel points out, support Cain. Look at the House and Senate majority leaders, Eric Cantor and Harry Reid. Cantor is a Republican. Reid is a Democrat. Guess which man is a Mormon, and which is a Jew.
Think about that the next time you hear any of these groups dismissed with a stereotype. And always strive to be more discriminating, not between races or religions, but within them.
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.