With Mitt Romney now out of the 2008 presidential race, I’m reminded of a documentary I saw recently called “Article VI – Faith, Politics, America“.
Article IV, of course, is the article of the US Constitution that states (among other things) that
“…no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
Of course, Mitt’s failure to win over the Republic party was not the result of a Religious Test administered by the government. I would say, however, that an informal religious test was undeniably administered by the media and the people. Contrast these covers from Time Magazine, for example:
The headline stories for Romney:
“Sure, He Looks Like a President. But What Does Romney Really Believe? Plus: The Debate about His Mormon Faith”
The headline about John McCain:
“The Phoenix – Can John McCain Keep Rising?”
Can anyone seriously look at these two covers and say that Mitt is getting treated even-handedly? But TIME probably doesn’t consider fairness as important as magazine sales; and as far as sales go, controversy is a good thing, as long as reflects public opinion as a whole.
Consider TIME’s article entitled “Can a Mormon be President?” The objective answer to such a lame question is painfully obvious, since Article VI guarantees it. But the real answer is “probably not”, at least not while TIME and others are willing to influence millions by casting doubt upon it. But TIME’s eagerness to ask questions that might be considered bigoted only reflect current attitudes of America as a whole, for they would never ask “Can a Woman be President?”, nor “Can a Black Person be President?”, nor “Can a Jew be President?” Heads would roll if such questions were asked these days, but it’s not yet unfashionable to be bigoted toward Mormonism.
So where is the public outrage? It certainly isn’t manifested in the “objective” mainstream media. Nor is really even manifested among Mormons, who are by now well accustomed to if not apathetic toward anti-Mormon sentiment. If Mormons demanded an apology, they might get one. Alas, they do not.
Sure, there are grumbling here or there, but who among Mormons has boycotted TIME? Mormons who boycott TIME for their bigotry and hypocrisy might well have to boycott everybody, including themselves; for what percentage of Mormons could honestly apply the same standard of religious tolerance to a presidential candidate who happened to be Jehova’s Witness –regardless of the issues? I would venture that there are numerous “conservative” Mormons who would vote for a liberal John McCain over a JW runner up, no matter how conservative the JW was politically –just as there are undoubtedly numerous Mormons who voted for a Mormon Mitt Romney without really considering (or even knowing) his platform, let alone how his platform compared to the platforms of other candidates.
This illustrates a point that I would like to draw out. It has been said, and repeated in two opinions that I deeply respect that “Anti-Mormonism is the last respectable bigotry in the United States”. Although the rest of their arguments resonate very well, this one does not. People have a long and storied history of being suspicious of the religious beliefs of those who belong to other faiths; we’d be very lucky if Mormonism were the last frontier in religious tolerance. The situation today is exactly as John F. Kennedy said in his phenomenal “religion” speech to the Houston Ministers when there were qualms about his Catholicism:
For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been — and may someday be again — a Jew, or a Quaker, or a Unitarian, or a Baptist. It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that led to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom. Today, I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you — until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart at a time of great national peril.
I think we may well be in “great national peril” right now, at least economically. Could there be a worse time to have no widely-popular fiscal conservative on the ticket, and this at least partially due to right-wing religious pettiness? But there are many denominations of potential good candidates that might have gotten shafted –it just happened to be a Mormon this time.
Do I think an informal religious test is wrong? Well, not necessarily, but usually. Although informal religious tests are certainly not illegal, they’re almost always stupid. I don’t really take offense to individuals applying them on a personal level (in fact I would defend a citizen’s right to personal bigotry with my life, just as I would defend their right to religion with my life); I do, however, dislike the consequences. Nor is an informal religious test unique in my disapproval: I dislike any differentiation on candidates based on anything but their records and the issues. Bill Clinton’s saxophone skills, for example, may have made him slightly more electable, but it didn’t make him any better of a president.
Back to the documentary: Article VI – Faith, Politics, America is a fantastic treatise on religious tolerance in America. It tends to focus on the Mormon thing a bit too much for me, but this is no surprise since the director (whose family I should disclose I know) is Mormon –and the production was obviously inspired by Mitt Romney’s candidacy. Still, there are small parts of the film that non-Mormons might not understand. And Mormonism being a focus, I would probably have liked it more if it had been created after Mitt’s 2008 candidacy had already been played out, even though that would have circumvented the implicit object of getting people to see it before the primaries. I maintain that Mitt Romney’s own religion speech and Mike Huckabee’s “unintentional” anti-Mormon jabs would have made some excellent points, but they obviously couldn’t be included since they hadn’t happened yet.
The film also seems to go just a tiny bit overboard (for me), implying that we should seek out friendship with even our most ardent enemies. I believe it’s quite possible to be friends with people of any denomination, but I’m not keen to seek out individuals who are particularly belligerent against me. The film does do a good job, however, of promoting the Christian ethic to “love your enemies”, and its correct accentuation of the fact that religious intolerance is an antithesis of this axiom is (sadly) needed.
The film also does a fantastic job portraying a brief history of (recent) religious tolerance and intolerance in general. It portrays interesting political events like JFK religion speech and the protests of a Hindu prayer on the floor of congress wonderfully, and it contains a host of insightful interviews.
Particularly moving is a motif toward the end that address this theme, also from JFKs speech:
This is the kind of America I believe in — and this is the kind of America I fought for in the South Pacific, and the kind my brother died for in Europe. No one suggested then that we might have a divided loyalty, that we did not believe in liberty, or that we belonged to a disloyal group that threatened — I quote — “the freedoms for which our forefathers died.”
And in fact this is the kind of America for which our forefathers did die when they fled here to escape religious test oaths that denied office to members of less favored churches — when they fought for the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom — and when they fought at the shrine I visited today, the Alamo. For side by side with Bowie and Crockett died Fuentes, and McCafferty, and Bailey, and Badillo, and Carey — but no one knows whether they were Catholics or not. For there was no religious test there.
The way the film shows this principle by splicing footage of American war heroes in combat with a myriad of religious symbols depicted on the graves of our fallen soldiers is truly wonderful. Basically, anyone fit to fight (and perhaps die) alongside you would probably make a suitable leader, regardless of denomination.