Focusing on a candidate's religion is ludicrous
Rather than worrying about whether Mormons worship the right God in the right way, Republicans should insist that only Mormons run for president.
Anyone watching the Republican debates, especially Tuesday night's on the economy, can't be missing the obvious. The two smartest, coolest, most independent, and least ideological — this is to say, most presidential and electable — candidates are the two Mormons, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman.
Instead of wondering what's up with Mormons, Americans should be asking: Whoa, what do they know that we don't?
It is utterly ludicrous that at this point in our history some conservatives insist on raising the question of religious belief in a presidential election. The latest embarrassment comes from a Texas pastor and Rick Perry supporter, who said recently that Mormonism is a cult.
If the "cult" of Mormonism means you raise a solid family, work hard, make money and do good for the greater community of mankind, then by all means pass the Kool-Aid.
Regrettably, we have but one presidency and two Mormons. Both Romney and Huntsman, as former governors, would bring considerable talent to the White House — Romney primarily on the economy and Huntsman, also one-time ambassador to China, on foreign policy. If anything, Republicans should be trying to figure out how best to use them both.
Two Mormons on one ticket? Wouldn't happen, but it might/could/should.
Romney has been at politics longer and, according Republican tradition, it's his turn. He's paid his dues and, most important, raised lots of cash for fellow Republicans. He's pulled his weight for the party as few others have, even hitting the campaign trail for John McCain after dropping out of the race in 2008.
He's also the candidate most qualified to win a national election, where swing votes and independents matter. The Republican "base," which insists on a purity test on social issues, and tea party conservatives, who insist on a perfect record of anti-government rhetoric, may as well be working for the Democratic National Committee.
For those needing a primer on why it's un-American and counterproductive, not to mention medieval, to also require a religious test, Romney provided an eloquent lesson four years ago. In his "Faith in America" speech, he reminded Americans of why and the ways we honor freedom of religion in this country. Romney recognized the role of religious life in the public square and acknowledged the divine source of liberty. But he also declined to dignify the insistence of some that he explain his personal beliefs:
"There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church's distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the Founders prohibited in the Constitution. No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes president, he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths."
The text of Romney's speech can easily be found. While we're in a reading mood, please get thee to a Kindle, Nook, iPad or other electronic device of your choosing — or better, a library or bookstore — and feast your eyes upon "Elmer Gantry." For good measure, you might also pick up Robert Penn Warren's "All The King's Men." If you are unfamiliar with these two titles, please surrender your voter registration card to the nearest Dumpster.
The use and abuse of religion to advance politically is a scourge on any nation, and no witness to Islamist theocracy should doubt it. Less dramatically, it is simply bad form. Americans of a certain age remember when preachers preached and politicians didn't. Tent revivals took place on the outskirts of small towns, not in mega-coliseums led by presidential contenders. (See Rick Perry.)
Sometimes, especially within the African-American community, the roles of politician and preacher have overlapped. Even Republican contender Herman Cain is, in addition to being a businessman, a minister. This intersection has been tolerated because the black church historically was the only place those isolated by segregation could congregate and speak openly about issues of concern, including voting rights. The tradition remains, but the need for the overlap has expired. Bless Cain for saying so last Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."
Asked about the Mormonism-as-cult comment, Cain replied:
"I'm not running for theologian in chief. ... I am not going to do an analysis of Mormonism vs. Christianity."
Kathleen Parker, winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, Is a syndicated columnist for the Washington Post Writer's Group. Email her at email@example.com.