The silver lining on the Romney campaign

I was no great fan of Mitt Romney’s, as I think I’ve already made quite clear.  I didn’t like him.  I didn’t vote for him.  I’m glad he lost.

However, as much fun  as it has been to watch people dance around the post-election bonfire of Sheldon Adelson’s money, I actually have something good to say about Romney’s abortive attempt at the White House.  There was something about his candidacy specifically that gives me a little hope that America is getting a little bit better.  (Full disclosure: this post started out as a kernel of thought when I considered what nice thing I might have to say in the event of an actual Romney win.)

I have written before about being brought up in a fundamentalist evangelical church.  While I have no enmity toward the individual people I knew in that church (who, almost to a man or woman, were generous, goodhearted and kind), I have little good to say about it and its ilk as a whole.  I reject the vast majority of its theology, and consider its influence in American politics corrosive and pernicious.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

It wasn’t just the gays that I was taught to despise and fear.  Those people saw Satan everywhere.  I mean everywhere.  I was taught that the national forest near my hometown was crawling with satanists ready to murder me in gruesome ritual sacrifice.  (Really.)  I was taught that the New Age movement was merely repackaged devil-worship.  (Makes you listen to Enya in a whole new way, I’ll bet.)  I was taught to see the handiwork of Beelzebub in movies and books and toys.

Satan was everywhere.

Among the malign forces arrayed against God’s kingdom were the various false religious and cults.  (I’m sad to say that Catholicism was ranked among them according to many people I heard growing up.)  And right at the top of the list was Mormonism (along with Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christian Scientists).  The Book of Mormon was clearly a violation of Revelation 22:18, and Joseph Smith was clearly a false prophet.  And let’s not even start on their doctrines about the origin of God.  (I was trying to find a link to embed there, but everything I can turn up is so overtly anti-Mormon as to be unworthy of any additional traffic.)  Mormons were cultists, plain and simple.

Given that deep antipathy toward his religion felt by a substantial proportion of  his base, you might suspect that Romney’s loss was attributable to evangelicals sitting this election out.  But that seems not to be the case, with no less a figure than Ralph Reed reporting that evangelical turnout was greater this year than in 2008.  (One should probably verify those figures, however, given that it was Reed’s job to deliver those voters, and so he has a vested interest in making it look like he succeeded.  But isn’t it pretty that even he is admitting that Republicans can’t rely on this base to win elections any longer?  Dare we hope this means Republicans will stop pandering to them?) Assuming those numbers are accurate, being Mormon didn’t cost Romney support among fundamentalists.

I doubt it’s because they’ve revised their beliefs about Mormonism per se.  Billy Graham may have conveniently scrubbed it from his website’s list of cults shortly before the election, but one gathers it was there until very recently.  And it’s a lot easier to redact a website than it is to change people’s long-held views.

No, it looks like evangelicals turned out to vote for Romney despite believing he belongs to a dangerous cult.  And I think that’s a truly wonderful thing.  (That they did this because of their unmitigated loathing for a man a distressing number still believe is Muslim does temper my happiness just a wee bit.)  Anything that dismantles the de facto religious requirement for political candidates, even slightly, is a good thing for our country.  Evangelicals putting Romney’s politics ahead of his religion as a reason to vote for him put a tiny crack in that requirement’s foundation.  And that’s something I think we should all celebrate.

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. FWIW, I found Romney’s Mormonism to be the least objectionable part about his candidacy. At least no more or less objectionable than any other flavor of Christianity in America nowadays.

    I actually find Mormon theology fascinating. It has this sort of sci-fi feel to it. Like it wouldn’t take much massaging to create a fairly coherent fusion with the Raelians.

  2. You are correct that so many Christians have as us against them attitude. I am an agnostic and I have many time been treated as if I was Satan. I use to be a Christian, and even then I was treated like the son of Satan. It makes me wonder what kind of God do these people worship. You do realize that these attitudes these so call Christians have are making God look bad.

    • Sometimes I’ll admit to an evangelical that I used to believe but that “I’ve lost my faith.” A disconcerting number of times, the person I speak with harrumphs that I must never have had faith to begin with. Go figure.

      • I like to tell people I lost my faith when I left it, along with my luggage, on a Greyhound Bus. But with any luck, somebody else found it and is benefiting from it.

      • Pierre – I went to a private Christian high school. My chem teacher (who really was a wonderful guy*, despite the story I am about to tell) told me – in front of the whole class – that I was not ‘saved’ or really a Christian and was going to hell, when I expressed the opinion that to have doubts or crises of faith (and I had already had several) should be entirely normal for any Christian, since 1.) Humans (and our ability to reason) are “made in God’s image”, so doubt was presumably built into us divinely and 2.) Doubt itself is not only part of reason, but is nowhere listed in the Bible as a sin (sure, Thomas gets some guff for being a little skeptical of resurrected Jesus; but he’s not going to hell or anything. More than once I was called a “Thomas”).

        * He really was otherwise a funny and nice man, and was also a total Linus Pauling fanboy, up to and including late-period-Pauling’s crazy Vitamin-C boosterism – my teacher took megadoses, and recommended we all do the same.

        • I remember growing up and in my Catholic Sunday school hearing about doubting Thomas and thinking the moral was that he was going to hell. None of my teachers ever said that, of course, I just assumed it.

          • Hmm, my recollection (confirmed by a quick visit to wiki just now) was that Thomas was a little slower to accept the resurrection, wanting to see the wounds with his own eyes, but once he’d verified, he went on to do saintly-type things.

            But yeah – basically I was told that not only was I not a Christian, but that I must have never been; for a true Christian would never, ever doubt his salvation – to doubt would mean that you had never been truly saved to begin with. And this in front of all my classmates (though one friend stood up with me).

            Funny how these demands of certitude, tend to produce the opposite.

            The crazy part was, our *actual* Bible-class teacher also taught a philosophy class at the local community college (he was also a pastor), and he was far, far less dogmatic about all these things. A really, really cool and open-minded and nonjudgmental guy, instrumental on my developing thought processes.

  3. Russell,

    I think you’re probably a little younger than I, but I think we both grew up around the time when members of the evangelical, “religious” right began for strategic reasons to align themselves publicly with Catholics, conservative Jews,* and, to a lesser extent, Mormons.

    As a person raised Catholic who was for a long time a fellow traveling evangelical (who didn’t completely disavow his Catholicism), I encountered this change, which in my case was marked by a de-emphasis on the allegation that “hail Mary full of grace, Jesus Christ’s in second place”** to a stronger emphasis on “well, even though they’re Catholic, they might get to heaven anyway.” I imagine the road to accepting Mormonism was rougher, and probably less complete.

    *I know there’s a typology of “reformed,” “orthodox,” and “conservative.” I’m not well-versed in that typology. I use “conservative” here to mean either socially conservative, or willing to vote for candidates who are socially conservative.

    **It’s probably inconsiderate to repeat this anti-Catholic trope in writing. All I can say is that I am relating what I heard growing up, and I certainly do not endorse it.

    • Reform, not reformed! We aren’t former criminals.

      Here is a brief rundown.

      Reform Judaism: Has its origins in the Enlightenment but really did not get going in full blast until the 1840s. The whole idea of Reform Judaism was that Jews could remain Jewish while fully participating in civil-secular life. Reform Judaism believes that the Torah was written by humans in search of the divine, not God himself. This means that many of the strict rules are considered irrelevant especially if they acted as a barrier towards Jews participating in general civic life. Most American Jews are Reform and practice their religion in what can be roughly equivalent to being a Christmas-Easter Christian. We go to services on the High Holidays, celebrate Passover and Hannukah, and give our kids a sense of Jewish identity but we are highly unlikely to attend services on a regular basis.

      2. Conservative Judaism started in the late 19th century. They were initially part of the reform movement but thought that Rabbi Issac Mayer Wise went too far with his reforms. Specifically they rebelled at the infamous treif banquet. Issac Meyer Wise founded the first seminary to ordain reform rabbis in the United States. The graduation dinner for the first class was completely unkosher. Some people thought this went too far and founded conservative Judaism.

      3. Orthodox Jews: Make up around 10 percent of Jewish Americans. They believe that Torah is written by God are try to follow it strictly including all the rules that make Judaism look like an OCD religion (trust me, the dietary rules are insane). Orthodox Jews can be modern and dress in a secular fashion (Eric Cantor, Joe Libermann) or they can be the Haredi who dress like they are still in Eastern Europe of the 1700s. There are numerous sects of Haredi, most of which are geographic in origin. Orthodox Jews are most likely to be Republican.

  4. Revelation 22:18,

    Man. we should have stuck that in Deuteronomy or someplace. Think of all the trouble it would have saved.

    • Sorry, you guys blew it with that Messiah business. Left yourselves wide open to get screwed by the Gentiles.

      (And how do you feel about Romney thinking of you as a Gentile?)

      • We were pretty clear about who the Messiah was and what he (not “He”) would do. Should have known most people don’t bother to read the manual.

        And I’m not sure I would be a Gentile to Mitt; I think (though I’m no expert) that the Mormons use the word because they think of themselves as adopted into the chosen people.

        • We were pretty clear about who the Messiah was and what he (not “He”) would do.

          I don’t know. The dude had thousands of your folks following him, so apparently some of y’all were pretty confused. (Or perhaps, like anyone else, they’d make believe so long as they were getting free food and drink.)

          • Prof, you’re on a college campus – go into the quad and start handing out free fish sandwiches, and swap out the vending machines’ bottled water for wine.

            I guarantee you’ll have plenty of followers in no time.

          • While he was alive, it more or less made sense. After that …

            “Hey, I haven’t seen you at the meetings lately.”

            “What’s the point? They killed him.”


            “So, if he was the Messiah, he was going to reign over the End of Days. Look around you. Is this the End of Days? Do you see him reigning over it?”

            “Oh, that. Sure, He isn’t the Messiah.”


            “He’s more.”

            “What do you mean, ‘more’?”

            “He’s the Lord.”

            “What, because he’s descended from King David? Look, the monarchy died out years ago, and at its best it wouldn’t have stood a chance against the Romans.”

            “Not a lord, idiot. The Lord.”

            “You mean …?”


            “Yeshua, the guy I had to help home from that wedding with all the wine, he’s The Lord?”


            “Look, I’m kind of depressed too, but if you’re going to go all pagan on me, get the hell out of here.”

  5. That’s how I was raised too (as I’m sure you know) and there are a number of cracks I’ve seen in the facade.

    Back a million years ago, in anthropology class, I heard a story about one of the cities waaaay up north in Newfoundland and how one of the families there was the “outcast” family. Stuff like kids beating up those kids because they were outcasts. Dumping mud down the kid’s pants and laughing “Bobby pooped his pants!”, that sort of thing. One family just upped and moved. Moved away.

    My teacher told me, in his interview with the various peoples of the town, that he was told A LOT: “oh good, maybe they’ll have a chance there.”

    The underlying sentiment there is a pretty complicated one… but thinking about the modern evangelicals makes me think about that story. There are a lot of people out there doing things that they know they shouldn’t be doing… but they don’t know how to stop. They might not even know that they can.

    One of the things I failed to do is “bring light to the darkness” and try to get the evangelicals to be nicer… but there are a lot of reasons to think that there is a preference cascade out there just waiting to happen.

  6. The Evangelicals can be just as clannish and xenophobic as any cult. It’s safe to say a goodly fraction of their churches have become cults. I was brought up in an equally severe environment, probably more severe, as a missionary’s child and pastor’s child, where the Devil did walk the earth, where the Satanists were everywhere. The native religions of Africa were reputed to work dark miracles of levitation and resurrection of the dead.

    I was once exorcised. Later, of course, when I was diagnosed as bipolar, that was conveniently forgotten. Evangelicals don’t apologise.

    They don’t forgive, either.

    So why do I still call myself an Evangelical? Maybe it’s because the churches I attend aren’t filled with stupid, credulous people. I went to an Evangelical college, Wheaton. The Evangelicals have a rich intellectual tradition, though you might not have seen it. Among that sort of people, there’s a good deal more tolerance. We read the Bible differently, mostly because we’ve actually read it, you know, what the Gospels said, not what some jumped-up piney-woods redneck in a threadbare JCPenney shirt has to say about it. Jesus was known as a Friend of Sinners. Most of what Jesus condemned was the legalism within his own faith.

    Romney got the Ignorant Evangelical Vote because he was white. It’s just that simple. Martin Luther King Jr. once said America is at its most segregated on Sunday morning.

  7. I grew up in a much more liberal Protestant church, and honestly the first time I ever heard and anti-Mormon sentiment was when Romney was running in 2008. I wanted to drag everyone over the meet the family I practically lived with in HS (7 kids, 6 valedictorians, multiple docs, MBAs, and to my knowledge the only infraction against god or man was when he drove off with a bank deposit canister in retribution for them not cashing an out of town check). They were the godliest, warmest, nicest perfect people on the planet. Naturally they tried to convert me, but were never annoying about it. After it was clear that there were some pretty non-negotiable stumbling blocks (just show me the plates!), they pretty well backed off. So it was a mystery that anyone would consider them a “cult”. (I mean, have you been to an Assembly of God service? Far weirder)

    That all said, I think the evangelical would have voted for a chocolate eclair over Obama this year, but at least now maybe some interactions between the Mormons and them has at least broken the ice. I suspect the more hard-core folks will go back the the status quo ante, but for the most part they will stop the attacks. (and in realpolitik terms, the GOP is going to need all the white voters they can muster).

  8. I’m Catholic and all through Grades 1 to 8 (Catholic schools), in Religion class we learned that the Jews were God’s chosen people and #1 in His Book(s). But Catholics were #2. Don’t forget it. And don’t let any smug little Protestent (or as we called them, “them”) tell you any different.

    So when we got to non-denominational high school and learned world history for the first time, with all the Inquisition, the anti-semitism, the at-best ambivilent attitude of the Catholic Church to the Jews, it came as an incredible shock. Looking back to my childhood, I figure the Church/school authorities had decided the Jews were the least of their worries as they weren’t trying to go out and get converts like “they” were. But it would have been nice to get a warning.

  9. as much fun as it has been to watch people dance around the post-election bonfire of Sheldon Adelson’s money


  10. On topic, I’ve been deeply disturbed for the last couple years by liberals (and a few conservatives who are anti-Romney for non-Mormonism-related reasons) continually expressing confidence that evangelicals would turn against him, and thinking up all the ways they could make his Mormonism and its general “weirdness” an election issue.

    I am very, very, very glad that Obama and the Dems in general had the common sense and decency to not even try that tack.

    • Oh, trolling him was just too much fun.
      Why try and rile up his base, when you can get him to make unforced errors simply by mentioning certain places?

  11. In 2008, James Dobson encouraged his followers to not vote for John McCain and is on record as saying that he will not endorse him.

    When John McCain became the Republican candidate, James Dobson then decided to endorse him under the weak “lesser of two evils” pretense.

    How is 2012 different?

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