The mythical Mitt ceiling has been shattered, and, like it or not, the man is going to be the Republican nominee. He’s doing much better in South Carolina than my previous narrative said he would, although I think a Gingrich upset there wouldn’t be too surprising. But from then, we move to Florida, where no one else can possibly make a dent, and then it’s pretty much over.
Current enterprises of great pitch and moment will be in the rear view mirror in less than a month, and everyone bashing Mitt on the GOP side today will be pulling a Jon Huntsman and sucking up to him come mid-February. (Gosh, it’s nice to see Jon Huntsman gone. It’s especially nice that his departure has received the apathetic disdain it deserved. Letterman did a Top Ten List about his exit, and every entry was some variant of “Seriously, who’s Jon Huntsman?”)
So rather than pore over the soon-to-be-insignificant political minutiae of the present, I’m taking the long view on a subject that truly matters to me, which is that Mitt’s candidacy is going to call tremendous national attention to the Mormons, and that will be both a very good and very bad thing. Indeed, such controversy always is.
My cousin was in the middle of the maelstrom surrounding the building of the Boston temple a few years back. All the fiercely negative publicity surrounding that edifice was designed to make us Morms look like freaks, but it also resulted in a major spike of Boston residents who investigated and then joined the church. Anecdotal stories of Mormon missionaries passing out copies of the Book of Mormon in proximity to the rancid, vicious Book of Mormon musical suggest that even that piece of Broadway bile is stirring up positive interest, too.
The lesson to draw away from this is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is always polarizing, and it brings out the best and the worst in people. It’s messy, but that seems to be the way the Lord likes it. “I would thou wert cold or hot,” says Revelation 3:15, “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” (That’s the King James Bible version, whereas the New World Translation reads “Seriously, who’s Jon Huntsman?”)
I cite scriptural precedent, then, to suggest that, unlike Jon Huntsman’s tepid candidacy, Mormonism is unlikely to produce a lukewarm response from the world at large.
The current kerfuffle surrounds Mitt’s tax returns, and, specifically, how much cash he’s forking over to religious fanatics. I received an email from an astute political observer who decided that Mitt is refusing to release his returns because they may demonstrate that he’s not paying enough tithing, and he might face church discipline as a result. I responded by saying there is zero chance of that happening, as the church does not conduct tithing audits. They take no official position as to whether you should tithe on, say, your gross or your net income, and individual members are given complete autonomy on determining what constitutes ten percent of their income.
I responded by saying that I think the more likely scenario is that Mitt is paying way too much tithing, and will therefore look beholden to the Mormon cult. There are already news reports out there that suggest this is the case. “Mitt Romney Sent Millions to Mormon Church,” reports ABC News breathlessly, mentioning that his “role within the church as an adult is largely unexplored.” That doesn’t stop professional harridan Maureen Dowd from exploring it, though. In a snarky piece titled “Mitt’s Big Love,” she moans that, while attending Harvard Business School, Mitt lived in “a nondrinking, nonsmoking, suburban, uxorious bubble with Ann, revolving around Mormon rituals, Mormon couples and the Mormon credo of strong, heterosexual, traditional families.” The scandal! So uxorious! One longs for the days when urban candidates embraced rituals in support of weak, omnisexual, broken families whilst drinking themselves into a stupor and puffing on cigars.
Not content to smear Romney as a wife-loving, teetotaling weirdo, she then leaps back over a hundred years and discovers – *gasp* – that 19th Century Mormons, even the ones named Romney, practiced polygamy! Never mind that the current LDS Church hasn’t practiced polygamy in well over a century and excommunicates anyone who does. The point is that Mitt is a stalking horse for the multiplicity of marriage, presumably so his buddy Newt can marry three women simultaneously instead of consecutively.
The title of Dowd’s article is a reference to a television show about polygamy that bears as much resemblance to modern Mormonism as Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition sketch has to present-day Catholics.
(I bet you didn’t expect me to mention that, but nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!)
The double standard here is so painful that it startles me that no one else seems to notice it. Yes, Mitt’s great-grandfather was a polygamist. And Barack Obama’s father was a Muslim. “Father” is a whole lot closer than “great-grandfather.” Is Maureen Dowd now saying that Barack Obama Sr.’s Islamic faith is a legitimate political issue? Instead of “Mitt’s Big Love,” would she be comfortable with a similarly snarky article called “Barack’s Fatwa?”
Now that Mitt is the defacto nominee, I watch with equal measures of excitement and dread as to the religious dialogue on the horizon.