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How Long Can Romney Keep Quiet About His Mormonism While He Panders to Evangelicals?

Mitt Romney has been wooing evangelical voters for months. Will he now connect these issues to his own faith?
 
 
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At first blush, Mitt Romney’s reluctance to talk about his faith might seem like a positive development to any supporter of secularism in presidential politics. But he’s only tight-lipped about his Mormonism, not about religious right causes, which he is more than happy to take up. Even when the teachings of his own faith intersect, quite neatly on matters of sex and gender in particular, with the theo-politics of the Republican Party, he’s more likely to defend the Catholic Church than his own. If the past is any guide, at his upcoming commencement address at Liberty University, he’s  more likely to invokethe religious right’s “Christian nation” mythology than to talk about Mormon values.

Channeling the worst of Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, Romney has accused President Obama of trying to impose the “religion of secularism.” He has signed the pledge of the anti-gay group the  National Organization for Marriage and accepted its endorsement, along with endorsements from antiabortion groups. He has stumped for the position of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops framing insurance coverage for contraception as a “war on religion.” At the same NRA convention at which Ted Nugent reveled in violence against Obama and Democrats generally, Romney  called contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act a “threat and insult to every religious group.”

This transparent pandering is clearly aimed at the conservative evangelicals and Catholics he needs to energize in November, whose approval — and enthusiasm — is essential for a Republican presidential candidate to win. While Romney obviously doesn’t need to do much pandering to win over conservative Mormons, voters surely wonder: Once he brings up religion, where does his Mormonism fit?

Conservatives are starting to take notice of Romney’s mystifying refusal to highlight how Mormonism dovetails with their own ideology, leading some to suggest he should just “ own” his Mormonism. Indeed you’d think that he’d take them up on it, since Mormon doctrine on motherhood, for example, shares some notable similarities with that of, say, the 19 Kids and Counting  Duggar family, who stumped for Santorum (whom Ralph Reed says Romney should  mimic), and have since thrown their support behind Romney.

Yet in the latest Mormon dust-up this week, the Washington Post’s conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin  accused BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins (who is Mormon) of anti-Mormonism after he wrote a piece, “Why Ann Stayed Home.” Coppins’ explanation of Mormon history and doctrine (and  Mormon feminist objections to it) provoked Rubin, a Romney defender, to fret that it “foreshadows, I fear, of what is to come — effort to portray Mormons as weirdly out of step and unmodern, and by implication, Romney as being unfit for the presidency.”

Oh, but why single out Romney, or Mormonism, for being “weirdly out of step and unmodern”? It’s almost as if Rubin is unaware of what the Republican Party is.

The Daily Caller’s Matt Lewis came to Coppins’ defense, and even  expressed admiration for Mormon ideals of motherhood. “I found the piece to be a positive portrayal of Mormon theology, motherhood and Ann Romney,” Lewis wrote.

That “positive” portrayal included a discussion of the late LDS prophet Ezra Taft Benson’s 1987  lecture on the role of women as mothers. In that “Fireside for Parents,” Benson echoed the teaching of former president Spencer W. Kimball, another LDS prophet, “whose counsel,” Benson said, “has gone unheeded, and families have suffered because of it.”

That counsel, of course, is that mothers should stay home. “The Lord has so stated,” Kimball wrote, that women “are to take care of the family,” and “be an assistant to the husband” but “not to earn the living, except in unusual circumstances.”

 
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