Mitt Romney Belatedly Realizes Religious Divisiveness is Bad

Oct 12 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Move over Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky; this is going to be a long one. And it’s a story with all those ugly warts the great Russian literary giants liked. All it lacks is a hero.

It’s kind of odd seeing a Republican candidate decrying religious divisiveness. Of course, that candidate is a religious minority himself. And of course, that candidate only said something about religious divisiveness being bad when his own religion was attacked.

The offended candidate is, of course, the Mormon, Mitt Romney. And the offender is Texas Governor Rick Perry and his fundamentalist allies – namely Bryan Fischer and Rev. Robert Jeffress, a pastor in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Now Bryan Fischer, as we all know, has been religiously divisive since way back. He is famous, you will remember, for at tacking Native Americans for having their own religion, for claiming the First Amendment not only does not protect Islam but actually establishes Christianity as a state religion. Rick Perry hosted, hand in hand with Bryan Fischer’s AFA, The Response, at which “idolaters” were not welcome – it was only for followers of Jesus.

But now Perry’s camp has crossed the line. They’re not just attacking “idolaters” but his own religion. So now suddenly religious divisiveness is a bad thing. You have to wonder how Romney expects to get elected on that platform. Tolerance does not sell well among the Republican rank and file.

Bryan Fischer enters the picture (where Romney is concerned) at the oddly named Values Voter Summit.

Watch the video from Right Wing Watch:

Part II:

As Right Wing Watch reported the incident, their parent organization, People for the American Way, had been trying to get Romney to denounce Fischer and the AFA’s bigotry, and, as they say, “much to our surprise, Romney actually did so, albeit in a vague and rather timid manner without actually mentioning Fischer by name”:

Watch the video from Right Wing Watch:

PFAW’s president Michael Keegan had this to say:

“Mitt Romney clearly realized that his presidential campaign couldn’t ignore the bigotry of Bryan Fischer and the American Family Association,” said Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way . “I’m glad that he saw fit to put at least a small distance between himself and the hate speech regularly pushed by Fischer, even if he couldn’t bring himself to call Fischer out by name. Since he began running for President, Mitt Romney has bent over backwards in a desperate attempt to make himself palatable to the extreme right. At least we’ve seen that there are some things he’s willing to speak out against, no matter how tepid his condemnation may be. It’s disappointing that none of the other candidates have been willing to go even that far.”

Fischer had a somewhat less nuanced reaction.

Watch the video from Think Progress:

Bryan Fischer now wants Mitt Romney to apologize for not being “classy enough” to ignore his reprehensible attacks on everyone but Christians like himself – your standard Christian “I’m the victim here” spiel.  He had this to say on his radio program Monday:

It was just an odd thing to me, it was just bizarre because I did not think that Mitt Romney would fall for the bait. I mean, the Left was trying to goad him into attacking me and I didn’t think he would do it – I thought he had too much class for that. What he did was completely and utterly lacking in class. It was tacky, it was impolite, it was rude, he insulted his host in the presence of the guests; the host who had made it possible for him to speak to the pro-family community. I just thought he had more class than that.

When I came out into the main lobby outside of the room where we were meeting, I was just besieged by the media, just inundated, enveloped with media. I had never experienced anything like that before and the only reason was because Mitt Romney attacked me. So they wanted to know what I thought about that and I explained that I thought it was pretty tacky, I thought it was unpresidential of him to do that. And they said “when Governor Romney was referring to your ‘poisonous language,’ what was he talking about?’ I said “I have absolutely no idea.”

Jesus used poisonous language. He was the one who referred to the Pharisees as a brood of vipers. I’ve never said that about anyone. I mean, Jesus used far more incendiary and inflammatory language than I have ever used.

Fischer renewed his attack on Monday’s AFA Today with Buster Wilson saying he couldn’t imagine how Romney could think his language was “poisonous[!]”. It makes you wonder if Fischer is even aware of what spews out of his mouth on a regular basis. We’ve covered him extensively here and “poisonous” is a generous term.

I mean, you can’t rebuke the rebuker. The problem with any revealed religion – as Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all are – is that people can claim to speak for God and we’re not talking the cryptic prophecies of the Pythia. Bryan Fischer has decided he is that guy, and who is a Mormon anyway to rebuke him?

Jeffers enters the picture by way of his introduction of Rick Perry at the Values Voter Summit.

Watch the video from Right Wing Watch:

Jeffers, who has previously called Mormonism a cult and said Mormons worship a “false god” doubled down almost immediately, appearing on Focal Point with Bryan Fischer.

Watch the video from Right Wing Watch:

This was Romney’s response:

“Governor Perry selected an individual to introduce him who then used religion as a basis for which he said he would endorse Governor Perry and a reason to not support me. Governor Perry then said that introduction just hit it out of the park,” Romney said. “I just don’t believe that that kind of divisiveness based on religion has a place in this country.”

Perry, meanwhile, has dodged the issue but as CNN reports, “told reporters in Iowa on Friday he does not consider Mormonism a cult.”

On Tuesday, his campaign said, “Mitt Romney’s comments are a distraction from the fact that Romneycare served as a blueprint for Obamacare.”

Interesting how attacking a candidate’s religious beliefs are not a distraction from the record but defending oneself from those attacks are.

You have to agree with PFAW that it’s good Romney spoke out but you have to wonder why he waited until his own religion was attacked. Religious diversity has, after all, been under attack by religious fundamentalists in this country – Christian religious fundamentalists – for decades. What, it didn’t bother Romney when it wasn’t Mormonism? Republican candidates can talk about the “issues” being jobs and the economy but religious freedoms are every bit as much issues as those others, as The Response made clear.

It shouldn’t matter what a candidate’s religious beliefs are but as John F. Kennedy found out half a century ago and Obama two years ago, and as Republicans continue to make clear, it does. And it does because nobody dislikes other Christians like other Christians. And that’s another problem with revealed religion – who owns the truth. When there is, as all three forms of Abrahamic monotheism claim, only one truth, it follows that only one can own it. It cannot be shared.

Yet America is predicated upon the very idea of tolerance and diversity of opinion, a friendly environment to shared truth. Progressive Christians recognize this, as have various interfaith groups and councils. But the Republican Party cannot today endorse the idea that the truth can be shared: they are too deep in the thrall of Christian fundamentalists, and as Romney has belatedly realized, this exclusive thinking is a threat to us all.

At the same time, the moderate nature of his rebuke shows that he understands that to speak out too strongly against the forces attacking him will make him unelectable, with the result that the hate he denounces will have its way. Just as Romney doesn’t want to pay his fair share in taxes, he does not want to accept his fair share of responsibility for repressing the hate that will tear America apart.  In the end, it will not be a Republican who takes a stand against religious divisiveness but a Democrat, for no one else dares.

 

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