Fair Questions. Difficult Answers.

By , March 8, 2012 3:31 pm

I support Romney. And I’ve tired of the ridiculous questions about his religion. Most I’ve read have betrayed more about the questioner than they ever will about Romney or his Mormonism. That said, there are legitimate questions. Sarah Posner, Senior Editor at Religion Dispatches, has an article at Salon.com where she asks some of them. What about Blacks and the Mormon priesthood? What about Mormonism and feminism, particularly in the 70s and 80s? And so on. Sarah’s tone is generally fair, as are the questions she asks. I’m interested in how Romney would answer them. Judging by what I’ve already heard about how he felt about the priesthood ban and by what I’ve read in stories like Peggy Stack’s 2008 article for the Salt Lake Tribune, I think he’d do just fine.

That said, the questions do present a problem that Posner fails to acknowledge. Responding to even these appropriate questions involves going deeper into Mormon belief than even the most interested journalist may be willing to go. And that might result in a poor, even unfair story being written by a reporter who tuned out as soon as she heard the bit she wanted to hear. To me, that’s one reason Romney may be reluctant to talk about his religion. Like me, he surely holds his beliefs sacred. Like me, he probably would rather that people understood how the Book of Mormon impacts how he deals with some of these difficult issues. Allow me to give an example of what I’m talking about.

I grew up in the 60s and served my mission in the Brazil North Mission from June 1971 to June 1973, before the 1978 so-called Revelation on the Priesthood. I supported the practice of not extending the priesthood to Blacks. Now, stop there, and I’m a racist. But that’s not even close to the truth. The truth is, I wasn’t a member of the Church because of the ban; I was a member in spite of it. And even that statement just scratches the surface of the story of me and the priesthood ban.

So imagine you’re a reporter, and you want me to go beneath that surface. Do you have the time and interest to hear me explain what I mean by what I just said? Are you ready for me to go into what the Book of Mormon means in my belief system and how it affects so much of what I do? Are you willing to listen to, then write fairly about, what the idea of living prophets means to me and why that belief would affect how I dealt with the priesthood ban? How receptive will you be to the evidence I would muster to demonstrate to you that I have always–always–treated people of color with love, that I have never condescended to them, that I’ve tried to treat everybody everywhere as equals, and so on?

If I were Romney and I could be sure that I’d get a fair hearing and that the writer would report my responses fairly, honestly, and without any mind reading, I’d jump at the chance to talk about the priesthood ban and any other Mormon questions they might have. But like Romney, I have doubts that would happen, and so I hold back. My sacred and deeply held beliefs don’t fit on bumper stickers. They aren’t made–aren’t appropriate–for 15 second sound bites. They just aren’t. Unfortunately, the political public seems to thrive on a diet of gossamer statements truncated to fit on the rear fender. And there’s the conundrum.

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