Did Mitt Romney Deny His Faith?
In the middle of the Republican Youtube.com debate on Wednesday night, an online version of Joseph Dearborn held up a copy of the King James version of the Bible and asked “Do you believe every single word of this specific book?”
Three candidates Giuliani,Romney, and Huckabee answered the question and all three ignored the “King James” bit. The King James or authorized edition of the Bible was the first royally endorsed English language version of the Bible. While Christianity was more than sixteen hundred years old, the Catholic Church did not believe that ordinary believers should have access to the Bible in their native language. The King James version is thus both a decidedly Protestant document that was published well after the church determined that God was no longer sharing new scriptures. That's at least according to the Catholic Church and mainstream Protestant churches. One of the notable exceptions to the idea that the Christian God’s revelation of his/her word stopped some time during the Roman Empire is the Mormon church’s belief that God spoke to an American prophet, Joseph Smith, during the 19th century in upstate New York. Mitt Romney is Mormon and claims to be proud of it.
I’m not sure that anyone would have known from his oddly nuanced and evasive answer. While the Church of the Latter Day Saints includes the Bible among its holy documents, it also includes the Book of Mormon which purports to supply missing details from the Bible that the other churches missed. This includes a narrative of Jesus’s whereabouts among the Nephites after the resurrection.
Romney replied “I believe the Bible is the word of God and I try to live by it….I might interpret it differently than you interpret it, but I believe it’s the word of God.”
The last bit may have been an allusion to his being Mormon, but I was struck by how embarrassed Governor Romney appeared to be about his own religion. It struck me that a proud Mormon would say that “Yes, I believe that the Bible is the word of God and that word was expanded and clarified by Joseph Smith in the Book of Mormon. As such, I believe that the King James Bible is an incomplete record of the world of God.”
I’m not Mormon, but I would have respected that approach. Instead, he subtly denied his own religion by implying that the King James version of the Bible is the complete word of God and thus suggested that his personal religious beliefs are essentially the same as mainstream Protestants. The irony is compounded by the fact that the Book of Mormon in many ways stylistically parodies the King James version of the Bible. I’m not a theologian, but the similarities between the style of the King James edition and the Book of Mormon are troubling. As a 19th century New Yorker, Joseph Smith did not speak the same dialect as English Biblical scholars in 1611 AD. The oldest sources for the New Testament are written in Greek. Smith thus claims that God spoke to him in a King James (not Lebron) accent. I don’t want to get into the authenticity of the Mormon religion. It’s a long argument and I happen to think that people are free to believe what they want in spiritual matters. It’s more that Governor Romney was awfully reluctant to let America know about Joseph Smith. I’d even go so far as to say that he appeared to be ashamed of his own religion's prophet and its relationship to the evangelical Christianity that forms the voting base of the modern Republican party.
Rudy Giuliani, a Catholic, also slid around the question by selectively ignoring the King James reference and talking about “literal” construction vs. the “spirit of the word.” Again, he did not share any insights about how the Catholics view of the need to read the Bible directly differs from the evangelical view. Instead, he left the impression that he reads and consults the Bible directly without guidance from members of the clergy of his own church.
I’m no fan of Governor Huckabee, but perhaps as the one actual Evangelical of the three, he shared the most “liberal” view of the Bible. He explained that some aspects of the Bible are more important than others, particularly “Love Thy Neighbor” and Matthew 25:40 Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Oddly, Huckabee didn’t quote the King James version in his answer, instead he phrased it “As much as you’ve done unto the least of these, you have done unto me.”
How do I put this? I listened to the Republican debate for two hours and there wasn’t a single candidate who took that proposition seriously including Huckabee. They all hated taxes, they exhorted the crowd to cheer for the notion that the U.S. is going to win the war in Iraq (whatever that means), the need to keep poor immigrants out of the US, and all seemed quite proud to support the right to bear arms. I didn’t exactly hear a commitment to serving the poorest and most vulnerable Americans. Still, what the heck, at least Governor Huckabee did manage to quote the Bible and had compassion for illegal alien children who are honors students.
Btw As a non-Christian, when I was looking up the King James version of Governor Huckabee’s quote, I was struck by the following passage from the same chapter of Matthew.
25:1 Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.
25:2 And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.
25:3 They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:
25:4 But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
25:5 While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.
25:6 And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.
25:7 Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.
25:8 And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.
25:9 But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.
I know there’s probably some rational translation of this, but you know how Americans always make a big deal about Islam promising Virgins if you die for your faith. Anyway, all this talk about trim your lamps and Virgins having enough oil. Anyway, it sure can be read in some pretty interesting ways. By the way, the passage I found in the Qur’an that ties to this “Western” version of Islamic fantacism is about as ambiguous as this bit of Matthew and its ten virgins going out to trim and oil the bridegroom's wick.
If Governor Romney’s views on the King James’ version of the Bible came off as a bit selective or tortured, his view on actual torture was even less forthright. First he claimed that he would defer to Senator McCain as the expert on such matters, but he refused to condemn waterboarding. Then Senator McCain (in one of those moments where you actually respect the guy) came straight out and said that waterboarding is not only torture it’s simply un-American. Thrown by this, Romney protested that he didn’t want potential torture victims to know what Americans would and wouldn’t do to them. Somehow it isn’t presidential to discuss the sort of things you would do to drag information out of someone, whether the technique has any proven interrogation value or not. Maybe they should have threatened to "pluck out the eyes" of the interogee, which according to Governor Huckabee does have some basis in the Bible. On the other hand, what would you expect from a guy who strapped his dog to the top of his car for a four hundred mile long trip then got his wife to lie about it. Romney then put the cherry on his torture sundae by invoking the authority of his security adviser, Cofer Black, the vice-chairman of Blackwater.
I’ve never read all of the Book of Mormon. I have read the Bible and there’s a fair amount of torture in the Bible including some by God, still I like Governor Huckabee’s other take on the so called "Good Book" that the part of the Bible we should worry about is “love thy neighbor” and “What one does to the least of these, one does unto me (Jesus)”. I was expecting Governor Romney to offer some Biblical justification for his refusal to condemn the practice of drowning someone until he/she essentially has a nervous breakdown. I would have thought the Republican God whose word these folk claim to revere so much might have said something like, “Yep, it’s a war crime if the Japanese do it in World War 2, but you Americans are doing it for the right reason and I’m certainly not one to make your interrogation practices potentially less effective.”
Of course, that’s my loose translation from the Aramaic, unless of course God is still speaking in 17th Century scholarly English.
Just as amazing, William “Mr. Virtues” Bennett praised Romney’s performance after the debate and pointed out that his torture exchange with McCain was a show that Romney was strong enough to disagree with McCain on a security matter. Who would have bet on that?
No shock, the mainstream media hasn’t much commented on Governor Romney’s tacit denial of Joseph Smith. I’d say that’s a little tortured, though no more than mentioning Hillary Clinton four times and the sitting Republican President George Bush not at all. You wanna talk about denial!
note: Ironically, George Romney, Mitt's father, unfairly fell out of presidential contention in 1968 when he decided to oppose the war in Vietnam. Unfortunately, he used the term "brainwashing" to epxlain his conversion.
Romney to discuss his faith.