Romney Ignores Black Voters
CALCULATED RISK: Can Mitt Romney win if he ignores Black voters? (Photo: Gage Skidmore)
Now that Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum has dropped out of the race, an Obama/Romney contest is all but inevitable. With that inevitability come questions about how the candidates are doing with black voters.
In an article published today,The Daily Beast reported that there are no African-Americans in the “top ranks” of the Romney campaign and his most prominent black endorsement to date may be from Aubrey Fenton, a former Burlington County New Jersey freeholder. The article also said that the two black Republicans in Congress (Tim Scott and Allan West) have yet to endorse the Republican front-runner.
“Romney, running against the first black president, has no chance of winning most African-American voters. But neglecting to court them at all sends the wrong message to swing voters, said political players and observers. Romney’s problem, they said, isn’t that blacks aren’t buying his message but that he hasn’t bothered to sell it to them,” the article said.
Romney Refuses to Address Mormon Race History
Romney may also have a Mormon problem when it comes to African Americans. Last week, at a Wisconsin town hall meeting, there was a “tense moment” between Romney and a Ron Paul supporter who questioned him about his views of inter-racial marriage based on teachings in the Book of Mormon, ABC News reported.
Referring to a passage that links black skin with a Canaanite curse, 28-year-old Bret Hatch asked Romney if he believes it is “a sin for a white man to marry and procreate with a black?” “No,” Romney “responded sternly,” according to ABC News, before turning away from Hatch.
And today, in a strongly worded article at blackamericaweb.com, Michael H. Cottman asks where the “tough questions” from black Republicans are on this issue.
“They should hold Romney’s feet to the fire instead of giving him a free pass. Many blacks view the Mormon church as racist and the African-Americans who make up only one percent of the six million Mormans in the United States are hard-pressed to convince critics otherwise,” said Cottman.
President Obama Will Use Mormon Issue Against Romney
Cottman also said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is predicting that the Obama campaign will use Romney’s Mormon faith against him in the presidential campaign, but President Obama may have his own problems with African Americans. Some, including Thy Black Man staff writer Dr. Boyce Watkins, are asking where Obama’s Black campaign workers are and why African Americans haven’t received more government contracts from the Democratic National Convention, given the fact that an overwhelming majority of them voted for the president in 2008.
“If we can’t figure out exactly and specifically how large numbers of African Americans are benefiting from the success of elected officials that we support, then we may want to reconsider whether or not we are wasting our votes,” said Watkins.
Black Mormons Defend Church
As to the Black Mormon issue, last year New York Times religion columnist Mark Oppenheimer met with a group of some 300 black Mormons who defended their faith. He also talked to Harvard scholar Max Perry Mueller, who was writing a dissertation on African-Americans and the Mormon church at the time. Mueller told Oppenheimber that “the church has ‘made a very sincere effort’ to welcome blacks, but that so far few American-born blacks have joined the church.” He also said “‘the idea that Mormons’ were until recently ‘exceptionally exclusionary or racist is probably unfair'” given the racist histories of other religious groups.
Christians Used ‘Curse of Cain’ to Justify Slavery
For more on that, Wikipedia’s article on the “Curse and mark of Cain” is a place to start. It refers to a 1998 Los Angeles Times article that reminds readers that the Mormon church was not alone in connecting the curse of Cain with black skin.
“In the past, Mormons as well as other churches believed that Africans were descendants of the biblical personages Cain and Ham, who, according to the Bible, displeased God and were cursed. … Over time, the curses on Ham and Cain came to be associated with black skin and were used as a justification for slavery–and, in the case of the Mormon church, one rationale for denying its priesthood to blacks.”
What do you think?
Should Mitt Romney address his church’s racist past? And, how would you feel about the Obama campaign using Romney’s faith against him in the campaign?
HIS OWN JEREMIAH WRIGHT?: Texas governor and GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry was forced to distance himself from his pastor's statement that GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney's Mormon faith is a cult. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)
Mitt Romney wants his fellow Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry to disavow the Texas mega-church pastor who called Mormonism a “cult” at the Values Voters Summit last weekend, but Perry has declined, The Associated Press reported yesterday.
“The governor does not agree with every single issue of people that endorsed him or people that he meets,” said Perry spokesman Mark Miner. “This political rhetoric from Gov. Romney isn’t going to create one new job or help the economy. He’s playing a game of deflection and the people of this country know this.”
This Story Is Old News
At the media criticism site Get Religion, Christianity Today online editor Sarah Pulliam Bailey argued earlier that this story is old news.
“If you have been paying attention to religion and politics for at least the last four years, you know that [Robert] Jeffress’ belief that Mormonism is a cult isn’t terribly newsworthy to religion reporters. …Jeffress has been saying these things for quite a while now and political reporters are just now taking notice,” Pulliam Bailey wrote.
Bruised Feelings and Fundamentalists
At The Huffington Post, Episcopal priest and Columbia University religion professor Randall Balmer wrote that Mormons are sincerely wounded and confused by the charge that they aren’t Christians, right before he engaged in a bit of mud-slinging himself.
“For Jeffress and for millions of other fundamentalists, the word ‘Christian’ is a specialized term reserved only to those who hold certain beliefs. Having grown up fundamentalist, I spent the first two-plus decades of my life convinced that Roman Catholics were not Christians – because they were not fundamentalists,” Balmer wrote.
What interests me is the power of the labels bandied about in this discussion. Does the term cult hold any real power in an increasingly laissez-faire culture? Does it even approach the dismissive power of the word fundamentalist, which is identified not only with intolerance but also with religious terrorism?
It was 1978 when “cult” leader Jim Jones’ fanatacism led to the murder/suicide of 909 Americans and 1993 when the 50-day FBI siege on the Branch Davidian sect in Waco, Texas, left 86 people dead. It seems to me that the word cult has lost some of its verve in the intervening years, perhaps in part because of controversy surrounding the Waco siege.
Aside from the celebrity goings-on and abuse charges related to the Church of Scientology, the latest “cult” story to dominate the news involved the 2006 arrest of Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints leader Warren Jeffs. Jeffs was charged with sexual assault and arranging illegal ploygamist marriages between adult men and underage girls. He was convicted of two counts of sexual assault earlier this year and, just yesterday,The Salt Lake Tribune reported that one of his 78+ plural wives requested police assistance in leaving the sect’s home base.
But then there was Big Love, the HBO hit drama series about a Utah polygamist sect that ran for five seasons (2006-2011) and helped normalize polygamy and other alternative family structures for an American audience.
Last month at the Religion Newswriters Association annual conference in Durham, North Carolina, the Darger family that the series was reportedly based on talked to journalists about their marriage. We were offered free copies of their book, Love Times Three: Our True Story of Polygamous Marriage, which I just finished reading.
Supercharged Words in a New Context
One of the things that struck me most about the Dargers’ storytelling was the way terminology was used in an unfamiliar context. For example, they repeatedly describe their family structure as a “lifestyle choice” and write about bigotry in a way that is similar to arguments for the legalization of same-sex marriage.
On the other hand, they describe themselves as Independent Fundamentalist Mormons, whose sect they say emerged from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) after polygamy was outlawed and the LDS church changed its position on the practice. For the Dargers, fundamentalist is a positive term, one with which they want to be identified.
The idea of one man looking to religion to justify having sex with three women involves a sexual taboo in American culture, but the term fundamentalist carries with it the idea of sexual repression. The phrase lifestyle choice is sometimes used to argue against inherent homosexual identity and is thus rejected by some homosexuals, but here it is embraced to argue for personal freedom.
Innovation or Aberration?
In the Associated Press article that I opened with, reporter Kasie Hunt says rightly that “some evangelical Christians believe Mormons are outside Christianity because they don’t believe in the concept of a unified Trinity and because they rely on holy texts in addition to the Bible.” But then she adds, “For conservative Protestants, the Bible alone is the authoritative word of God and the innovations of Mormon teaching are heresy.”
Innovations is a loaded word here. It carries with it a positive connotation, whereas earlier in the piece she had described the controversy over Jeffress’ statement as a “highly charged, emotional issue” that “raises the specter of religious bigotry.”
But does it really? In an age when the polygamy of Mormon-related sects is celebrated on TV and Americans are increasingly uncomfortable with religious marginalization, is this really a “highly charged emotional issue” or just a diversion, as Perry’s spokesman contends?
What do you think?
Do words like cult and fundamentalist still have power to marginalize or are we all so jaded by the exploitation of language that we don’t even listen anymore?
Many criticized Brigham Young University for suspending its star basketball player for having premarital sex. But the school’s courage in standing by its principles proves that winning is about more than advancing to the Final Four.