The American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer is at it again, today attacking Mitt Romney for not being Mormon enough. In a May 4 tweet, Fischer asserted: “Romney’s problem on homosexuality: I’m more Mormon than he is. LDS: gay sex is ‘offensive to God.’ I agree, Mitt doesn’t.”
Mormon-basher Bryan Fischer more Mormon than Mitt Romney? Yeah. Right. We’ve seen radical anti-gay conservative Christians use this line before. Evangelical Christian leader John Stemberger did it last fall in endorsing Rick Perry when he said that Romney was “not Mormon enough” on social values. And how Mormon is Mitt Romney? Plenty.
Fischer based his tweet, as this April 23 video shows, on a cherry picked excerpt from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism—which is not a doctrinal text. While there is no question that homosexual sex is a sin according to LDS doctrine, the idea that homosexuality is especially “offensive to God” is an abuse of Mormon beliefs. Church leaders have taught that many kinds of sinful and un-Christian conduct are “offensive to God.”
What Fischer is trying to do is to find in Mormon doctrine some claim that will help him embarrass Romney for bringing Richard Grenell (who is gay and out) onto his foreign policy team. Nowhere does LDS doctrine prohibit Mormons from associating with people who do not observe Mormon standards. Affiliation with anti-Mormon groups is understood to be prohibited. And more conservative members of the faith may avoid developing social relationships with non-observant Mormons or non-Mormons. But for most Mormons who live outside Utah, refusal to associate with people who do not observe Mormon standards is understood as both impossible and undesirable. Loving and serving others and standing out in non-LDS contexts as an example of the faith are far more important. And LDS Church leaders have worked with gay rights leaders in Utah to support the passage of workplace and housing anti-discrimination measures.
Fischer’s cherry-picking of Mormon texts in an attempt to manipulate and embarrass Romney reminds me of what Martin Bashir did a few weeks ago in his much panned Book of Mormon based screed against lying. Conservative Christians will continue their anti-Mormonism, but now it looks much more like the anti-Mormonism of Martin Bashir and Larry O’Donnell: cherry picking and ridicule. Reaction to last fall’s Pastor Jeffress outburst made it clear that opposing Romney by calling Mormonism as a “cult” is ineffective and increasingly socially unacceptable. That tactic has largely been abandoned. Now, radically anti-gay Christian groups will attempt to use what little they understand of Mormon faith and doctrine to bludgeon Romney for declining to accept their extreme agenda—an agenda that would make it a sin not just to have homosexual sex, but to employ, work with, or interact with anyone who does.
That’s a worldview most good-willed people of faith would recognize as ridiculous. Romney tried to speak out against Fischer’s intolerance last fall at the Values Voter Summit. He needs to continue to lead on tolerance, unless he plans to keep on running scared. As Sarah Posner argued here, Grennell-gate gave anti-gay conservative Christians an opportunity to gloat. Romney and his advisors made some crucial mistakes that allowed them to do so: they tried to convince Grennell to take a quietistic approach to attacks on his homosexuality, to wait it out, if possible. That’s a strategy Mormon people have developed since the late nineteenth century. As I discussed with LDS historian Kathleen Flake here, Mormons have tried to politely out-wait and out-smile gross attacks on our religion. But that strategy has its limits.
What Romney has to lose in confronting the radical intolerance that created Grennell-gate is his predilection for saying little, blending in, and pleasing everyone.
That, and the illusion (cherished among Mormons) that someday radical conservative Christians will accept and respect us.