Why Romney Won’t Stand up to the Bigotry of Bryan Fischer

The countdown to this weekend’s Value Voters Summit (VVS) is on, and come Saturday morning, all eyes will be on Mitt Romney as he literally shares a stage with Bryan Fischer, the controversial American Family Association radio host.

This is the same Bryan Fischer who characterized Andre Breivik, the accused mastermind of last summer’s white Christian supremacist mass-murder in Norway, as an “accurate” thinker.  And called for the deportation of Muslims. And described Nazism as the invention of “homosexual thugs.” And blamed the genocide of American Indians on the alleged immorality of indigenous people. And, most recently, Fischer argued that the First Amendment does not apply to non-Christians, including (and perhaps especially) Mormons.

That’s the backdrop against which Mitt Romney will turn the microphone over to Fischer during the Saturday morning plenary session at VVS. Not surprisingly, advocacy groups like People for the American Way have called on Romney to have a little dignity and take a stand.

It’s a marvelous image:  a strong-jawed Mitt Romney acting all presidential, crossing the stage and quietly holding Bryan Fischer accountable for his rancid bigotry, not only against Mormons, but against all of Americans who are non-white, non-straight, or non-Christian (as Fischer defines it). 

But it will never happen. Here’s why.

 

First, it’s Mitt Romney. Ideological firmness? Not in the Romney playbook. One observer in Massachusetts recently described Romney’s governing style: “I can’t think of a single issue over which Romney would risk re-election in order to stick to a principle.” Mitt would mow Bryan Fischer’s lawn every Saturday morning if he thought it would help him win Iowa.

Second, Mormons make nice with openly anti-Mormon evangelical Christians all the time. As a demographic and religious minority, Mormons tend to be pragmatic about our interactions with non-Mormons who antagonize us. Believe me on this. In high school, one of my friends and track teammates wrote her junior year term paper arguing that Mormonism is a cult. She even gave me a copy to read. Did I enjoy it? No. But did that stop me from passing the baton to her when we ran the mile relay? No. And Fischer’s anti-Mormon rants won’t stop Romney from passing the microphone to him either.

Third, Mormons have a history of political collaboration with openly anti-Mormon evangelical Christians. Witness the 2008 Proposition 8 campaign in California. All across the Golden State, Mormons worked arm in arm with pastors and congregations that have a history of mocking Mormon beliefs. Not one of our proudest moments, to be sure, but a political fact.

Finally, direct confrontation is not customarily a Mormon thing. Dr. Michael Stevens, a professor of Human Resource Management at Weber State University, has conducted studies documenting rates of passive-aggressive behavior at least twice as high among cultural Mormons as among our non-LDS counterparts. Mormon essayist and Brigham Young University professor Elouise Bell once wrote about legendary Mormon “niceness” and the darker feelings it cloaks. Analyzing what she identified as a Mormon tendency to manage disagreement by acting “sentimentally or deviously towards those we encounter face to face, and hostilely towards those we don’t know,“ Bell concluded that “Nice, in short, ain’t so nice.”

Saturday morning, Mitt Romney is going to look Bryan Fischer in the eyes and give him a handshake and a smile. If he’s feeling really passive-aggressive, maybe he’ll have Ann Romney come onstage and pass Fischer a plate of home-baked cookies. And if things get really heated, maybe Romney will love-bomb Fischer by sending a thousand free copies of the Book of Mormon to his radio studio.

How nice would that be?

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Joanna Brooks is the author of The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith (Free Press / Simon & Schuster, 2012) and a senior correspondent for Religion Dispatches.