Mitt Romney offered a $10,000 bet to Rick Perry over health care during Saturday night’s Republican presidential debate, a move that many analysts say shows he’s out of touch with the economic hardships facing the American public, and perhaps with the teachings of his own Mormon Church.
When questioned by Perry about whether or not the former governor proscribed his Massachusetts health care plan for the rest of the country, Romney, a former bishop and active Mormon, said: “I’ll tell you what, 10,000 bucks? Ten-thousand-dollar bet?”
“I’m not in the betting business,” Perry replied.
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is opposed to gambling, including lotteries sponsored by governments. Church leaders have encouraged Church members to join with others in opposing the legalization and government sponsorship of any form of gambling.”
The site also provides a series of links and articles on the teaching as well as resources for Mormons who are facing gambling addictions. The church has a long history of opposing various types of gambling: The church traces its stance back to Brigham Young in 1845 who discouraged Mormon women from raffling quilts. There is no state lottery in Utah, and the church and its members have long lobbied to prevent gambling’s many forms.
But what does it mean when a Mormon candidate publicly violates a teaching of his church? At a time when concerns about Romney’s Mormonism make front page news, could it even help him to distance himself from church teaching in his political life?
Questions about how the church teachings shape the political life of a president have been a part of American political life from its founding. Thomas Jefferson, America’s third president, was criticized and called a Deist by Federalist opponents during his presidential campaign and was said by his adversaries to have beliefs that disqualified him from office. In more recent history, during the campaign of John F. Kennedy, the man who would become our first Catholic president was pressured to give a speech declaring that he would not bow to the Vatican during his presidency.
“I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me,” Kennedy famously declared. “Whatever issue may come before me as president — on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject — I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.”
In 2007, Romney made a similarly-themed speech about his Mormon faith, saying that as governor, “I did not confuse the particular teachings of my church with the obligations of the office and of the Constitution - and of course, I would not do so as president. I will put no doctrine of any church above the plain duties of the office and the sovereign authority of the law.”
So far, no final word on where gambling fits in for Romney in the plain duties of his potential office.
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