She pointed out a passage that explained a central tenet of Mormonism. It described the belief that Christ’s true church was restored after centuries of apostasy when the 19th-century prophet Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon from golden plates that he discovered in Upstate New York.
“Would you write this sentence in describing the Jewish faith?” Saul asked in a November e-mail, adding: “ ‘Jews believe their prophet Moses was delivered tablets on a mountain top directly from G-d after he appeared to him in a burning bush.’ Of course not, yet you reference a similar story in Mormonism.”
The outrage on behalf of the first Mormon candidate to represent a major party in a presidential election is not unique. Recently, Jodi Kantor reported in the New York Times that Romney’s aides often ask reporters, “Would you have written this about a Jewish candidate?” The guilt trip may be motivated by political calculation, sincere concern about religious bigotry for a faith that has suffered its fair share or some combination of the two. Regardless of its impetus, the campaign’s response gets at a crucial challenge for the news media: to educate the public about an unfamiliar faith unusually central to a candidate’s formation without treating Mormonism as biographical exotica that could fuel prejudices.
Now that Romney has secured the necessary delegates to become the Republican nominee, that challenge is front and center. Obama strategist David Axelrod has suggested that Mormonism is off limits as political ammunition. Yet news outlets delve into Mormon apocrypha, and comedian and Democratic super PAC donor Bill Maher launches salvo after salvo against Romney’s faith.
“It’s a tough line,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the first Jewish nominee for national office, who has written sympathetically about Romney’s candidacy through the prism of religious freedom. While he allowed that the public can benefit from learning more about a candidate’s religion, Lieberman said in an interview that “the reality is that the more you talk about the details of somebody’s religion, the more you encourage voters to vote on the religion rather than on the person and his policies.”
Romney hasn’t made identification of such boundaries any easier. He has highlighted his devoutness and churchgoing, but he has avoided discussing the substance of his religion.
“People of different faiths, like yours and mine, sometimes wonder where we can meet in common purpose, when there are so many differences in creed and theology,” Romney said last month at Liberty University, a flagship institution for evangelical Christians.