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If one can be judged by the company one keeps, then GOP presidential candidate wannabe Mitt Romney is in big trouble. The former Massachusetts governor has just been endorsed by Bob Jones III of the Bob Jones University in South Carolina. This is the chancellor of the university that, up to 2000, forbad interracial dating, and has referred to Mr. Romney’s religion, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as a cult. (The Roman Catholic Church has also been so named by the university).
Yet Mr. Jones is apparently willing to look the other way and somehow stomach endorsing a Mormon, possibly his second worst nightmare, in order to prevent his worst nightmare, a race between the Republican Satan, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, and the Democratic Satan, New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Said he: “If it turns out to be Giuliani and Hillary, we’ve got two pro- choice candidates, and that would be a disaster.” In further justifying his endorsement he said this: “What is the alternative, Hillary’s lack of religion or an erroneous religion?” Interesting judgment calls indeed, but Ms. Clinton is a member of the United Methodist Church (perhaps that might also be dismissed by Bob Jones University as a cult), and there is certainly a high mindedness in denouncing any religion as ‘erroneous.’
Mr. Jones also made the rather bizarre statement that “As a Christian, I am completely opposed to the doctrines of Mormonism.” He was quick to state that he was voting for a president, not a pastor. “I’d be very concerned,” he said, “if he (Mr. Romney) tried to make it appear in any of his statements that Mormonism is a Christian denomination of some sort. It isn’t.”
These statements require some exploration. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints, commonly nicknamed ‘Mormon,’ years ago summarized its beliefs in thirteen Articles of Faith. The first and third are worth studying in the context of Mr. Jones’s rather unusual statements:
1) We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.
2) We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.
One wonders how Mr. Jones can be ‘completely opposed to the doctrines of Mormonism,’ and can deny that ‘Mormonism is a Christian denomination of some sort,’ when those two statements, foundational to the LDS Church, seem completely in conformity with the Bible. The LDS Church teaches that all mankind will be resurrected (‘saved’ in the context of some beliefs) due to the atonement of Jesus Christ, and can achieve heaven (‘saved’ in the context of other beliefs) by adherence to Gospel ordinances.
However, when dealing with Republican activists, and especially conservative Republican activists, one quickly learns that a close look at the facts is generally not high on their priority list. A more ‘I’m-right-and-you’re-wrong’ mentality seems to be taken, without much due process when it comes to fact-finding. So Mr. Jones, in his virulent opposition to Mr. Giuliani and Ms. Clinton, quickly finds a worthy alternative, possible in a ‘lesser-of-two-evils’ framework, in Mr. Romney.
But this endorsement has not been universally embraced by the so-called, but really neither, Christian right. It has already caused some consternation in the arch-conservative circles in which Mr. Jones moves. A 1997 graduate of Bob Jones University indicated that she is ‘disgusted’ by the endorsement. Ms. Tamara Valdes-Russell stated her refusal to ‘lower (her) standards to the lowest common denominator.”
A letter-writer to the Greenville News was equally disquieted. Said Wayne Owens, Sr.: “As Christians we should not endorse a cult member as our president.” There is probably no benefit in pointing out to Mr. Owens, or Mr. Jones for that matter, that tolerance, as preached in the Bible, trumps name-calling every time; after all, they are right, so there.
So with this dubious addition to Mr. Romney’s endorsement credentials, one wonders what the candidate’s response might be. He has been endorsed, but his religion has been disparaged, his belief in Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world impugned, and his appeal as a presidential candidate reduced basically to ‘he’s not Giuliani or Clinton.’ And this endorsement has come from a man who represents a university known for its intolerance. One may recall that in February of 2000, candidate George Bush spoke at the school’s chapel hour, and within a few weeks wrote a letter of apology to New York’s Catholic Cardinal Cook for not denouncing the university’s history of anti-Catholic statements.
A spokesman for Mr. Romney, Mr. Terry Sullivan, the South Carolina campaign manager, responded to the endorsement: “We’re proud to have the support of Dr. Jones and look forward to his help in delivering Gov. Romney’s conservative message to the voters.”
So there we have it: any endorsement, no matter how reluctant or backhanded, regardless of how insulting, despite the ugly reputation of the endorser, is better than no endorsement at all. Perhaps Mr. Romney realizes that he’d better graciously, gratefully and maybe desperately accept whomever chooses to jump onto his wayward bandwagon.
One may be forgiven for taking a moment or two to speculate on the future. Consider for a moment the scenario if Mr. Romney is the Republican candidate, which would probably be a disaster for the GOP but a godsend for the Democrats. One can imagine him, needing once again to broaden his very limited appeal, distancing himself from Mr. Jones. They agree, he might admit, on a few limited topics, but he abhors the intolerance of that gentleman and the university he represents. He is vaguely aware that Mr. Jones endorsed him prior to the primary season, and while he is grateful for the endorsement, it is not one of which he is proud.
This would not appear to be out of character for Mr. Romney; he is well-known to have shouldered the mantle of the open-minded liberal when running for governor of Massachusetts, only to once again close down his mind when he decided to attempt to move to prime real estate in Washington, D.C. In courting the religious right, conservative bouquet in hand, he again espouses the causes he feels will appeal there: opposition to gay rights; continued war with Iraq; reduction of civil rights for those who might be suspected of anti-American activities. But once the nominating convention closes, and if the GOP is sufficiently foolish to nominate him (a definite possibility; look at the luck they had getting Mr. Bush appointed president), he will need to appeal to voters beyond the Bible Belt. Fleeing the side of Mr. Jones, an unwilling suitor at best, would seem to be an appropriate move for him to make.
But for now Mr. Romney can glory in the tarnished light of Mr. Jones’s reluctant endorsement, trusting the short-memories of the American voter to forget this current infamy once election day rolls around. He can bow and scrape with the best of them, at the feet of those who, under other circumstances, he wouldn’t tolerate being in the same room with, as long as it leads to some momentary publicity that can be used once the primaries begin. As one of the many self-proclaimed Washington outsiders, it appears that Mr. Romney is conducting political business as usual. One asks to be forgiven if one finds no surprise in this.
ROBERT FANTINA is author of ‘Desertion and the American Soldier: 1776–2006.‘