No one seems surprised by Andrew Sullivan’s most recent anti-Mormon blast at Mitt Romney, but it sure is disappointing. Sully lights into Romney for being a member of a church that had a racist theology until 1978. Excerpt:
A simple question: Do you think this issue would not come up in a general election or a primary? If Obama was subjected to news cycle after news cycle of clips of Obama’s actual former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, can you imagine the outrage if Obama had actually been a part of a black supremacist church – that denied whites equal access to the sacraments – for over a decade in his adult life?
I raise this because it is a fact that Mitt Romney belonged to a white supremacist church for 31 years of his life, went on a mission to convert Christians and Jews and others to this church, which retained white supremacy as a doctrine until 1978 – decades after Brown vs Board of Education, and a decade after the end of the anti-miscegenation laws.
Actually, it’s more plausible to imagine that Sullivan raises this because the election is very, very close, and his candidate, Obama, is in trouble. I share Sullivan’s disgust with the anti-black theology the Mormon church had until relatively recently, but he should well remember that his own Roman Catholic Church has until also recently preached things he finds appalling. Even today, the Church to which he belongs officially teaches that homosexuality is “intrinsically disordered,” and condemns some of the things that he treasures.
Yet he remains a confessing Catholic.
The Mormon church has repudiated its racist teaching. Romney himself says he opposes the racist teaching, and was glad to have it rescinded. What more can Sullivan expect of him? Is a man supposed to reject entirely the religion in which he was raised because of one ugly teaching? Most of us struggle, one way or another, to believe certain things our faith proclaims. If Sullivan still remains a Catholic, even though the Catholic Church teaches doctrines he finds hateful and bigoted, then why won’t he give Romney the same grace and understanding he expects for himself? At least the Mormon church no longer teaches racially bigoted theology; from Sully’s perspective (not my own), the Catholic Church still proclaims anti-gay theology that is as bigoted as anything the LDS Church taught back in the day.
Besides, the comparison with Obama and Rev. Wright is that Obama joined Wright’s church as an adult with no particular religious background. Romney was raised in Mormonism. It’s easier to understand why someone raised in a particular religion would find it harder to leave over painful and difficult teachings of the religion, versus why someone not raised in a particular church or religion would choose it as an adult, despite some painful and difficult teaching. Again, why hasn’t Sullivan left the Catholic Church, despite his very public dissent from its core teaching about human sexuality, especially homosexuality? The answer will surely go far in explaining why Romney never left the LDS Church back in the day — or at least should go far enough to prompt Andrew to give Romney grace on the matter.
Besides, most people’s relationship to religion is a complicated one, and not a matter of clear, consistent acceptance of propositions. This is something I have come to appreciate more as I’ve gotten older. In fact, I was hard on Obama for his affiliation with Rev. Wright and his racism, but it was my conservative friend Caleb Stegall who helped me understand why Obama might have been right to stick with that church community, despite the racism of its pastor. It has to do with why we remain faithful to our families even when our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters do or say things we find offensive.
It’s called tolerance. And it’s called love. That, I am sure, is why Andrew remains a Catholic. And I am sure it’s why Romney remained, and remains, a Mormon. It’s why I am a Christian too, despite certain things I can’t fully understand about the faith, or entirely accept.