I Hope Hugh Hewitt Realizes I’m Not A Religious Bigot

I do hope Hugh Hewitt now realizes I’m not some sort of religious bigot. I wrote a review of Hugh’s new book on Romney, which you can read here. Hugh took serious exception to one passage, which you can read about here. I was on his show tonight to talk about it and I think we agreed while still disagreeing about some of the fundamentals. Hugh wants some bright lines I’m not prepared to give.

Here’s where things apparently got controversial.

Hugh started his book with a couple of passages. The first was his statement that “Our nation’s abhorrence of religious bigotry was embodied in Article VI of the Constitution, which prohibits ‘religious tests’ for office.”1
Now, coupled with this statement of Hugh’s from the next page

If any significant number of voters disqualify Romney from their consideration because of his faith, it will be a disheartening breach of the Framers’ contract with themselves and their political heirs on the subject of religion’s place within the American Republic.”

I fell under the distinct impression that Hugh expected Article VI, Clause 3 to apply to the American people, not just the government. Hugh told me tonight he understands that it only applies to the American government, but he still thinks the American people should have no religious test it seems.

Anyway, that’s background for what Hugh took to be so offensive from my article. Here is the offending passage:

In another contradiction, Hewitt writes, in the chapter titled “Mitt Romney’s Advantages”: “Start with the Mormons. The basic unit of the LDS church is the ward, comparable to a Catholic parish. Wards are collected into ‘stakes,’ again, comparable to a Catholic diocese. There are eight stakes in Iowa, which include 85 wards. . . . And in those 85 wards will be an incredible not-so-secret weapon–a core of young people . . . not to mention experienced missionaries.” So “the Romney campaign will certainly attract hundreds of thousands of Mormons. . . . This is a standard feature of American politics, and much to be celebrated.” But this begs the question: If we can expect heavy participation by Mormon missionaries as grassroots activists for an American presidential campaign, why can we not ask questions about Romney’s Mormon beliefs and why can Americans not be concerned? After all, contrary to the popular perception of the left and media, there were no organized platoons of Presbyterian missionaries knocking on doors for Reagan, brigades of Baptists for Bill Clinton, nor marauding packs of Methodists for George W. Bush. This is something relatively unseen and new to most Americans –including many deeply evangelical Americans who believe Mormonism to be a cult, or at best a religion that has some shared roots, but is fundamentally grounded in heresies.

The bold part was emphasized by Hugh, who found it “troubling” and wrote

I find the effort to mainstream religious tests and even religious bigotry to be abhorrent and far outside the political mainstream. As I argue at length in the book, the effort by those on the left to introduce this sort of rhetoric should have led to their shaming, and I am sorry to say the same about Erick’s drive-by. Mormons are American citizens with every right to be enthusiastic about the candidacy of a co-religionist, and that enthusiasm is not a license to begin a theological inquisition at a public figure whose campaign is about the direction of America and his qualifications to lead it.

But that gets us back to where we both agree and disagree. I agree with Hugh that there are a lot of people, particularly on the left, who will use Romney’s religion to display their religious bigotry. At the same time, I’m not prepared to shut down the discussion.

Hugh, also in his introduction writes

But if Romney is attacked–openly or sub rosa–for the particulars of his faith . . . then the country will have walked out on one of our most vital founding principles.

I just don’t think this is very helpful. I understand Hugh’s concerns, but I just can’t bring myself to find fault in a deeply evangelical Christian who will not vote for Romney because he is not a Christian. Certainly Hugh and I may disagree, but I also understand the Christian who is so deeply committed to his religion that he will not vote for someone outside his religion. Certainly if Romney is *attacked* for his faith in the great debate of 2008, it will be wrong and we should all be willing to pile on.

Nonetheless, I do think there will be a large number of people in the evangelical community who might hear about “an incredible not-so-secret weapon–a core of young people . . . not to mention experienced missionaries” and wonder what’s up with that — the media will no doubt portray it as church support, which will be inaccurate, but nonetheless it will raise questions, many of which will be illegitimate and some of which will be legitimate.

As an aside, Hugh took issue with my characterization of these “young people” and “experienced missionaries” as “grassroots activists,” “grassroots activists” being my term. Hugh said he did not use that term. This goes back to the lack of candor in Hugh’s book about which I was critical.

Hugh describes these “young people” and “experienced missionaries” as

Romney volunteers [who] will be from the neighborhoods in which the caucuses will be held, will learn the sites where the caucuses will be held and will deliver not just themselves but their non-Mormon friends and neighbors to the caucuses en masse and do so with the full grasp of the rules and a deep experience in patience that comes from knocking on thousands and thousands of doors during their time as missionaries.

Hugh, I hate to tell you my friend, but those are grassroots activists.

Hugh wanted me to give him some bright lines of questions that would and would not be out of line for people, particularly the press, to ask. I think for a mainstream member of the press, like Tim Russert, to ask Romney or a Romney supporter about Romney being a member of a cult would be way out of line. I think if a born and raised in rural Louisiana Southern Baptist had the same concern, it would not be as readily out of line due to the upbringing and exposure, or lack thereof, that the citizen has had with Mormonism.

To sum up my point, which I think Hugh agrees with but for the whole issue of what is and is not acceptable discourse on this issue, we cannot just tell people to “shut up” and “don’t talk about this” issue. When we do that, more and more people will want to talk about it. Instead we should engage and be willing to show that Mitt Romney is a worthy candidate worthy of our vote.

Tench Coxe, one of the members of the Second Continental Congress, wrote “An Examination of the Constitution” in 1787. On the issue of Article VI, Clause 3, the religious test, Coxe wrote:

Any wise, informed, and upright man, be his property what it may, can exercise the trusts and powers of the state, provided he possesses the moral, religious, and political virtues which are necessary to secure the confidence of his fellow citizens.

If someone will not vote for Mitt Romney because of a deeply held religious belief that Mormonism is a cult or heretical to their own religion, I may disagree, but it is their right to do so. If someone will not vote for Mitt Romney because he is religious at all, that should profoundly disturb us all and Hugh and I are on the same team, playing offense, against such people.


  1. This is actually not true. To quote from The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, “the ban extended only to federal officeholders. States were free at the time of the Founding to impose religious tests as they saw fit. All of them did. State tests limited public office to Christians or, in some states, only to Protestants. The national government, on the other hand, could not impose any religious test whatsoever.” Likewise, it is very clear from the constitutional debates that Article VI, Clause 3 was inserted to prevent one Christian denomination from being able to another Christian denomination from federal office. See e.g., statements by Benjamin Rush and Oliver Ellsworth.

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Erick Erickson

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10 Comments

  • http://www.cumorah.com/bookofmormon.html

    The person to ask if one is a bigot, is Christ himself. It matters not what another human thinks of our religious questions. Those that are blind in God are those that think that the Holy Bible was written with no revisions whatsoever throughout time, and those that look at others with skepticism when those that talk to God are viewed as kooks. Those that think that way feel that the Holy Bible is sealed, and that God is dead to those with eyes and ears to see and hear today.

    Ask the Lord, Erick, by reading scriptures and praying about why is it that you are skeptical of a Mormon but will share a drink with those that have no belief in Jesus at all. I am not judging you, and do not think that I am. I just write about what I see in the world today. Christians will sit on television and radio programs with those that vehemently oppose the Lord and deny that he is the living God, and be so proud that they were giving this priviledge of appearing on a program with those that hate Jesus. Am I wrong? Our politicians squirm and sell their souls to get contributions from people who hate the Lord. Can you not see the writing on the wall?

    A Mormon that practices their faith abstains from alcohol and drugs, and does not exactly fit into the mores of society let alone the context of many of us that are Baptists and other religious sects. We are all of the New Testament Church, and we are against those that believe in Christ because of a fear of others that do have a living relationship with Jesus. It is easier to put Jesus on a shelf after Sunday morning church when placing the Bible on the dresser or night stand.

    As Mr. Corson wrote about in the Macon Telegraph several months back, we Christians keep looking for a religious revival in politics, and it will never happen.

    Jesus is not dead within the written scriptures and sealed away until the second coming, and all you have to do is pray. Don’t worry about what Mr. Hewitt thinks.

    The only reason President Bush and other Republicans won reelection in 2004 was because of the swing voters that did not want to make a change during war time, nothing more nothing less. This time, the American public is more divided than ever. We all feel or I should say those of us that care about the future of America, that we are losing our footing in the world. We know that the economy is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy in this United States, and see the middle income worker being displaced with cheap foreign labor. Why Intel just announced plans to build a huge chip plant in China! We all have this moral indignation toward slave labor that is totally superficial because every product that we buy that says made in China is produced with slave labor. This is a long writing, and I will not apologize for my caring and interjections. God bless all and remember we all fall short of the glory of God.

  • Romney’s flip-flopping on conservative issues speaks volumes about the man and his religion. Also, it is interesting how the Mormons are giving out free films about Jesus Christ more than usual of late. Not sure the film is bad or anti-Christian,but I feel sure it is pro-Mormon. Those who are not sure of what they believe as far as their on church, faith or religion could be swayed towards Mormanism, and thus become pro-Romney. Giving away this movie for free does seem a bit of laniappe to encourage voters to be pro-Mormon, and thus, pro-Romney, if not to simply become a Mormon. Since Romney flip-flopped so much before he decided to run for President, how do we know he won’t flip-flop on conservative issues if he should become President? Romney does seem to be a “righteous” man. I think there is “reasonable doubt,” however, as to whether this man would be a man for whom I could vote.

  • “Romney’s flip-flopping on conservative issues speaks volumes about the man and his religion”

    Romney aside how can any one person speak volumes for an entire religion? There are many petty, poor mannered, bigoted people who are Christian but does that “speak volumes” for the entire religion?

    Religion, to me, is a guide on how to live your life but people are flawed. Do those flaws bring their entire religion into question?

    Not sure the film is bad or anti-Christian,but I feel sure it is pro-Mormon.

    What’s wrong with being pro Mormon? Would it be wrong to be pro Christian?

    “Those who are not sure of what they believe as far as their on church, faith or religion could be swayed towards Mormonism, and thus become pro-Romney.”

    Is it wrong to evangelize? That aside what’s wrong about exposing people to their neighbor’s religion?

    “Romney does seem to be a “righteous” man.”

    What is a “righteous” man? What qualities imbue that title to someone.

    I’m sincerely serious about these questions

  • I will not vote for Mitt Romney in the Primary, but I would of course vote for him in the General if he were the Republican nominee. My choice is Ron Paul because he has a proven voting record in the Congress as being a strict Constitutionalist. Ron Paul is the Patrick Henry of today, and very much a person that does not have to put a finger in the wind to guage the way the polls are going.

    I got a letter yesterday from the former governor of VA, Mr. Gillmore (I believe that is his name) asking for a contribution. I had heard he may run for President, and he is testing the waters with an exploratory running or whatever you call it. I firmly believe that the candidate that will take the nation will have to come from the Southwest or the Democrats will win. But you know opinions are like rear ends, right, every one has one.

    And if these young Mormons can reach our misguided youth with the Book of Mormon or videos about Jesus Christ, hallelujah! It is better than reading Nogodblog.com, don’t you think? Or better than setting up video cams of themselves and flashing their privates on Myspace, the misguided teens that is.

    I met a lady when I was only 23 that was a Mormon, and she tried to reach me as I was not real grounded in my faith. She did not try to convert me to Mormonism, but she gave me the Book of Mormon to read (which I did not read). I realize that she was only trying to make sure that I reclaimed my faith in Jesus Christ, and she did not care what church I went to. She only cared that I would worship Jesus.

    Everyone changes their minds about things in life, but we put those in the political arena in the spot light. I defend Romney from a religious stand point, not from the stand point of being what we need in as a President right now. Romney and his wife have been married for 37 years, which is a miracle in today’s world. Romney had to be the candidate for all to govern in Massachusettes.

    Everyone that gets their tax return from me gets a plug for Ron Paul for the Primaries. I have clients that are glad that I keep them up to date about politics. Ha! Someone told me if you would take those photos of President Bush off the wall, you would have more clients. I told them that I had all the clients I need, thank you very much. LOL. Hang in there political pundits, and remember pray for the right leader to lead our nation. Faith in the Lord can move a mountain, right?

  • Erick wrote,

    “If we can expect heavy participation by Mormon missionaries as grassroots activists for an American presidential campaign, why can we not ask questions about Romney’s Mormon beliefs and why can Americans not be concerned?”

    Mormon missionaries will *not* be “grassroots activists” for Romney or for any other Latter-day Saint politician. They are under a strict obligation to stay away from politics and to focus on inviting all to come unto Christ.

    Do you really expect Mormon missionaries to stay indoors during every political campaign?

    Would you also ban private citizens from “grassroots activism,” just because they happen to be Latter-day Saints?

    While we can certainly expect the pastors of many denominations to “hint” how their congregations should vote and to push IRS rules to the very limit, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will stay completely clear of partisan politics. Please read the official policy of the Church in this matter.

    http://tinyurl.com/2seyqy
    (short alias to long url at lds.org)

    I am a life-long Latter-day Saint and assure you that I have heard a statement on political neutrality read over the pulpit before every local and national election.

    Interestingly, just this week “concerned Christians” fanned out across the country to distribute a free DVD “exposing” the “truth” about Mormonism.
    http://en.fairmormon.org/index.php/Search_for_the_Truth_DVD

    No doubt you would approve of this kind of “grassroots activism,” which the Anti-defamation league immediately denounced as “Mormon bashing.”
    http://www.adl.org/PresRele/ChJew_31/5013_31.htm

    Tracy Hall Jr
    hthalljr’gmail’com

  • Erick,

    The following passage in your original review of Hugh Hewitt’s book is factually incorrect:

    “But this begs the question: If we can expect heavy participation by Mormon missionaries as grassroots activists for an American presidential campaign, why can we not ask questions about Romney’s Mormon beliefs and why can Americans not be concerned?”

    Mormon missionaries serve on behalf of their church as full-time, unpaid volunteers for between 18 and 24 months. They are strictly prohibited from participating in politics in any form during the duration of their missionary service. Their entire focus for these 18-24 months is on teaching people about Jesus Christ. Therefore, they will not be out campaigning for Mitt Romney or for anyone else.

    You seem to have misinterpreted Hugh Hewitt’s original remarks, which admittedly lent themselves to this misinterpretation. When Hugh wrote that “…in those 85 wards will be an incredible not-so-secret weapon–a core of young people . . . not to mention experienced missionaries…” he was apparently using the word “experienced” to specifically refer to members of the LDS Church who have PREVIOUSLY served as missionaries. In Mormon culture these individuals are referred to as “returned missionaries.” The facts that the position of missionary in the LDS Church is temporary, and that missionaries may not involve themselves in politics, whereas a former or “returned” missionary is now a private citizen who may engage in any political activity they might please, are key distinctions which your review failed to take into account. Because you missed this distinction you perpetuated the false idea that Mormon missionaries — i.e., official representatives of the LDS Church — might somehow become involved in a political campaign, which most assuredly will never happen.

    Best Regards,
    Dave Bjarnason

  • I find it interesting that Dr. Dobson is supporting Newt over Fred Thompson (disclosure: I don’t work for any campaign), claiming something about Thompson not being “Christian enough”, or something like that. Yet, how many affairs and marriages has Newt had vs. Fred?I thought somewhere in the Bible (to quote Homer Simpson, “it’s probably in the back somewhere”.), affairs were a no-no.

    Oh well. But then again, I thought intentionally losing in 2006 to send a message was a bad idea. Sure enough, look at the bitter harvest that petulance on our side has wrought.

  • Eddie, funny you should say that. Several solid Christian activist friends of mine, when you mention Thompson, respond ominously, “Well, he sure enjoyed his time as a single man when he was on Capitol Hill.”

    There is a lot of rich irony in there including the fact that he was single and Newt was an adulterer.

  • “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)