There have been quite a few articles out there in the last day talking about Mitt Romney’s withdrawal from the presidential race. After I heard the news, I took a look at some opinion pieces to see what people were saying about it. One of the ones I found most interesting was this one, by Timothy Egan of the New York Times.
Here’s how it opens:
Mitt Romney is gone, having suspended his campaign in the face of delegate math that cannot work in his favor, no matter how he crunches the numbers. But before he leaves the stage, the record should show who – or what – did him in.
Blame Christians. By significant margins, in poll after poll, in vote after vote a solid block of evangelical Christians said they would never vote for a Mormon. Since evangelicals made up nearly half of the Republican primary vote in some states, Romney was up against a deep well of distrust of a religion that many evangelicals still label a cult.
He states later,
It’s tempting to call these voters anti-Mormon bigots. Polls show evangelicals are three times as likely to vote for a black candidate as a Mormon. In the late 1960s, the percentage of Americans who said they would not vote for a Jew was in the teens. By 2000, that number was down to the low single digits. A similar tolerance opened up for Catholics.
But on Mormons, the numbers never moved. About 17 percent of Americans say they have qualms about voting for a Mormon – the same number as in 1967.
“Bigot” is a strong word, especially to use when you’re writing an op-ed piece in a national newspaper. Before taking issue with this word, let’s find out what it means, from dictionary.com: “–noun: a person who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion.”
But is not wanting to vote for someone because of their religious beliefs intolerant? It is one thing to not want to vote for someone because of the way they were born: Obama did not choose to enter the world as a black man, and Sen. Clinton did not choose to be born a white woman. Discriminating against them for these reasons would be without justification. And I don’t want to deny the fact that there are some nutty Christians out there who have an ax to grind against Mormons, and are extremely un-loving in their speech.
But honestly, I don’t think that Mr. Egan ought to fault evangelical Christians for “having qualms” about voting for Romney because of his beliefs. Evangelical Christians (and I am one of them) are adamant that there are significant differences between what Mormons believe and what orthodox Christians believe – significant enough that we think it is misleading when Mormons call themselves “Christians,” since they don’t believe what all the other denominations who use that term believe (but that’s a topic for another post).
Mr. Egan seems to think that it is perfectly fine to vote for or against people based on issues (even issues such as abortion, which are usually linked to beliefs about the nature of the human person), but not fine to vote for or against someone based on their view of the cause, nature and purpose of the universe. He doesn’t understand that theological issues can be extremely important to some people – important enough to have a major impact on how they vote, or do not vote. Mr. Egan’s view amounts to secularism, which seeks to banish religion to the private sphere and expects everyone to act in public as if their beliefs about the nature and purpose of human beings and the world are not important.
I think it’s OK for all people (not just evangelical Christians) to prefer voting for someone who shares their view of the world to voting for someone who does not, if they have the option. And in fact, it seems to me that this is exactly what most people do. This is not being “utterly intolerant;” it’s only being more comfortable with someone who sees the world the way you do (or more closely to the way you do). It’s tempting to turn the tables and use the word “bigot” to describe Mr. Egan. After all, he is the one who is utterly intolerant of evangelical Christians for not sharing his secularist views.