Stephen Mansfield, an evangelical author who has written widely about the faith of politicians, turns his attention to Mormons in his latest book, The Mormonizing of America.
He talked with Religion News Service about how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — including GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney — has progressed from persecution to prominence.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: You’ve written “The Faith of George W. Bush” and The Faith of Barack Obama. Why did you write “The Mormonizing of America” instead of “The Faith of Mitt Romney”?
A: I thought that the story of Bush at the time was bigger than the story of evangelicals and the religious right at that time. I thought the story of Obama personally was bigger then the story of the religious left that he was sort of the champion of. But in this case I think that the story of the Mormon moment or this Mormon ascent is a bigger story than Mitt Romney. There’s something broader going on and he’s not so much the champion of the movement, maybe just at the vanguard of it....
We elect a president every four years, but perhaps we also elect a high priest. Ever since George Washington spontaneously added “so help me God” to his inaugural oath, Americans have expected their presidents to believe in, worship and publicly invoke God....
History suggests, however, that piety and presidential performance don’t always match. Some of America’s most religious presidents have been its most brutal. And two of its greatest presidents wouldn’t even be considered Christians today, scholars say.
Consider Abraham Lincoln, who is widely acknowledged as one of the nation’s three greatest presidents, along with Washington and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But Lincoln, who never joined a church, was not a Christian, says Niels C. Nielsen, author of God in the Obama Era.
“Lincoln believed in an active God, he believed in providence. But if you asked Lincoln if he believed in the deity of Jesus, he would have said no,” Nielsen says.
Or look at Roosevelt, who is virtually a national saint. With his perpetual grin and a cigarette holder perched jauntily in his mouth, he guided the nation through the Great Depression and World War II. His legacy is built on his New Deal, an array of programs that protected the poor and elderly from the abuses of unrestrained capitalism.
But Roosevelt was no saint in his personal life. He rarely talked publicly about his Episcopal faith, preferred golf over church (before he was stricken by polio), and likely cheated on his wife, scholars say.
Read Blake's report — which also examines the faith of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson and Barack Obama — HERE.
Religious groups and social conservatives are reacting to the Supreme's Court's historic ruling that largely upholds President Obama's health care law, the Affordable Care Act.
Sr. Carol Keehan, president and chief executive officer of the Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA):
"We are pleased that, based on an initial read of the ruling, the ACA has been found constitutional and will remain in effect. CHA has long supported health reform that expands access and coverage to everyone. We signed onto amicus briefs encouraging the Court to find in favor of the ACA’s individual mandate and the Medicaid expansion. As the ruling is examined, Catholic-sponsored health care providers will continue to lead health care transformation — finding new and better ways to provide compassionate, high-quality care while strengthening the communities we serve."
The Catholic Bishops of the United States urged Congress and President Obama to repair, not replace, the health care law so that it covers immigrants, includes stronger conscience protections, and ensures that it will not fund abortions -- something the law specifically bars:
"Following enactment of ACA, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has not joined in efforts to repeal the law in its entirety, and we do not do so today.The decision of the Supreme Court neither diminishes the moral imperative to ensure decent health care for all, nor eliminates the need to correct the fundamental flaws described above.We therefore continue to urge Congress to pass, and the Administration to sign, legislation to fix those flaws."
Twenty years ago, who would have predicted the 2012 U.S. presidential race would pit a black incumbent against a white Mormon?
"I’ve been black my whole life and a Mormon for 30 years and never thought either of these (candidacies) would happen in my lifetime," says Utah attorney Keith Hamilton.
"This is a day that all Americans should take some solace in — that things are changing. Regardless of who wins, this sends a message to our children."
In the wake of President Obama's declaration of his personal support for the right of same-sex couples to marry under civil law, the nation is understandably focused on debating the merits of this position. Three related points from President Obama's announcement, however, deserve our attention as well.
First, President Obama noted that there is an important difference between civil marriage and religious marriage. The state defines civil marriage, which serves as the gateway for a wide variety of government benefits, rights and privileges. Religious marriage, on the other hand, is defined solely by religious communities.
These categories may be fuzzy in our minds because current law not only respects the ability of clergy and religious communities to define and bless religious marriage, it also allows clergy to solemnize civil marriage. That's why one often hears a minister conclude a wedding by saying, "By the authority vested in me by the state of X, I now pronounce you husband and wife."
Setting aside the oddity of a minister claiming the authority of the state rather than a higher power, the fact that the state allows clergy to bring a civil marriage into being does not mean it can require clergy to bless or recognize any relationship the state defines as civil marriage.
As I've read and listened to Christian reaction in the wake of Obama's interview stating his personal opinion on same-sex marriage, I've been discouraged with the nature and tenor of the conversation itself. Specifically, I'm troubled by the way many Christians choose to take definitive and certain stances about complex issues, and the rhetoric they use to state and defend these positions, rhetoric that tends to divide rather than unite and close discussion rather than open it.
I'm interested in exploring what it is about the Christian religion, and perhaps more specifically, evangelicalism that results in such an approach.
I fully understand the attractions of certainty. From my study of C. S. Lewis I know that his popularity among evangelical Christians in the 1940s and 1950s was largely due to his style of certitude. Lewis was writing in a time where scientific discoveries and religious liberalism were challenging the assertions of orthodox Christianity. In a period of doubt and questioning, Lewis seemed to have a way of cutting through complex arguments and reaching a simple solution that was convincing to his readers.
Nearly four years after Smith joked about potentially playing Obama in a not-actually-happening biopic on the president's life, the "Men In Black 3" star is at it again.
Dozens of Catholic universities, dioceses and other institutions filed lawsuits in courts around the country on Monday in a coordinated effort, spearheaded by the U.S. hierarchy and Catholic conservatives, to overturn the Obama administration’s contraception mandate plan.
The 43 plaintiffs, which include 13 dioceses and the University of Notre Dame, say the mandate forces religious employers to provide contraceptive and sterilization services to employees that violate their beliefs. They say that infringes on First Amendment religious freedom protections, and charge that the federal government’s exemption for religious organizations is too narrow.
In advance of two days of meetings with G8 leaders at Camp David this weekend, on Friday morning, President Obama spoke to a gathering of international political and NGO leaders and activists in Washington, D.C. at the Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much. (Applause.) Thank you, everybody. Please have a seat. Thank you. Well, good morning, everybody. Thank you, Catherine Bertini, and Dan Glickman and everyone at the Chicago Council. We were originally going to convene, along with the G8, in Chicago. But since we’re not doing this in my hometown, I wanted to bring a little bit of Chicago to Washington. (Laughter.) It is wonderful to see all of you. It is great to see quite a few young people here as well. And I want to acknowledge a good friend. We were just talking backstage -- he was my inspiration for singing at the Apollo -- (laughter) -- Bono is here, and it is good to see him. (Applause.)
Now, this weekend at the G8, we’ll be represented by many of the world's largest economies. We face urgent challenges -- creating jobs, addressing the situation in the eurozone, sustaining the global economic recovery. But even as we deal with these issues, I felt it was also important, also critical to focus on the urgent challenge that confronts some 1 billion men, women and children around the world -- the injustice of chronic hunger; the need for long-term food security.
WATCH PRESIDENT OBAMA AT 2:28:45
The Hill reports on a new poll focussing on the country's economic prospects:
Voters are optimistic the economy will improve in the next year, but still hold doubts on President Obama’s economic policies, a new USA Today/Gallup poll released Monday finds. Likely voters in the U.S. think the economy is improving already, giving Obama an edge as the incumbent. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed believe they will be "better off" next time this year and 58 percent predict good economic conditions in a year.
Read more about the poll here
From yesterday's New York Times:
"There is nothing a presidential campaign likes less than to be forced to answer for someone else’s actions. And yet President Obama and Mitt Romney are likely to face that challenge repeatedly during this election season as their allies and adversaries in Congress pursue agendas that do not always make things easy on the campaign trail."
Read the full story here
As pundits and politicians struggle to divine the political fallout from President Obama’s sudden endorsement of same-sex marriage, one thing has become clear: The Golden Rule invoked by Obama to explain his change of heart is the closest thing Americans have to a common religious law, and that has important implications beyond the battle for gay rights.
In fact, one of the most striking aspects of Obama’s revelation on Wednesday (May 9) that he and his wife, Michelle, support marriage rights for gays and lesbians, is that he invoked their Christian faith to support his views. In past years, Obama – as many believers still do – had cited his religious beliefs to oppose gay marriage.
Obama told ABC News that he and the first lady “are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it's also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated.”
After nearly four years in the Oval Office, President Obama is incorrectly thought to be Muslim by one in six American voters, and only one quarter of voters can correctly identify him as a Protestant, according to a new poll.
Voters do better identifying Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith, according to a poll released Thursday (May 10) by the Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service. A slim majority of voters -- 51 percent -- knows the presumed Republican presidential nominee is Mormon.
“Wow. He said it 100 times that he’s not a Muslim,” said Zainab Al-Suwaij, executive director of the American Islamic Congress, expressing surprise over the persistent number of American voters (16 percent) who make the mistake.
Is there something insidious behind the belief, a concerted attack to link the president with a religion that's considered alien -- or worse -- by some Americans?
Yale Professor David Bromwich analyses President Obama's foreign policy for The Huffington Post:
Presidents Obama and Karzai have signed in Kabul a strategic partnership agreement between the two countries.
The Associated Press reports:
“The partnership spells out the U.S. relationship with Afghanistan beyond 2014, covering security, economics and governance. The deal is limited in scope and essentially gives both sides political cover: Afghanistan is guaranteed its sovereignty and promised it won't be abandoned, while the U.S. gets to end its combat mission in the long and unpopular war but keep a foothold in the country. The deal does not commit the United States to any specific troop presence or spending. But it does allow the U.S. to potentially keep troops in Afghanistan after the war ends…”
“At a signing ceremony in Kabul with Afghan President Karzai, Obama said the agreement paves the way for 'a future of peace’ while allowing the United States to ‘wind down this war.’ Karzai said his countrymen ‘will never forget’ the help of U.S. forces over the past decade.”
The Nebraska state legislature on Wednesday approved a bill (LB1161) that will allow Nebraska to proceed with a $2 million study to find a route for TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline through the state. Gov. Dave Heineman is expected to sign the measure into law. But what does this mean?
It means a couple of things. First, it means that the global “people power” movement against the Keystone XL pipeline beat back the energy and oil industry in January when President Obama and the State Department denied TransCanada’s transnational permit. Our “united we stand” organizing strategy was effective. It forced the TransCanada to switch tactics. Now the oil industry is pushing a “divide and conquer” tactic. Its strategy is to break the pipeline up into state-sized parts and negotiate on each section. In Nebraska, new proposals to route the pipeline away from the environmentally sensitive Sandhills has removed a key political organizing tool from those of us who are working against the pipeline, especially in the Midwest.
Second, it means that Nebraska needs cash and will move forward to get it. Since the oil industry lobbyists have convinced the Obama administration to allow new routes to be proposed, Nebraska has leapt into the maneuvering space – in part to keep filling the state’s depleted coffers with funds from the TransCanada cash cow. The bill approved today will re-start the pipeline “review” process on the state level. And, the bill requires TransCanada to reimburse the state for the route study.
In a video address Tuesday, President Obama told hundreds of young evangelical Christian leaders gathered at the Q Conference in Washington, D.C., that they had a partner in the White House in their humanitarian and social justice efforts.
The nation’s Catholic bishops say the Obama administration’s proposed revisions to a mandate that requires insurers to provide birth control coverage are still unacceptable and even “radically flawed" -- signaling a long drawn-out election-year fight between the White House and the Catholic hierarchy.
The bishops also say that they will continue to try to overturn the contraception regulations in Congress and the courts even as the bishops carry on negotiations with the White House.
The critical judgments on the government proposals, which were published by the U.S. Department for Health and Human Services on March 16, are contained in an internal, two-page March 29 memo from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The memo’s contents were first reported Tuesday (April 3) by Catholic News Service.
President Obama hosted his third annual Easter prayer breakfast for about 150 members of the clergy from across the nation in the East Room of the White House Wednesday morning. In his six-minute address, Obama reflected on the spiritual messages of Easter -- Jesus' triumphant overcoming of his own human doubts and fears so that all of humanity might do the same.
"For like us, Jesus knew doubt," Obama said. "Like us, Jesus knew fear. In the garden of Gethsemane, with attackers closing in around him, Jesus told His disciples, 'My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.' He fell to his knees, pleading with His Father, saying, “If it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” And yet, in the end, He confronted His fear with words of humble surrender, saying, “If it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
"So it is only because Jesus conquered His own anguish, conquered His fear, that we’re able to celebrate the resurrection. It’s only because He endured unimaginable pain that wracked His body and bore the sins of the world that He burdened -- that burdened His soul that we are able to proclaim, 'He is Risen!'"
A top Southern Baptist official has accused President Obama and black civil rights activists of using the Trayvon Martin shooting to foment racial strife and boost the president’s re-election chances.
“Rather than holding rallies on these issues, the civil rights leadership focuses on racially polarizing cases to generate media attention and to mobilize black voter turnout,” Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and the denomination’s top public policy official, said on his radio program on Saturday (March 31).
“This is being done to try to gin up the black vote for an African-American president who is in deep, deep, deep trouble for re-election and who knows that he cannot win re-election without getting the 95 percent of blacks who voted for him in 2008 to come back out and show they are going to vote for him again.”