The Media's Religious Test

I believe efforts to disqualify Mitt Romney as a presidential contender because of his Mormon faith are outrageous and unfair.  Apparently, a lot of people in the liberal media agree with me.  Unfortunately, they are hypocrites.
The media are ignoring their own established religious test—against candidates whose evangelical or Catholic faith guides their political beliefs.
Having momentarily discovered an appreciation for the Constitution, liberal journalists are reminding conservative Christians who question Romney’s faith that our founders prohibited a religious test as a qualification for elected office.
“It was only a matter of time before some bigot drew a bead on Mitt Romney and decreed him unfit to be President solely on the basis of his Mormon faith,” wrote Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Dick Polman.  This after Southern Baptist minister Robert Jeffress told attendees at the Values Voter Summit that Mormonism is a cult and that Romney’s religious beliefs should factor into their voting decisions.
“And yet,” Polman continued, “at least according to the Constitution, there isn’t supposed to be such a test.”
Since the Jeffress incident, the media have tried hard to get the other Republican presidential candidates on record about their beliefs on Mormonism.
This is a nonissue.  Gallup polling reveals that Democrats are more likely than Republicans or Protestants to say they would not vote for a Mormon candidate.  And in truth, most evangelicals’ wariness about Romney is a result of suspicions about his conservative principles, not his theological beliefs.
The liberal media should heed their own advice about religious tests.  Last week, Rick Perry’s wife, Anita, suggested in a speech that her husband has been “brutalized” by the media over his faith, most notably over his hosting of a Christian prayer rally in August.
But Perry’s not the only Republican candidate facing the media’s intensifying scrutiny on religion.  Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann’s faith has been the subject of numerous lengthy profiles, including a long New Yorker piece and a New York Times piece last week titled “For Bachmann, God and Justice Were Intertwined,” which outlined Bachmann’s time at Christian Oral Roberts University Law School.
Newsweek’s Michelle Goldberg wondered whether Perry’s and Bachmann’s alleged belief in “a theocratic strain of Christian fundamentalism known as Dominionism” may be informing a Christian plot for world domination.
In a piece titled, “Asking Candidates Tougher Questions About Faith,” the New York Times‘ Bill Keller summed up the media’s position on the GOP field’s religious beliefs.  “This year’s Republican primary season offers us an important opportunity to confront our scruples about the privacy of faith in public life—and to get over them,” he wrote.  “We have an unusually large number of candidates, including putative front-runners, who belong to churches that are mysterious or suspect to many Americans.”
To liberal elites, evangelical Christianity is “mysterious” and “suspect.”  But according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Americans who attend “Evangelical Protestant churches” make up a plurality (26.3%) of the population.  That’s a higher share than Catholics (23.9%), mainline Protestants (18.1%) and unaffiliated Americans (16.1%).
The media’s partisan use of religious tests is not new.  Dozens of reporters descended on Sarah Palin’s Wasilla Assembly of God to dig up as much dirt as they could as soon as she was selected as John McCain’s running mate in 2008.  As a Huffington Post headline put it, “Palin’s Church May have Shaped Controversial Worldview.”
And it would take an entire column to rehash the media’s attacks on George W. Bush’s faith.
If the media really were interested in uncovering the religious beliefs of political candidates who “belong to churches that are mysterious or suspect to many Americans,” they would have dug much deeper into Barack Obama’s faith background and his longtime membership in a black liberation theology church in Chicago.
But most of the media not only didn’t investigate Obama’s church and its radical pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, but berated anyone who did.
In a 2008 editorial published after Obama gave a speech distancing himself from Wright, the New York Times wrote that Obama’s “religious connection” with Wright “should be none of the voters’ business.”
“Mr. Obama’s eloquent speech,” the Times continued, “should end the debate over his ties to Mr. Wright since there is nothing to suggest that he would carry religion into government.”
But Obama has carried religion into government.  A Politico investigation early on in his administration found that Obama had invoked God more often than Bush had over a similar time span.  And Obama often mentions his faith to justify policies that directly contradict common understanding of Christian teaching.
We can be sure that the media will continue to dwell on Mitt Romney’s “Mormon problem” with some evangelical voters.  But it won’t matter.  If Romney wins the Republican nomination, most evangelicals will likely conclude that while it is arguable whether Mormonism is incompatible with Christian theology, it is inarguable that Obama’s support for abortion and same-sex unions is incompatible with Christianity, and with a free and just nation.