At the Values Voter Summit, Republican primary candidate Rick Perry was introduced by a megachurch pastor, named Robert Jeffress, who offered the audience an extraordinary false choice: "Do we want a candidate who is a good, moral person or one who is a born-again follower of the Lord Jesus Christ?"
Answer: We want a candidate who will cut capital gains taxes.
Now, Jeffress would go on to explain that Perry is a "genuine follower of Jesus Christ," which is widely understood to mean that his opponent Mitt Romney is a member of a satanic sect. When one considers that Romney was governor of Massachusetts, the possibility can't be dismissed. But Jeffress, it turns out, was referring to a "theological cult." Many Americans, evidently, believe that Mormons such as Romney are heretics, too impure to take on the virtuous job of being a politician.
Some of us have no standing -- and absolutely no interest -- in wading into theological debates. The Constitution states that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." This, regrettably, doesn't shield candidates from the prejudices of some voters, and tragically, it doesn't shield us from candidates who believe that repeatedly citing God is a policy position.
Though all that may be annoying, does it mean we should recoil from any discussion of religion in political discourse?
Let's just stretch the imagination for a moment. Suppose a candidate had a deep fidelity with a faith that is known to occasionally keep women from driving, one that believes 90 lashes for speaking out of turn is an acceptable form of punishment and one that overlooks forced circumcisions and allows honor killings. Let's say that this faith leaves little distinction between the state and God. If any tenets of your faith conflict with the liberty of others, does religion become a political matter?
If your faith drives you, as it does Michele Bachmann, is it out of bounds to ask -- as she was during one Republican debate -- why she believes wives should be "submissive" to their husbands? (As it turns out, she gave a rather fascinating answer, and I now strongly advocate for a similar position in my own household.) And seeing as Barack Obama is a religious man, why shouldn't we question his association with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who, you will remember, used his pulpit as an ideologue to preach racism and other unseemly business?
No doubt, some on the left are offended that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opposes gay marriage, though they align the Mormon church with other "theological cults" -- such as the Roman Catholic Church, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America and most denominations of Protestantism. I get it. If any church publicly supported Keynesian boondoogles, I'd have a problem, too.
But Mormons seem, for the most part, because of a long and complex history, to go out of their way to avoid mixing religion and politics. Is Romney covertly behind some Mormon-centric legislation I haven't heard about? Do Sen. Harry Reid, who is Mormon, and Sen. Mike Lee, who is Mormon, agree on any substantive policy?
We can't know what impact the Mormon question will have on this election. Polls can't accurately reflect that kind of sentiment. But if you dismiss millions of people solely on a religious basis as unworthy of public office, you are intolerant and have taken a deeply un-American position.
Jeffress isn't a bigot because he has a theological argument or because he brought up religion. He is a bigot because he rejected a man based on his personal faith rather than dismiss him for his terrible health care policy like a normal person.