Famed atheist Richard Dawkins Tweeted a link Thursday peddling a 2007 video of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney candidly discussing his Mormon faith. While Dawkins seemingly thought the video was an opportunity to lambaste Romney's beliefs, supporters of the GOP candidate will likely enjoy the clip, as it shows his impassioned side as well as a defense of his pro-life position. And for those fearing Romney's views on the separation of church and state, a separate clip from the same exchange may also provide some solace.
Let's start with the clip that Dawkin's shared. The video originated during a conversation that the candidate, then competing in the 2008 presidential campaign, was having with Jan Mickelson, a radio talk show host in Des Moines, Iowa. The discussion is particularly noteworthy because it unfolded during a commercial break and was, thus, somewhat more forthright and unscripted than are many theological and political debates.
Mitt Romney debating with radio host Jan Mickelson (Photo Credit: YouTube)
In the clip, Romney highlighted his views on Jesus' return, clarified The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints' theology and addressed criticism he has faced over his abortion views. He challenged Mickelson, telling him, "I understand my church better than you do" (he was responding to purportedly incorrect theological claims that Mickelson was outlining).
Romney defended his evolutionary abortion stance, claiming that his pro-life views are mostly rooted in his general belief that the procedure is morally wrong and that it is not beneficial to society -- and not necessarily in the Mormon tradition. However, he also noted that pro-choice Mormons are not in violation of the church's teaching simply because of their policy stance and thus at risk of excommunication.
"The church does not say that a member of our church has to be opposed to allowing choice in our society and therefore there are Mormon Democrats," Romney explained, while noting that the main distinction is over whether an individual would personally encourage or perform an abortion (while supporting pro-choice policy is permitted for LDS adherents, personal abortion involvement is not).
Romney also noted the fact that he was tiring of constantly being bombarded about his faith.
"I'm not running as a Mormon and I get a little tired of going on a show like yours and it being all about Mormon," he told Mickelson. "I'm not running to talk about Mormonism."
Watch the video, below:
While the former discussion occurred at the end of the radio interview, another spat unfolded just minutes earlier during a commercial break. Romney became impassioned when Mickelson accused him of "distancing" himself from the Mormon faith.
"I'm not distancing myself from my faith. I'm proud of my faith," the candidate countered.
During this dialogue, Romney attempted to tackle church-state separatism and the lens through which he views policy-making. Rather than translating theological views to the law books, the presidential candidate takes a more balanced position -- one that will simmer fears in those who incorrectly assume he is aiming for a theocracy.
"For instance, my church says that if you have sex outside marriage, that you should be excommunicated. Now, do we make a law that says that? No," he said. "What a society makes as law and requires other people to do is not necessarily the same."
Romney also noted the example of alcohol, highlighting that it is forbidden by his faith. That said, he would never think of imposing the regulation upon the state.
"My religion is for me and how I live my life," he said. "Don't confuse what I do as a member of my faith to what I think should be done by government."
Watch the entire interview, below (the church versus state discussion begins around 10:50):
To provide greater context regarding what caused the clashes between the two parties, Business Insider recaps some of the issues that Mickelson and Romney discussed on radio before their off-air debate ensued:
Earlier in the interview, Romney talks in detail about three other issues that have come up frequently during the current Presidential campaign. His responses offer considerable details on some of his positions, as well as how he arrived at them. These views will worry and/or reassure some conservatives and liberals alike.
- Abortion. Romney says he thinks Roe v. Wade should be overturned and explains how we would do it. This is consistent with his current platform, though some of his moderate supporters have assumed he will not try to have the law overturned.
- The relative authority of the Supreme Court vs. the President and Congress. To the radio host's chagrin, Romney says he does not think that Presidents should just overrule Court decisions they disagree with or regard as unconstitutional. This will come as a relief to pretty much American whose views aren't extreme.
- The separation of church and state. Those who are concerned that Romney's allegiance to the Mormon Church might supersede his duties as President will be relieved to hear that he unequivocally supports the separation of church and state.
Most of Romney's church versus state views, of course, were left out of Dawkins' Twitter messaging. Instead, the atheist leader derided Romney's views on Jesus' return, sarcastically writing, "Bishop Romney thinks 'reign' is a transitive verb. And we need a war for Jesus to return. Give him the nuclear keys."
This, of course, isn't the first time the video has circulated. In a 2007 interview with Katie Couric, Romney claimed that he was "intense" during the exchange, but that he didn't lose his temper. The candidate also said that he didn't know that there was a camera recording the off-air exchange (he, in fact, referred to it as a "hidden camera," although it may have simply been a standard studio camera that he was unaware of).
"There was a radio talkshow host the other day in Iowa that began drilling me about my faith," Romney said. "And I became intense in confronting what he had said. And we went back and forth. Unbeknownst to me, he had a hidden camera on the console."
On Thursday, blog Little Green Footballs apparently mistook the interview as having taken place during the 2012 campaign. The outlet was forced to print a correction to its original post, writing: "Correction: this video was not recorded recently, but in August of 2007. This doesn’t change its relevance though; the Mormon position on abortion, the subject that got Romney all worked up, is just as much of a sore point today."
In the end, the clips provide insight into Romney's views on a multitude of issues. Abortion and church-state separatism are two subjects that both liberals and conservatives, alike, have questioned the candidate on. These clips help to further frame his views on these matters, while also showcasing a level of passion that Romney has rarely exhibited in other venues.