At a Distance
                    December 21, 2007

By Chilton Williamson Jr.

     At the core of Governor Romney's well-written and 
intelligent address on December 6, 2007, at the George 
Bush Library and Museum in Collegeville, Texas, was a 
desperately devious attempt to discourage voters, 
commentators, and other politicians from making 
potentially devastating inquiries into his theological 
beliefs and what he described as "unique doctrines" of 
his church. Romney is hoping those doctrines in 
particular that relate to the nature of Jesus Christ -- 
which, he conceded, "may not be all the same as those of 
other faiths" -- will escape discovery by the gentiles, 
that is, non-Mormons. (The Beehive State of Utah is the 
only place in the world where a Jew is a gentile.)

     Indeed, they are not the same. The Church of Jesus 
Christ of Latter Day Saints, although it says it believes 
Christ is the Son of God, in fact teaches that he is 
really "a son of God," in the same way that Chilton 
Williamson is a son of God. It is a well-known fact that 
Mormons are not Trinitarians. What seems far less well 
known -- so little known, in fact, that I have yet to 
read of it in the press or on the web -- is that Mormons 
do not believe in the divinity of Christ. Jesus Christ, 
for them an important prophet in a line of prophets, is 
of lesser stature than Joseph Smith, the founder of their 
religion. In truth, Mormons are not Christian heretics, 
as worried evangelicals have been claiming. Mormons are 
not related theologically to Christians at all.

     Otherwise, Romney's talk was a dignified and 
intelligent piece of work. Unsurprisingly, it drew an 
undignified and unintelligent response the day after on 
the editorial page of the NEW YORK TIMES. The gist of the 
address was simply the common-sense proposition that 
"while differences in theology exist between the churches 
in America, we share a common creed of moral convictions. 
And where the affairs of our nation are concerned, it is 
usually a sound rule to focus on the latter, on the great 
moral principles that urge us all on a common course."

     While insisting that he did not define his 
presidential candidacy by his religion, Romney wished his 
hearers to know that, as a man who adheres to "the faith 
of my fathers," as president he would not attempt to 
separate the country from "the God who gave us liberty." 
The Founders of the United States, Romney said, did not 
intend to eliminate religion from the public square. In 
recent times, the doctrine of the separation of church of 
state has been taken too far, to the point where religion 
is treated as a purely private matter and secularism has 
been raised to the status of a religion.

     American moral values, Romney asserted, are not 
unique to any single church or denomination. Rather, they 
belong "to the great moral heritage we hold in common." 
And Romney pledged not to try to separate the country 
from that heritage, while implying that he would, indeed, 
seek to bring the two together again.

     According to the NEW YORK TIMES, "Even by the low 
standards of this campaign, it was a distressing 
moment...." The editors professed to be shocked by the 
spectacle of "a presidential candidate cowed into 
defending his way of worshipping God by a powerful 
minority determined to impose its religious tenets as a 
test for holding public office." "Religious testing," the 
TIMES claimed, "has gained strength in the last few 
elections." But Governor Romney did not sound in the 
least cowed. Indeed, he invited voters whose 
disagreements with him were irreconcilable to vote for 
someone else. Nor does the demand of a constituency to 
know where a candidate stands, on religion or any other 
issue, amount to a "test."

     Presumably, liberals who contemplate voting for 
Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama wish to feel assured that 
these candidates really are liberals. As it happens, the 
whole of the primary season thus far has been about which 
Republican candidate is the most conservative of them 
all, and which Democrat the most liberal. What is wrong 
with an aspirant to office who wants a religious 
constituency to know where he stands on religion? A 
religious test is a legal qualification to stand for 
office, as imposed by the Test Act passed by the English 
Parliament in 1673 that required holders of public office 
to deny the doctrine of transubstantiation and take 
communion in the Anglican Church. One presumes the 
editors of the TIMES understand that.

     The TIMES complains that, unlike the Founders, 
Governor Romney in particular and conservative Christians 
in general fail to understand, as the Founders did, "the 
difference between celebrating religious faith as a 
virtue, and imposing a particular doctrine, or even 
religion in general, on everyone." But the burden of 
Romney's speech was precisely that he had no intention of 
imposing doctrine on anybody.

     His argument really comes down to this: The public 
square is not just for politics, if only because politics 
is always about so much else, including religion. As far 
as the poor agnostics and atheists are concerned, they 
are the victims of their own self-imposed separation from 
the human mainstream going back hundreds of thousands of 
years. Individuals may survive, and even flourish, as 
atheists. Societies, however, cannot -- more important, 
they will not. Governor Romney, to his eternal credit, 
has said the thing that has needed saying for a long time 
in the upper echelons of American politics.

     Still, we have the Mormon business before us. In the 
weakest, most evasive, most dishonest paragraph of his 
speech, Romney astonishingly took a leaf from what would 
be the NEW YORK TIMES's brief against him. "There are 
some," he said, "who would have a presidential candidate 
describe and explain his church's distinctive doctrines. 
To do so would enable the very religious test the 
Founders prohibited in the Constitution. No candidate 
should become the spokesman for his faith." If I were 
running for the office of president of the United States, 
I certainly would not care to have it known that my 
church believed that Christ, though carnally begotten by 
Our Heavenly Father, was not divine. Nor that Satan and 
Jesus are biological brothers. On the other hand, if I 
did truly believe in the faith of my fathers, I wouldn't 
attempt to hide my beliefs by arranging an elaborate 
media event to deter people from finding out about them.

     Mike Huckabee -- by stopping just short of calling 
Mormonism a cult -- called Mormonism a cult. Is it?

     Some years ago, when I was living 90 air miles from 
Salt Lake City -- in the shadow of the Mormon Temple, so 
to speak -- a friend told my wife and me a story. This 
friend had a Mormon acquaintance who was preparing to 
give birth to her 15th child. (The Church urges every 
Mormon family in good standing to produce 12 children.) 
The woman had nearly died giving birth to her 14th and 
had been warned by her doctor against further 
pregnancies. Shortly before the child was due, our 
friend, in conversation with a Mormon lady who was a 
friend also of the expectant mother, expressed concern 
for the outcome of her labor. "Oh," this woman replied 
reassuringly, "if Mrs. X dies, the Church will find Mr. X 
a new wife."

     I wonder what the Huckabee-for-President crowd would 
make of that story?


Read this column on-line at 

Copyright (c) 2007 by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation,
All rights reserved.

Chilton Williamson Jr. is an author, columnist, and 
editor. He was history editor for St. Martin's Press and 
literary editor for NATIONAL REVIEW magazine. Since 1989 
he has been senior editor for books at CHRONICLES 
magazine, where he also contributes a monthly column, 
"The Hundredth Meridian," recording his life and 
adventures in the Rocky Mountain West.

A more detailed biography can be found at

Write the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation at to obtain permission to reprint this