About two weeks ago, I explained why even though I will never vote for him, I admire Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. I have plenty of complaints about him – Iraq, gay rights, the “fair” tax, and now Pakistan – but one criticism I won’t make is that he insults Mormons. This has become a common charge in the media, and I think it’s totally bogus.
The New Hampshire Union Leader editorial board typified this mindset when they wrote, "Huckabee has ridden Christ’s coattails all the way to first place in the Iowa polls and second place nationally by deftly exploiting anti-Mormon prejudice. Not very Christian of him." I’ve read the comments and heard the interviews that this charge refers to, and I’ve got to say, it is complete bunk. I have not seen one instance of Huckabee truly insulting Mormons; his words are frequently grossly distorted or taken out of context. I’m usually slow to accuse reporters of ulterior motives, but the journalists driving this particular narrative are either completely ignorant about faith or they are deliberately trying to create a story that doesn’t exist in order to sell magazines. Either way, it’s grossly irresponsible.
The most galling distortion comes from a Newsweek article by editor Jon Meacham, entitled, “A New American Holy War”:
“Asked if he thought Scriptural revelations from God ended when the Bible was completed, Huckabee said: ‘I don’t have any evidence or indication that He’s handed us a new book to the ones, the 66, that were canonized in 325 A.D. …It was a careful process that adopted those books. That was something I did study in college and seminary… the process by which we ended up with those books. I don’t know that there’s any other books.”
Which no doubt comes as a surprise to the world’s nearly 13 million members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who, like Romney, believe that God did indeed reveal another text in 19th-century America, the Book of Mormon.”
And just why, Mr. Meacham, would it come as a surprise to the world’s 13 million Mormons that a Baptist pastor holds Baptist views? Just what is surprising about a Baptist pastor not believing in the Book of Mormon as Scriptural revelation? OF COURSE Huckabee thinks the Bible is the end-all-be-all of Scripture: He’s a Protestant! That’s what Protestants believe! This is not a story, and it is certainly not, as the Politico said, “dissing Mormons.” The real story would be if Huckabee *did* believe the Book of Mormon is Scripture, in which case he would be one of those 13 million Mormons rather than one of the world’s 110 million Baptists.
I’m an Episcopalian. That means I don’t believe in the Koran as a holy revelations – will that “come as a surprise” to the world’s Muslims? I also don’t view the Bhagavad-Gita as Scripture – does that mean I’m “dissing” Hindus? Of *course* not! It’s just religious difference and theological disagreement, which do not alone constitute “holy war.” With this article, Meacham and Newsweek are recklessly and irresponsibly trying to create a conflict that doesn’t exist. Could they be deliberately distorting Huckabee’s words (and thus smearing his character) to create conflict and sell magazines? I certainly hope not – that kind of division is what splits this country apart and brings down good men. But it’s either that, or Newsweek’s editor is covering religion despite his own ignorance on the subject – which seems unlikely, given that Meacham routinely writes about religion, including one book on the subject. Either way, this is irresponsible journalism.
A second example of Huckabee allegedly attacking Mormons is his supposed implication that they are a cult. Huckabee was asked if he believes the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a Christian church or if it is a cult, and he refused to answer. As he made clear, he wasn’t refusing to answer in order to imply anything, but because it’s irrelevant to the presidency, and because he lacks knowledge on the subject. I sympathize: I also won’t tell you if I think Mormons are Christian or not because I also don’t know enough about their views on Christ to honestly say. I won’t tell you if I think the Seventh Day Adventists are Protestants, a Christian group on the level of Protestants and Catholics, or a separatist Christian cult because again, I don’t know enough about their views to say. And I won’t tell you if I think Hindus are monotheists because I know that while they say they are, they also seem to believe in numerous incarnations of God. I’m not trying to imply anything about Mormons, Adventists, or Hindus, and I’m not being coy – despite my religious grounding and my Ivy League education, I honestly don’t know. Why should Huckabee be any different? He told Newsweek, “First of all, I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to start evaluating other religions. The more I answer these questions, the more people want to say, ‘Ah, you describe yourself as a theologian,’ or ‘Oh, you’re the one who is setting yourself up as a judge of religions.’ I am damned if I do; I am damned if I don’t.” I think it’s worth pointing out that the only non-Baptist faith reporters seem to ask Huckabee about is Mormonism. My guess is that, as he says, his answers would be similarly vague about other religions, if the reporters bothered to ask. In no way has he implied Mormons are a cult – that’s just the media distorting what he actually did say.
The one Huckabee complaint I can kind of sort of maybe see as a legitimate insult to Mormons came when he asked a New York Times reporter, “Don’t Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?” Romney called the question a “traditional smear” against Mormons, and LDS spokeswoman Kim Farah “said Huckabee's question is usually raised by those who wish to smear the Mormon faith rather than clarify doctrine.” This question certainly does seem to imply something unseemly about Mormons, but I’m willing to give Huckabee the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he was, as Farah said, trying to smear them, or maybe, as suggested above, he honestly didn’t know and had been influenced by someone who actually does fit Farah‘s description. Huckabee apologized to Romney, and explained the quote on CNN, which you can watch below.
Some have scoffed at the notion that Huckabee is ignorant about other faiths, given his seminary background. I’m more understanding, as it is very possible to major in a subject without exploring all that subject’s intricacies. For example, I am currently double majoring in Government and Native American Studies. My focus in the former is on American government, with some foreign policy. I’m not going to take a single class in comparative government, yet based on the Huckabee-must-know logic, critics could say, “Of course Empsall knows about parliamentarian systems – he has a degree in Government!” The same applies to Native American Studies. I need to take ten classes to earn that major, and the department offers a couple dozen. One of the courses I won’t be able to take is called “The Land of the Totem Poles: Native Peoples of the Northwest Coast.” Again, critics could say, “Of course Empsall knows about totem polls – he has a degree in Native American Studies!” If I can defy that logic, why can’t Huckabee? (Slate magazine makes a similar argument.)
I won’t be voting for Huckabee, but that’s no excuse for the press to distort his faith into something it’s not. The only way we will ever fix this country is if we treat one another with respect and decency, and journalists need to be held to that standard too. Quit dragging a good man’s through the mud and get it right: Mike Huckabee has not once purposefully insulted Mormons.
(Picture Credits: 1, 2.)