Conservatives have long complained about a liberal media bias and their point is probably well taken. That’s why I was surprised that a particular story didn’t pop up in my (non-exhaustive) search for articles on the November 19 “family discussion with the Republican presidential candidates” in Des Moines. Certainly there were plenty of stories, and one would think that someone somewhere would see the elephant in the room. But, since this was, after all, the GOP, maybe they mistook one elephant for another.
Let’s not talk about who was at the forum. Let’s not talk about Bachmann, Cain, Gingrich, Paul, Perry or Santorum. Instead, let’s talk about who wasn’t there: John Huntsman and Mitt Romney. If you’ve been following the debates you might be scratching your head over why Huntsman continues to get a microphone, but you would have noticed he’s consistently in attendance. You might also know that Mitt Romney tends to be near the top in polling. Yet they were both absent from a forum in the first primary (actually, caucus) state, and this was late November. Normally that would be strange behavior for anyone wanting to be President. How do we explain their absence?
Think of the setting in an evangelical church. Think of evangelicals hosting the event, and the crowd shouting “amen” at key points. There were multimedia Bible verses and Contemporary Christian Music. Every candidate was asked about their personal experience and values in a way that made it clear that giving their evangelical “testimony” was the proper response.
To no longer belabor the obvious, John Hunstman and Mitt Romney are Mormons. Sure, they were probably asked to attend, but how inviting could that invitation be? Clearly it was an alien setting for them and they would have the “wrong” answers to the key religious questions. The upshot of the whole arrangement is that they were shunned from one segment of the Presidential campaign.
But, hold on, this post is not actually about politics and it’s not going to be about whether evangelicals can really accept pluralism. I’ll explain where we’re going with this, but first let’s look at a different kind of shunning:
I tried to visit [a particular church] once… As soon as I got out of the car, a man started to aggressively give me grief about having an Obama sticker on my car (this was back in 2007, before the election). He was so aggressive and mean that I didn’t feel that I would be accepted as a Christian there. I got back into my car and drove home…
Now, this woman wasn’t specifically told to go home. The church doors were open. Like Huntsman and Romney, she could have attended. But, like Hunstman and Romney, she was shunned. The two candidates were shunned for religious reasons at a political event. The woman was shunned for political reasons at a religious event. Sorta makes you wish we did different things in different places.