Handling a hot potato

HuckaboomOkay, so I hate delving into more political coverage, but recent stories about Mike Huckabee are just begging for criticism. To lay my cards on the table, I'm opposed to most all government encroachment and as such find Huckabee to be my worst nightmare. I know many readers here love Huckabee and others love every other candidate along the spectrum. More power to you all. However, we should remember to keep discussion focused on media coverage of this religion story rather than the political issues themselves. The New York Times has a big profile on the Huckster coming out in its Sunday magazine. I haven't read the whole thing, but here is the part that's getting a whole heck of a lot of attention today:

Huckabee normally starts his mornings by running 6 to 10 miles and reading a chapter from the Book of Proverbs. Today he was too pressed to do either, but he planned to catch up later. Anyway, he knew much of the day's assignment, Chapter 3, by heart. "Trust in the Lord," he quoted, "and lean not upon thine own understanding." Not a bad motto for a campaign that is still too broke to do any independent polling.

Chapter 3 also contains the admonition to "keep sound wisdom and discretion." Huckabee is, indeed, a discreet fellow, but he has no trouble making his feelings known. He mentioned how much he respected his fellow candidates John McCain and Rudolph W. Giuliani. The name of his principal rival in Iowa, Mitt Romney, went unmentioned. Romney, a Mormon, had promised that he would be addressing the subject of his religion a few days later. I asked Huckabee, who describes himself as the only Republican candidate with a degree in theology, if he considered Mormonism a cult or a religion. "I think it's a religion," he said. "I really don't know much about it."

I was about to jot down this piece of boilerplate when Huckabee surprised me with a question of his own: "Don't Mormons," he asked in an innocent voice, "believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?"

Oh yeah. He went there. While I think he said this before Romney's landmark religious freedom speech last week, there's quite a bit to unpack there as far as what's fair game for discussion in a political horserace. So let's look at how the mainstream media are covering this. Libby Quaid writes:

The authoritative Encyclopedia of Mormonism, published in 1992, does not refer to Jesus and Satan as brothers. It speaks of Jesus as the son of God and of Satan as a fallen angel, which is a Biblical account.

That's some super bad reporting, as it indicates both that Huckabee was in error and that Mormons don't believe that Jesus and Satan are brothers. Mormons most definitely do believe Satan and Jesus are brothers.

Having said that, it doesn't mean that Huckabee's comment shouldn't be further scrutinized. Before we get to that, however, let's do as Arkansas Democrat-Gazette religion editor Frank Lockwood did and get ourselves to the Latter-day Saints website, which confirms -- quite openly and honestly -- that Mormons believe Jesus and Satan are brothers:

On first hearing, the doctrine that Lucifer and our Lord, Jesus Christ, are brothers may seem surprising to some--especially to those unacquainted with latter-day revelations.

Now, there are quite a few different ways to interpret this, which we can look at but at the very least it differs from traditional Christianity, which confesses that Jesus Christ is the only-begotten son of God. Mormons believe Jesus is simply the firstborn. Here's how the traditional Christian belief is put in the Nicene Creed:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God . . .

hotpotatoNow I'm not sure what the heck this has to do with who one votes for in the caucuses and primaries, but at the very least we should ask reporters to be careful when covering this hot potato. Just because many -- including, perhaps, reporters -- might view Huckabee's comments about Mormonism as a low blow and an unfair insertion of religious doctrine into politics does not mean that Huckabee's leading question was technically incorrect.

Having said that, Mormons teach that Jesus and Lucifer are at cross purposes and that Lucifer rejected God's plan and was cast out of heaven as a result. Highlighting the Mormon belief that they are brothers could imply that they have similar goals or purposes.

Okay, now onto another angle that I find surprisingly undercovered. Huckabee is an ordained Southern Baptist pastor. I think a legitimate journalistic inquiry would be whether he really doesn't know much about Mormonism.

However, Southern Baptists are known for taking Mormonism very seriously and engaging LDS doctrine aggressively. Baptist Press is running a series on specifics about Mormon doctrine right now. Your average Southern Baptist tends to know quite a bit about Mormon doctrine, so I am not sure how plausible Huckabee's claim of ignorance is. A reporter who was a bit more familiar with the largest Protestant church body might have followed up better when Huckabee claimed he was ignorant of Mormon doctrine.

Both of these criticisms -- that the AP is wrong in claiming that Mormons don't teach Jesus and Lucifer are brothers and that the mainstream media should investigate Huck's claim that he's ignorant about Mormon doctrine -- bring me to another point. I keep seeing it repeated in mainstream media accounts that those who oppose Mormon teaching are somehow ill-informed. It is certainly true that some people are misinformed about Mormonism. But I'm not sure that there has been any evidence that those who oppose Mormonism or those who oppose electing a Mormon to the highest office in this country are ill-informed about Mormon doctrine. Disagreement with another religion's teachings doesn't indicate ignorance.

Here's the bottom line. In some ways this predominant media view -- that people who oppose Mormonism must be misinformed about its teachings -- is simply the opposite side of the same coin that teaches opposition to Mormon teachings must require opposition to Mormon candidates. Apart from the extensive coverage of Romney's speech about religious freedom, there has been a noticeable lack of coverage of the view that one can agree with someone politically while disagreeing with them -- even vehemently -- about religion. That was tmatt's main point the other day.

This idea is related to a religious view (known in my church body as the Two Kingdoms belief) -- that there is a secular realm and a religious realm and that the office of presidency resides in the secular realm. It is not unique to my church body, being derived from Christ's teaching about what to render unto Caesar and God and further fleshed out by St. Augustine. I think it's getting slightly better, but this view has not been well covered by the mainstream media thus far.

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