Face the Faith Nation? Schieffer Pressed Mitt on Mormonism

On last Sunday's Face the Nation, CBS host Bob Schieffer really tried hard to pull back the curtain on Mitt Romney's Mormonism. He pressed on that issue much more so than he would press Hillary Clinton on her Methodism, or Barack Obama on growing up with an atheist mother. For his part, Romney seemed to answer every question about his faith with diversion, suggesting Bob dial up the Home Office in Utah. But Schieffer ended the program expressing his satisfaction, that he knew Romney a little better and that someone's private faith is really not much of a public issue. MRC's Kyle Drennen put together the persistent exchange:

Bob Schieffer: "And good morning again. Surveys show that nearly one American in five is a white Evangelical Christian and almost 60% of those are Republicans. So when a conservative Evangelical group gathered here this weekend, Republican presidential candidates trooped in hoping to win the group's straw poll. Rudy Giuliani stressed his belief in God. Fred Thompson promised his first act as president would be to pray for guidance, John McCain talked about being a prisoner of war in Vietnam, and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who is also a Baptist minister, stressed values over politics. But it was former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, a Mormon, who narrowly edged Huckabee to win the straw poll. Romney's people called it a big boost and for sure it was a surprise.

Because many Evangelicals have raised questions about the Mormon doctrine. We caught up with Romney at the conference and in his most candid interview yet on his faith, he talked about that and much more. Governor, thank you for joining us. You've come to Washington to try to win the votes of these conservative Christian Evangelicals. In light of that, is it fair to ask you about your faith? I mean I'm wondering, how much about his faith do you think a candidate is obligated to share with voters?"

Mitt Romney: "You can ask anything you'd like. I don't feel bad at all about people asking me about my faith. I think it's natural. Most people don't know very much about it. So, if they want to ask questions, I'm happy to respond. If they have questions about the doctrines of my church I typically direct them to the church, because they can probably do a better job explaining than I can. But in terms of my values, what I think about the future of the country how my faith impacts my thoughts about important issues, then I'm, of course, open to all those topics."

Schieffer: "Well let me just, for example, rightly or wrongly, a "Newsweek" poll says that 28% of the people they polled said they would not vote for a Mormon. I know your staff has said that's irrelevant because they should be asked would they vote for you. But do you feel compelled to explain your religion or your relationship to it or is that something that ought to be off bounds?"

Romney: "No, no. I'm happy to have people ask questions. That doesn't bother me. And I think the reason that some 28, 29% are not comfortable voting for a Mormon is they think they're voting for Harry Reid. That's not the case. I think as people say would you vote for Mitt Romney and they get to know me, and my wife, and my family, they realize that our values are as American as any values you'll find in the country. And they're comfortable with us. There'll be, of course there will be some who don't come on board. But by and large people will make their decision, not based on where you go to church, but instead based upon your values, your vision for the country, and your ability to actually help the country at a time of great need."

Schieffer: "Well, will you ever make a speech like Jack Kennedy did back in 1960 when Catholicism was an issue for a lot of people? Would you ever make a speech outlining how you feel about your religion and the part it plays in your life, or?"

Romney: "Well I certainly get a chance almost everyday to add one or two things to that speech. I probably could never do something that would compare to what John F. Kennedy did, his was a masterpiece in American political history. But maybe there's a time when I talk mostly about religion, although I don't know. At this stage I'm getting good support across the country. People want to know a bit about my faith. They learned a bit about it. And they say okay well that's fine. Now, what do you think about the Jihad? What do you think about being competitive with China? How can you fix our schools? What are you going to do about health care? And those issues overtake any differences with regards to religion they might see. But maybe down the road there will be a speech, just haven't made a final decision on that."

Schieffer: "Well, I would just think, for example, you know, there are many different people who call themselves Christians. I consider myself a Christian. But I don't necessarily believe or take every line in the Bible literally. Other Christians do. Do you take literally the teachings of your church?"

Romney: "I do. I'm not going to try and distance myself in any way, shape, or form from my faith. It was the faith of my fathers, of my sons, a long tradition in my family. I'm a, as I say I'm true blue through and through. And so I accept the teachings of our church. And I do my best to live by those teachings. It hasn't made me perfect. I'm far from that. But I'm probably a better person than I would've been and my kids are better than they would have been without faith. And, you know, I don't try and be critical of other people's faith. Actually, I'm of the view that religious individuals have an enormous advantage in stability in their life. And I respect the work that's being done by ministers of all faiths. I think It draws people closer to God and makes us better people."

Schieffer: "Well I remember during one of the Republican debates people were asked the various candidate did they believe in evolution. And I believe you said that you did."

Romney: "Yeah, I do. Yeah, it's very consistent with me to believe that there is a God and a creator but that he might use the tools of science, as we're learning them, to help create the human body. Now I don't think he created the human spirit or soul that way. But I think that's something that comes from God. But, how he created our body is something which I think science will help to define. And I don't argue with science. I believe there's no conflict between true religion and true science. And we've got a lot to learn. There's so much we don't know. Probably both on the scientific front as well as on the front of theology."

Schieffer: "I'm told that the Mormons teach that the Garden of Eden was in Missouri. Is that correct?"

Romney: "You know, they're probably the right folks to give you the answers to questions related to Mormon teachings. So, I'll probably let them respond to questions about specific doctrines. But what I can tell you is that the values of my faith are founded on Judeo-Christian principles and the same kind of philosophy that's associated with other Christian faiths and Jewish faith and others is very much consistent with ours, the view that there is a God that created us, that all the children on Earth are of the same, if you will, divine origin, that the loss of one life anywhere is the loss of a fellow son or daughter of God. That liberty is a gift of God. These fundamental principles are the same faith to faith."

Schieffer: "Bob Jones, who heads Bob Jones University down in South Carolina, recently endorsed you. And he said this week that he is completely opposed to the doctrines of Mormonism, but he said he preferred your erroneous faith to Hillary Rodham Clinton's lack of religion."

Romney: "Isn't that a great line?"

Schieffer: "Do you accept that endorsement?"

Romney: "Oh, I'm happy to receive endorsements from individuals. And of course we have different faiths. I'm not expecting him to endorse my faith. I'm not asking anyone to do that. I'm asking him to look at me as an American and judge my values, learn about me and my family, my character and decide whether I could help America at a critical time. And I'm pleased that you have a Evangelical Christian leader who says, look, Mitt Romney's a guy who is a social conservative, an economic conservative, a foreign policy conservative. Those three branches, if you will, of conservatism have to be united if we're going to win the White House. And so his endorsement is good news to me. But I don't endorse or, excuse me, I don't expect him to endorse my religion."

Schieffer: "Why do you think that a lot of evangelical Christians do have a problem with you and with your religion?"

Romney: "Well I, you know, religions are different. And in some respects, we have -- our faith has a different take on various religious issues than do other faiths. And so in the competition, if you will, of religion and what's a true doctrine and what's not, there will be a lot of contrasts between the different faiths of the world. But when it comes to the values of our faith, I was with Jerry Falwell before he passed away, and he said, look, when we were fighting to stop gay marriage I got together with the Mormons in California and the leadership of your church and we fought to try and stop gay marriage, he said, because on a value basis we come from the same place. And I think that's going to be true for people who take a good look at me. They're not going to accept my religion necessarily, but they will certainly see me as someone who can be one of those who can carry the standard of conservatives for social, major social issues."

Schieffer: "Would you just... I think back to the speech that Kennedy made. And people were worried about that somehow or another he might take the orders from the Pope. How would you describe your relationship to the church and how you would see the responsibilities and duties of the president?"

Romney: "Well, no president could possibly take orders, or even input, from a religious leader telling him what to do. I guess you can always listen to ideas but you certainly wouldn't be guided by someone outside the constitutional circle, if you will. And I subscribe to something Abraham Lincoln spoke about when he was a young man. He said you take the oath of office and you subscribe to America's political religion. And that is you take the oath of office and the rule of law as your primary promise to God. And that's the way I feel. My church wouldn't endeavor to tell me what to do on an issue and I wouldn't listen to them on an issue that related to our nation. If I'm President of the United States and put my hand on the Bible, I do what the Constitution tells me, what the rule of law tells me. I certainly don't do what leader of my church or any other tells me to do."

Schieffer: "Alright, well we'll talk some more about this and some other things in just a minute."

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis