Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Defending Mitt Romney

Trust me, I would not be happy to see Mitt Romney become the next President of the United States. In the first place, he’s a Republican, and I’ve never voted for one for president. Second, there’s an air of artifice and manufactured sheen about his persona that reminds me of an android, and it’s reflected in his stands on the issues that matter to me; at one point he was pro-choice and for equal rights for the LGBT community; now he’s against them, apparently because he thinks that’s the way he thinks he can win the nomination, in spite of the fact that he’s trailing Rudy Giuliani, who is nominally pro-choice and pro-gay rights. But the one thing that I don’t hold against Mr. Romney is the fact that he’s a Mormon, and in a perverted sort of way, I’d like to see Mr. Romney give the GOP field a run for their money if only for the satisfaction of pissing off people like this miserable excuse for a “Christian.”

From the back room of a dilapidated used-car dealership, the televangelist Bill Keller has spent the past eight years battling to save the souls of men. In addition to his daily television broadcast in central Florida, his Web site, LivePrayer.com, has an e-mail list of about 2.4 million, and every day he says he receives some 40,000 electronic messages from people seeking the healing power of prayer to help their finances, health or relationships.

“It’s kind of a mix between O’Reilly and Dr. Phil, but with a biblical worldview,” Keller said of his ministry. When he met me late last month in his office, where the detached bucket seats of a compact car are the chairs, he was dressed in a red and black Michael Jordan tracksuit, with the zipper lowered halfway down his bare chest. At 49, he now keeps his hair peroxided platinum to hide the gray. “If people don’t like what I say, go argue with God, don’t argue with me,” he told me. “I didn’t write the book.”

People often don’t like what Keller says. A regional figure with national aspirations, he has called Oprah Winfrey a “new-age witch,” the Koran “a book of fables,” and the prophet Mohammed a “murdering pedophile,” sparking a successful campaign by Islamic civil rights activists to get him kicked off the local CBS-affiliated TV station. But his passion is unabated, and in recent months, Keller has focused his biblical fire on a new target, Mitt Romney. Keller opposes Romney because the Republican presidential contender is a Mormon.

“A vote for Romney is a vote for Satan,” Keller declared in his daily e-mail devotional last May. His reasoning went like this: Romney’s election would serve as a giant advertisement for a competing religion, Mormonism, which Keller and others believe has falsely portrayed itself as another form of Christianity in an effort to find converts. “He would influence people to seek out the Mormon faith,” Keller predicted of a Romney presidency. “They would get sucked into those lies and they would eventually die and go to hell.”

When I hear about people like this and their “national ambitions,” I am inspired to join with anyone, be they a Democrat or a Republican, liberal or conservative, gay or straight, who will stand up to this blantant religious bigotry and put an end to this blood-curdling hatred that is couched in superstition, fable, and ignorance. As both a gay man and a Quaker, I’m threatened by this mindset that this visceral hatred encompasses. And that is simply what it is: blind hatred against someone because of their faith and only because of their faith.

It isn’t faith that drives people like Bill Keller or Fred Phelps or any of the fringe to preach what they do. It’s not some wild-ass interpretation of the bible; frankly, I don’t think they really give a shit about the bible or the teachings of Jesus Christ. But they know how to use it and the power it has over a lot of people and therefore they brandish it as a blatant tactic to draw attention to themselves and satisfy some selfish craving for attention and glory, not unlike a child that insists that people pay attention to him and acts out in order to get that fix; it brings a whole new meaning to “attention-deficit disorder.”

Mr. Romney says that his faith informs his views on public policy, so the argument could be made that my opposition to him is based on the fact that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is anti-abortion and against gay rights. So is the Roman Catholic Church, and I’ve known a lot of pro-choice Mormons and Catholics and quite a few gay ones as well who found no conflict with their faith and their views. As I’ve said before, it’s not just what informs one’s views; it’s how they practice them, and if their faith is part of it, so be it.

There’s enough disagreement between my views and those of Mr. Romney’s — this week at least — to ensure that I wouldn’t vote for him in an election. But the one thing that won’t enter into the equation is where he goes to church, and I’ll happily rise to his defense against anyone who says that really matters.