Mitt Romney is a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a religion viewed by many Americans unfamiliar with the faith as a strange tradition shrouded in secrecy and characterized by the sort of perky friendliness that can only be concealing a horrible Stepford-style robot factory. But as one group points out, at least one aspect of the Mormon faith isn't up for debate — historically, the Church hasn't been huge fans of black people, and it's currently less friendly to gays than the men's clothing department in Farm & Fleet. So, for the next week, a rolling billboard reminding voters of that fact will be following Mitt Romney's bus on the campaign trail, because this is the part of the campaign where reality breaks down and everyone shrieks at the top of their lungs until the election.
The billboard, sponsored by American Atheists, reads "NO BLACKS ALLOWED (until 1978) NO GAYS ALLOWED (current) SHAME ON MORMONISM."
While the claims on the billboard are technically not-false — black people were not allowed to serve as church leaders until the late 70's, when leadership declared that they suddenly received a revelation from the Lord that just so happened to coincide with the end of when it was possible to say racist shit in public without getting punched in the face, and the Mormon church still thinks being gay is pretty icky — the Church is saying it's unfair. A spokesperson lamented to CNN that black people have been welcome to join the church for ages. They were even allowed to join in the 70's! In fact, the Church currently has some black
friends members who would be more than happy to talk to American Atheists about how the religion founded by a guy who once said that a man who sleeps with a black lady will for sure go to hell is not racist at all. And, the spokesperson pointed out, gay people are welcome to join the church. They just can't ever have sex. Or get married.
As a former Catholic, I sympathize with the frustration of being a part of a religious faith with an embarrassing history (and, erm, present) of mistreating vulnerable groups of people. But, you know, in this case, defending against the billboard's claims actually makes the Church look worse. Follow the Romney campaign's lead and just refuse to comment on it. Just shun.
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And as far as the "BUT HE'S MORMON!" angle is concerned — I hate to defend Mormonism here, but it seems strange to single out Mormonism as a weird, intolerant faith when there's a veritable cornucopia of bizarre backwardness to be found in almost every organized religion currently practiced in this country, just as there's a wide range of people who follow each faith.
On the other hand, Mitt Romney's role as a cheerleader for a church that has systematically disenfranchised black people, gays, and women is something that voters should consider when they head to the polls. I'm just not sure that following him around with a big rolling billboard is the best way to go about it.