Race and religion collided in Green Bay, Wisc. on Monday, as a Ron Paul supporter jabbed GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney with a question — inspired, he implied, by a passage from Mormon teachings — about whether black-skinned people are cursed by God, and whether interracial marriage is a sin.
Bret Hatch, 28, broached the subject by reciting a line from “Pearl of Great Price,” a Mormon scriptural publication. “A blackness came upon all the children of Canaan, that they were despised,” he read.
Cautioned by Romney to ask a question instead of delivering a sermon, Hatch asked, “Do you believe it’s a sin for a white man to marry and procreate with a black?”
Romney’s quick answer, in video broadcast by CNN: “No.” And turning toward the opposite side of the stage, “Next question.”
The former Massachusetts governor initially shot down the idea of discussing his religion, but offered a defense of how he practices his Mormon faith moments later when an audience member asked if he was “out of touch” with ordinary Americans.
“This gentleman wanted to talk about the doctrines of my religion,” Romney said. “I’ll talk about the practices of my faith.”
“I had the occasion in my church to be asked to be the pastor, if you will, of a congregation,” he recalled. “And I’ve served in that kind of role for about ten years. And that gave me the occasion to work with people on a very personal basis that were dealing with unemployment, with marital difficulties, with health difficulties of their own and with their kids.”
“People have burdens in this country, and when you get a chance to know people on a very personal basis — whether you’re serving as a pastor, or perhaps as a counselor, or in other kinds of roles — you understand that every kind of person you see is facing some challenges. And one of the reasons I’m running for president of the United States is I want to help people, I want to lighten that burden.”
ABC News reported that after the town hall meeting, Hatch told journalists that he came because he wanted to find out if Romney “believes the Book of Mormon.”
“Either he believes it, and he believes what these things say right here, or he doesn’t. And from what I understand he just denounced his faith up there.”
“I think that’s an important issue,” Hatch added, according to ABC. “He’s going up against a black guy! He’s going against Obama. This is a racial issue.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) has had a murky past with respect to civil rights and race.
Brigham Young, the church’s second leader, publicly denounced the idea of granting equal status to people of African descent and claimed they were descended from Cain, the cursed son of Adam and Eve. Cain’s curse, he believed — as did some early Christians –was his black skin.
In 1852, Young, who was also Utah’s governor, addressed the state’s legislature about his views on slavery. “The moment we consent to mingle with the seed of Cain,” he said, “the Church must go to destruction; we should receive the curse which has been placed upon the seed of Cain.”
“Therefore I will not consent for one moment to have an African dictate [to] me or any brethren with regard to church or state government.”
While Romney hasn’t addressed the issue, it’s implausible that he would share that interpretation. The LDS church evolved with the Civil Rights movement, eventually permitting blacks in 1978 to participate fully and serve as clergy.
Romney’s father, former Michigan Gov. George Romney, publicly expressed his disagreement with his church’s earlier policies. In 1943 he co-founded the Detroit Victory Council, an organization created to counter the devastation caused by that year’s race riots. Among its achievements was securing Federal Housing Authority assistance to build housing for black workers who staffed factories producing defense materiel.
Despite objections from some LDS church apostles, the elder Romney was a consistent civil-rights supporter. During his own 1968 presidential campaign, he told the historian Theodore White that “[i]t was only after I got to Detroit that I got to know Negroes and began to be able to evaluate them, and I began to recognize that some Negroes are better and more capable than lots of whites.”
“Whites and Negroes, in my opinion,” George Romney said, “have got to learn to know each other.”
In 1968, Mitt Romney was 21 years old.