This Week's Presidential Debate: Nothing Divine

FILE - In this Oct. 3, 2012 file photo, Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Presiden
FILE - In this Oct. 3, 2012 file photo, Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama participate in the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, in Denver. Both men relished the wonky talk, but Mitt Romney also showed the easy confidence a presidential contender needs _ and a bit of the salesman's dynamic presentation. Barack Obama sounded more like a long-winded professor a little annoyed he has to go over this stuff one more time for the slow students in the back. For viewers the lesson from both was clear: If they crave a real discussion of complicated issues _ not just zingers _ it means some tough going. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

There is rejoicing in the homes of Mormon Republicans across America this week.

Last Sunday, thousands upon thousands fasted -- skipping two meals -- and prayed that Mitt Romney would prevail in Wednesday night's debate.

Which he certainly did with his commanding performance.

Was Romney's victory the hand of God at work?

As a Mormon, I was raised on hand-of-God narratives in which prayer almost always yielded miracles for our underdog team, from the survival of 19th-century Mormon pioneers in direst circumstances to the success of the Brigham Young University football squad.

But in the case of the Romney debate victory, please forgive my skepticism. I'm a Mormon Democrat. Which is sort of like being a Jewish Republican -- a source of perpetual consternation to most of your relatives and co-religionists.

And I have stopped believing that God takes sides in history.

In fact, The Book of Mormon -- a text sacred to the potential next president that has received virtually no notice during this campaign year -- chronicles a civilization divided and then done in by pride and perpetual clashes.

Our divided nation faces its share of difficult circumstances: the moral challenge of drawing down a debt bloated by failed wars we ourselves countenanced, and the equally serious moral challenge of fulfilling our obligations to care for our elders while investing in the education, healthcare and infrastructure our children and young people rely upon.

If the hand of God is anywhere at work in American politics, it's in the challenge to speak more truthfully, reason more respectfully, listen more carefully, and reflect more critically on the poor decisions -- individual and collective -- that got us into our current situation.

What I heard Wednesday night was a welter of "facts" and counter-"facts," points and counterpoints, the challenger's spirited delivery besting the incumbent at the game.

Amidst the debate bluster, I struck up a sidebar conversation on Twitter with a friend in Salt Lake City. She's an evangelical Christian; I'm a Mormon. We are both women of faith, working our jobs, growing our families, and worried about the future.

"I keep thinking about those verses in Malachi 4," I wrote to her, "about the hearts of the fathers turning to the children and the hearts of the children turning to their fathers."

"I wish someone would put that scripture into the conversation," she replied.

After all, the underdog in this campaign is not one of the men on the debate stage. It's the millions of American children who are depending on adults to work out the national fiscal mess we helped to create. And it's the millions of Americans without healthcare, the millions without jobs.

What the debate gave us was not the kind of reflective, consensus-building moral leadership we will need to turn American hearts to a place of problem-solving. It was numbers that don't add up from the candidate who is not in office and exhaustion from the candidate who is.

Nothing surprising, but nothing divine either.