The recent kerfuffle concerning Mitt Romney and Mormonism reveals the Achilles' heel of the Religious Right -- something which opponents of their agenda would be wise to note.
Recently the most extreme fringes of the Religious Right gathered to pass judgment on which Republicans are being most faithful to the GOP -- in this case that means God's Own Party.
Fundamentalist minister Robert Jeffress, a supporter of Texas Governor Rick Perry, told the assembled hallelujah chorus that Romney was a member of "a cult" and warned them that, "Every true, born again follower of Christ ought to embrace a Christian over a non-Christian." Jeffress is quite clear that while Perry is a true Christian, Romney is not.
The modern Religious Right is an amalgam of primarily three groups. The largest of them are fundamentalist Christians. The much smaller Mormon sect, along with conservative Catholics -- a minority of all Catholics, but a substantial group -- round out the coalition.
All three claim to be Christian. But more importantly, all three groups claim to be the one and only true church. Conservative Catholics still believe that the "Holy Roman Catholic Church" represents God on earth. The Vatican says that these other sects "cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called 'churches' in the proper sense."
When Joseph Smith created the Church of Latter-day Saints, he claimed he went to the woods "to inquire of the Lord... which of all the sects was right." The answer he got was "all their creeds were an abomination in His sight," and that other believers "were all corrupt."
Fundamentalist Christians are the most adamant that all other sects are heretical, if not Satanic. Fundamentalists have waged war on Catholicism as the "Great Whore of Babylon" since the Reformation. And there is simply no shortage of hatred among the born-again sects for Mormonism and its rather unique theology.
Since fundamentalists make up the bulk of the Religious Right today, and they loathe their Mormon and Catholic allies, what keeps this coalition together? Only finding a perceived enemy, whom they all hate more than each other, allows them to work together. Of course, the problem is that eventually people tire of their crusades and they have to find other enemies to obsess about.
I have little doubt that one reason Mormon leaders played such a prominent role in funding the anti-gay Proposition 8 in California, was to attempt to buy a place at the table for their church. Mormons have been acutely aware that a large percentage of Christians dislike them, especially evangelicals. The quickest way to convince the villagers that you are one of them, and not Frankenstein's monster, is to grab a pitchfork and lead the attack.
Similarly, one of the best ways to stop a lynch mob is to remind them of how suspicious they are of each other.
A friend of mine, who authored a book on atheism, was brought to a conference to debate a fundamentalist minister. Another friend, a Roman Catholic, thought he would help prep the minister for the debate. They spent a good part of the afternoon strategizing and my Catholic friend and the fundamentalist were united in purpose.
During the question period, I pointed out that the fundamentalist had already denigrated Mormons and asked him whether this held for other faiths as well. For instance, what would he think of a faithful Roman Catholic who followed the teachings of his church to his best ability; would he consider that man a Christian or not?
The minister started stuttering and starting sentences without completing them. He then said: "I'm trying to figure how to answer that question."
My reply was simple: "How about honestly?"
Reluctant, but backed into a corner, he told the audience what I knew he already believed. "No, a Roman Catholic is not a Christian."
My Catholic friend, reminded that fundamentalists were not his friends, came over and thanked me for the question even if he looked unhappy to have lost an ally.
The Religious Right is a coalition. I contend it is one motivated primarily by hatred. The problem they face is that they hate one another rather intensely, as the attacks on Romney revealed. They are rabid in their hatred of homosexuals because that unifies their movement. By turning on a "common enemy" they can temporarily forget their hatred for one another.
Now and then, it is wise for those who oppose their agenda to raise the issue of what they truly believe about each other. Catholics are not so prone to take the bait, and Mormons are more likely to give cagey answers that avoid the issue. But fundamentalists have a strong compulsion to express their contempt whenever given half a chance.
A reporter did ask Michelle Bachmann about this and she deflected the issue by refusing to answer. She just said that "people have different views on their faith." Well, true, but a follow up would have helped. Such as, "Yes, but people also have different views on marriage, yet you feel that the biblical mandate on marriage, as you believe it, should be enshrined into law. Isn't faith in the "correct" god even more important than the right kind of marriage?" You may not get her to give a straight answer, but the squirming she would do would provide a great deal of entertainment. And, she just might be unable to resist temptation, and give a straight-forward "biblical" answer, thus alienating many of her own supporters.
These differences between the three main branches of the Religious Right are real, and they cut deep into their personal beliefs. Bringing up these differences only makes them weaker and makes it more and more likely that their coalition of hate cannot be held together. When it splinters, they will forget their common enemies and turn on one another. If you don't believe me, ask Mitt Romney.