Friday, January 6, 2012

Georgia State Rep. Judy Manning Apologizes For Expressing Fear About Mitt Romney's Mormonism; Remark Widely Interpreted As Anti-Mormon

A member of the Georgia State House has apologized for a remark that many people interpreted as anti-Mormon. Georgia State Representative Judy Manning (R32-Marietta) posted an apology for saying that she was "afraid" of Romney's Mormon faith.

The controversy began on Wednesday January 4th, 2011 when the Marietta Daily Journal published an article detailing Cobb County lawmakers’ thoughts on the Republican presidential race, including continuing questions over whether Romney’s religion will impair his presidential hopes. Rep. Manning favors Newt Gingrich, and explained her concerns about Romney. While she thinks Romney is a flip-flopper, this is the remark that triggered the criticism:

“I think Mitt Romney is a nice man, but I’m afraid of his Mormon faith. It’s better than a Muslim. Of course, every time you look at the TV these days you find an ad on there telling us how normal they are. So why do they have to put ads on the TV just to convince us that they’re normal if they are normal? … If the Mormon faith adhered to a past philosophy of pluralism, multi-wives, that doesn’t follow the Christian faith of one man and one woman, and that concerns me.”

Although Rep. Manning clearly states that plural marriage is a PAST practice, the match had been struck, and the firestorm ignited. As of this post, 37 comments were posted to the Journal story, most of them critical. One person actually called upon Newt Gingrich to denounce Manning's remark. The Marietta Patch also documented some other criticism:

  • The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Jay Bookman said Manning brought Georgia national embarrassment.
  • Zaid Jilani at Think Progress wrote that Manning’s remarks showed how bigotry against one group (Muslims) can lead to bigotry against another (Mormons).
  • MDJ columnist Don McKee looked at new Gallup Poll data on the role of the candidates’ religions in the presidential campaign, in which Protestants are less likely than other Republicans to support Romney but voters don’t seem to differentiate between the Catholics and Protestants.
  • On a related point, Ami Eden with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency joked that it’s probably a sign of progress if South Carolina’s Republicans vote for Roman Catholic Rick Santorum because he’s not Mormon.

Recognizing the perception problem, Rep. Manning quickly moved to make amends. On January 5th, she posted an explanation and apology on her Facebook page. While the full text is available only to Facebook members, she was quoted as saying “I have made a terrible mistake with my reckless words,” apologized to Romney and Mormons, and promised to vote for whoever the Republican nominee might be against President Barack Obama in November. Manning also accused the media of misrepresenting her, stating that Journal reporter Jon Gillooly manipulated her comparison using verbal judo and made her choice for a Republican Presidential candidate appear to be motivated by religion, and emphatically proclaimed "NOT SO!”

The Patch also noted that Manning did not apologize to Muslims. One person posted this interesting comment to the Patch:

rickplatts 12:39 pm on Friday, January 6, 2012:
I have attended Christian churches where they specifically "warned" the congregation against the "evils" of Mormonism. Never in all my years attending the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have I been warned against any other religion. If you don't believe me, just look at YouTube, where you can find any number of anti-Mormon videos produced by Christian churches or pastors, but zero anti-Christian videos produced by Mormons. Ever stop to think about that? I have great friends who are Christians. They are amazing people who I love dearly, but whenever the conversation turns to religion, their guard immediately goes up. To me, they have been pre-conditioned against Mormonism. And people think Mormons are brainwashed...

Rickplatts' statement is exactly on point; I've never seen any videos or other material published by official LDS sources warning people away from other specific churches.

Analysis: Was Rep. Manning's remark truly anti-Mormon? It depends on how one defines "anti-Mormon". To promote greater unity within the body of Christ, I prefer a narrow definition of "anti-Mormon". I tend to reserve that designation primarily for those who deliberately and maliciously launch sustained public campaigns against Mormonism, purposely misrepresenting and lying about the LDS Church. The most prominent people of whom I'm aware who fall within that category are Ed Decker, Steve Benson, Helen Radkey, Tricia Erickson, Martha Beck, and Sonia Johnson. Benson is particularly contemptible because he not only misrepresents the LDS Church, but also tramples all over the grave of his grandfather, Ezra Taft Benson, airing "dirty family laundry" in public.

The tone and content of Judy Manning's remarks reflect ignorance rather than malevolence. Ignorance is not a crime, and can best be resolved through information rather than condemnation. If we start piling on Manning and witch-hunting her, there is a risk she could actually become anti-Mormon. She did quickly move to correct the record. Consequently, our best approach is to counteract her ignorance in Christ-like fashion rather than write her off as being anti-Mormon. Let's reserve that designation for the worst of the worst.

Besides, if Judy Manning is to apologize for anything, she should apologize for supporting Newt Gingrich. I realize Gingrich hails from Georgia, but does Manning really have to support the most reactionary and troglodytic candidate of the bunch?

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