An Open Letter to Republican Senators: You Must Stand Up for Mitt

To Senator Todd Young and Mike Braun of Indiana and the other Republican members of the United States Senate

Dear Senators,

Here is something that I wish I were making up, but I am not.

Yesterday, Jerry Falwell Jr., an American Evangelical leader and president of Liberty University, appeared on Fox News to discuss Senator Mitt Romney’s vote to convict and remove President Trump. Senator Romney, as you know, cited his personal religious faith as a reason that he could not be false to his oath to uphold impartial justice, and he believed that the evidence pointed clearly to the President’s guilt. He did not criticize the religious faith of anybody who came to a different conclusion.

Mr. Falwell said two things that disturbed me greatly and that represent ideas now common in conservative circles. Both, I believe, warrant a response from you as Senator Romney’s colleagues.

First, Reverend Falwell said that Romney should “keep his religion in his personal life.” Yes, that Jerry Falwell Jr.–the heir to the Moral Majority empire that his father built by arguing that religious people should NOT keep their religions in their personal life but should proudly enter and try to influence the public sphere.

For years, the good Reverend has insisted that Evangelical Christians have a moral and a political duty to support Donald Trump and the Republican Party. But, as I’m sure you know, Mitt Romney is, like me, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Reverend Falwell has only ever defended the right of a particular kind of Christian to bring religion into public discourse–a stunning hypocrisy that makes a mockery of the term “religious freedom.”

Which leads me to the second thing that Reverend Falwell said: “Some people have always worn halos to hide their horns.” This is straight-up anti-Mormon bigotry, and Reverend Falwell knows it. He is certainly familiar with the fact that “Mormons have horns” is one of the common 19th century beliefs about my people that justified the persecution, displacement, and murder of my ancestors. Until yesterday, this was just an amusing line from the distant past–something we invoked to show how far the Church has come in the estimation of our fellow Americans. 

Until yesterday. 

But that is not the scariest thing that I read in the news today–that award goes to a statement from Matt Schlapp, the Chair of the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC), who said the following in response to a question about disinviting Romney to this year’s CPAC gala:

We won’t credential him as a conservative. I suppose if he wants to come as a non-conservative and debate an issue with us, maybe in the future we would have him come. This year, I’d actually be afraid for his physical safety.

Stop for a moment and consider what the gentleman said. A Republican who has voted with the president more than 80% of the time could not attend a political conference WITHOUT FEAR FOR HIS PERSONAL SAFETY because he voted against the president. Say that out loud a few times. I am not sure what it sounds like, but it does not sound like America.

I have been shocked by these statements, though they proceed quite naturally from the recent mockery of Senator Romney’s faith by the President of the United States. I expect no less from President Trump.

But I expect more from the other members of the United States Senate, including my own two Senators, both of whom are part of Romney’s Republican conference. I expect Senators of both parties to say publicly that, in America, people of any faith are free to bring that faith to the public square. I expect them to say that any American–and especially a United States Senator–should never have to fear for his or her life at a political conference–and that any political meeting that cannot guarantee the safety of Senator Romney is no fit place for any other member of the Senate.

I expect America’s representatives and senators to act like Americans.

Another member of my faith who occupies a prominent civic position– Judge Thomas Griffith of the DC Circuit Court–made the following remarks at Brigham Young University in 2012:

Disagreement is critical to the well-being of our nation. But we must carry on our arguments with the realization that those with whom we disagree are not our enemies; rather, they are our colleagues in a great enterprise. When we respect each other enough to respond carefully to argument, we are filling roles necessary in a republic.

I could not agree more with Judge Griffith on this point, and I have tried hard to live my own civic life according to this principle. I therefore ask you, Senators, to defend your colleague, the United States Senate, and the values that made America great the first time by publicly condemning the Anti-Mormon and Anti-American abuse of Senator Romney and his faith.

Michael Austin


  1. Well said, Michael. Almost certainly useless, but well said.

  2. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    When conservative evangelicals talk about “religious freedom,” they only mean it for conservative evangelicals. These are not people who believe in pluralism of any kind. Remember: the decline in LDS missionary baptisms in the US that began in the ’80s can be traced almost exactly to the evangelical freakout following the construction of the temples in Atlanta and Dallas, and the subsequent large-scale funding by various evangelical and fundamentalist groups of anti-Mormon literature and movies of a sort that had largely disappeared from the US in the previous half-century.

    The people who send their kids to Falwell’s Liberty University are the grandchildren of Klansmen. American Jews have known this for a very long time, which is why only the really racist ones are Republicans, even if they’re quite conservative fiscally.

  3. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    (Of course, one could argue that The God-Makers and its ilk merely served to facilitate the collapse of the Correlated “milk before meat” obfuscation of the messy details of 19th-century Mormon history, particularly regarding teachings of Brigham Young that the Church spent most of the 20th century repudiating and has only begun to wrestle with publicly in the past 15 years.)

  4. I continue to be perplexed why folks are so animated by Romney’s vote and speech. His vote was not determinative, and his speech, whether sincere or virtue signaling, was mere words.

    In any case, Jerry Falwell Jr. is an antichrist, so his dishonesty is no surprise. As a leader in Conservative Inc. Matt Schlapp’s opinion on who is/isn’t a conservative should be disregarded. Perhaps their comments will awaken saints to the reality of what most of the “christian” world really thinks of us. We should revel in our peculiarity.

  5. nobody, really says:

    That’s quite a slur. I know people who send their kids to Liberty University, and they are not and have never been organized racists. Two of them spend a lot of time and money providing medical and dental care, food, clean water, and clothing for an orphanage in Haiti. I’m sure they would object to being characterized as “grandchildren of Klansmen”. I object on their behalf.

    They were once kind enough to let me know that after getting to know me, they had removed all anti-Mormon literature from their church. “It wasn’t very Christian of us to have it there.”

    Maybe you should define them as “Nazis” instead, so you can inflict physical violence on them without guilt.

  6. It’s a whole lot more than standing up for Mitt. How about standing up for American democracy and what’s decent and right!

    The retribution they intend to wreck on Mitt is wrong. But the consequences of that fall on one very successful man who will be able to walk away from it and live comfortably and with privilege for the rest of his life. The consequences of what they are doing to dismantle democracy is something our children and grandchildren will live with for the rest of their lives. It will make American weaker and more isolated. It will mean Western democracies will have no one to lean on for their operations and security.

    There’s a far larger issue here, folks! And it’s everyone’s complacence and willingness to snuggle up with their stock portfolios that’s betraying 200 years of democracy.

  7. Hepta, not to pile on, but I think your assertion about the God Makers and the anti-cult movement among Evangelicals collapsing correlated garbage history also doesn’t work. Among other problems with the claim, the chronology doesn’t work–Arrington and the “New Mormon History” precede The God Makers by a decade, and I think there’s a much stronger argument that better history ended up happening because of serious historians within the church, not in reaction to pressure from outside.

  8. Michael, thank you.

  9. Geoff - Aus says:

    You have a vindictive and evil/ president, who requires obedience from republican politicians. He attacks anyone else.
    If this article is true he is willing to destroy democracy so he can win.
    How can any member continue to support him?
    Perhaps the positive from this might be the church disconnecting from the reblican party. Sad if it required destroying US democracy to achieve it.

  10. Geoff - Aus says:

    Also disturbing is that other conservative leaders follow his example. Our government now lies and refuses accountability, and pork barrels in the months before an election to new levels. Labor spent $125 million on the election. The conservatives spent $165 m plus a supporter $90m plus we are just finding out $250 million in pork barreling. They won by one seat. After spending 4 times as much. The response is the other side do it too, just like US conservatives do.

  11. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    I’m sure the students at Liberty are nice enough kids–a lot of them have objected quite fervently to how Falwell has whored out their institution–but that doesn’t mean that the people paying their tuition and giving their money to Liberty aren’t. The Religious Right in this country is directly descended from the White Citizens’ Councils; much of the initial organizing impulse for the RR came out of attempts to get public funding for the “Christian” academies that sprung up like mushrooms after rain when, county by county, Massive Resistance failed and Southern school districts desegregated under court order.

    nobody: You act as though evil doesn’t live in Georgian or Colonial houses in neighborhoods with nicely trimmed lawns and isn’t named “Kevin” or “Heather.” And yes, Nazis need to be punched. Maybe they can be reasoned with afterward, but they need to be humiliated first, just like every bully does if there is to be a reasonable chance at identifying with their victims. One reason that the few actual Nazis who survived WWII (Soviet bullets and bayonets were by far the most prolific tool of de-Nazification) didn’t get right back into their nonsense is that Germany was not merely defeated in the war: it was annihilated, with almost every household having lost a member either to those Soviet bullets or to American bombs and British napalm.

    Kristine: point taken, although I think you overstate the relevance of Arrington et seq. The evangelical freakout over Mormonism was a very real thing in the ’80s, and both my wife and I were taught the correlated garbage history in the ’90s. (She actually sobbed when I told her several years back that “I…[kept] jovial company” in JSH was a reference to Joseph Smith being a hard drinker–which is to say that he was like pretty much every man on the American frontier in those extremely drunken days.) I genuinely don’t think there would have been any movement by the institutional Church on presenting an honest history if the internet hadn’t come along.

  12. Trust me–I went to high school in the South in the 80s; I’m very well aware of the evangelical freakout about Mormons. The day after they showed The God Makers at youth group in local churches was never a good day at school!

    And I think we still mostly teach correlated, severely watered down history in most official church settings. It’s just that the other history exists after Arrington, not that it became standard.

  13. Margaret Blair Young says:

    Excellent, Michael. Thank you.

  14. Launa Beauregard says:

    I agree with Michael Austin. Its time to be United in our country and just because someone has a different opinion they should not be threatened. And if they are its time that person should be voted OUT of Office.

  15. Kellie Whittaker says:

    I couldn’t agree more with you! I am a Native Utahn have always know Romney to be a good and decent man..he still is!! Romney is the only one here doing the RIGHT THING AND YOU ALL KNOW IT! I am a life long Democrat but couldn’t be prouder of Mitt Romney. ~ Kellie W.

  16. Thank you, Michael. if someone’s elected position or physical safety is threatened because s/he voted counter to her or his party, it doesn’t say much for the way we uphold, or even define, our democracy, does it?

  17. stephenchardy says:

    Michael: Thanks for this. And for all of your other writings. Thank you.

    I can’t help but agree with the commenter who said that your open letter is likely to be futile. What are we to do? You were strong and powerful in your arguments, but are the senators likely to really come to Romney’s defense? Do you think that they actually might stand up to Trump? Have they so far? Senator Braun is independent. Who has he been associated with? Has he worked as a moderate and a bridge-builder?

    What more can and should we do?

  18. Well said. Falwell Jr. is a clown. CPAC endorses violence against its own over disagreements. Thanks for punting this out. The descent of the right into supporting violence over disagreements cannot be overstated. If you have a land dispute with the government, well have an armed standoff with them like Cliven Bundy or do am armed takeover of a government building like Ammon Bundy. Is there a dissenter at a political really? Punch that man in the face like Trump encourages people to do. Don’t like a question that a reporter is asking? Body-slam them like Gianforte. And congratulate him for so doing like Trump. We cannot disgrace the right enough for its endorsement of violence. They are cowards.

  19. Thank you for this post. I agree with every word of it.
    I remember reading about McCarthyism and how one man managed to bully and frighten an industry and a congress into silence or support of ridiculous claims. Yes, communism was a real threat then. Yes, securing our borders against terrorists and criminals is a real threat today. But what were real threats have been exaggerated and used to frighten masses of people. And the actual problem of working class people losing their jobs and chance at a middle class life to overseas competition has been ignored or replaced by a wall that will look like a terrible waste of money in the future. Trump preys on the weak and the powerless. The majority of people he has helped are wealthy. It will be the working class that will have to repay the “unsupportable deficits”, as the Federal Reserve called them this week, caused by his tax breaks. Unfortunately, the Republican senators, with the exception of Romney, no longer care about the welfare of the country. They care about their own reelection.
    At least when this is all over, we in the church can point to Romney and Flake as church members who stood up for what was right, no matter the cost. Unfortunately, I feel another US civil war coming on. Orson Scott Card predicted we were headed that way in an essay written about 20 years ago. It is still appropriate today and can be found on his website. Google his Empire series.

  20. Let me put this as clearly as I can. The Republican Party has ceased to exist. It is now the Party of Trump. Therefore, any Latter-day Saints who believe they are Republicans belong to a party that does not exist anymore. They belong to the Party of Trump, and by supporting it, they support the corruption and dishonesty the spews forth constantly from the cesspool we used to call the executive branch. Any Latter-day Saint who criticizes Romney for his vote or his explanation of it should surrender their membership in the Church because they do not understand what the membership means. At all.

  21. As I’ve said elsewhere, I can understand disagreeing with Romney’s impeachment vote (I don’t disagree with it, but can understand why a person might), but I don’t understand the level of vitriol he’s inspired *even among his fellow Mormons* whenever he does something the President doesn’t like. I mean, if you support Trump politically, okay, it’s a free country, but calling Romney things like “scum,” “disgusting,” “a disgrace”–I really think you need to re-examine your priorities in life.

  22. Geoff - Aus says:

    My only suggestion is to VOTE ANYONE BUT TRUMP if you want to save American democracy. VOTE I am not sure he will accept the result if defeated, but sort that out if it happens. Not sure he won’t bully Republican govenors to declare him winner. All sorts of corruption is possible since senate enabled him.

  23. Daniel Ortner says:

    Thanks for this great post.

    I was very disappointed by some of the anti-Romney comments that I got on my post at M* on this topic-

    What President Trump has done to the Republican Party and to the rule of law in this country is truly terrible. I am not sure how we can ever undo all the damage he has done.

  24. Thank you for this post. It’s scary to see how the Republicans are punishing Romney, like it’s an effort to frighten everyone else to stay in line.

  25. Thanks for the post – one for Mitt:

    I gave my back to the smiter, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair. I hid not my face
    from shame and spitting.
    For the Lord God will help me, therefore shall I not be confounded. Therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed.

    Behold all ye that kindle fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks, walk in the light of your fire and in the sparks which ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand—ye shall lie down in sorrow.
    2 Nephi 7:6-11

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