On his radio show yesterday and again today, Michael Medved dismissed Huckabee’s comment as simply an innocent gaffe that should be chalked up to a low-budget inexperienced campaign. I beg to differ with Medved. Huckabee knew what he was saying when he said it; he simply miscalculated the flack he would catch for it. Let me explain.
Gov. Huckabee is an ordained Baptist minister. He is fully aware of the regular anti-Mormon statements, workshops, books, etc. that are promoted through Evangelical Christian congregations. He is fully aware of the standard skewed anti-Mormon arguments that are pushed through these groups. One such argument is the one that he let slip from his mouth during the interview. It is something that is repeated in Evangelical circles to quickly create a sense of revulsion and fear of Mormons and Mormon doctrine. I doubt Medved would be so charitable had an Islamic Imam casually dropped an anti-Jewish slur from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The two cases are precisely analogous.
Gov. Huckabee knew that his quick anti-Mormon comment was a code that would be understood by millions of Evangelicals. This same kind of soft-pedaled smear tactic has been employed against political candidates of many stripes, as their opponents have tried to implicate them with skewed stereotypes based on their group affiliation. You can still get away with that kind of thing, but it’s getting a lot harder. You have to limit such utterances to audiences that will appreciate them, and even that is getting harder. Modern media has eyes and ears everywhere, and anything a candidate says or does can be immediately published on the Internet.
Huckabee’s interview was not with an Evangelical publication. It wasn’t even with a regional Bible belt publication. It was with a national publication, so it quickly brought condemnation. Huckabee apparently didn’t understand that this type of soft smear based on atavisms is no longer broadly tolerated. While Michael Medved thinks this simply means that Huckabee’s campaign is callow, it reveals a lot about this man that would be president.
Yesterday following the GOP presidential debate in Iowa, Huckabee did something else that tells us a lot about himself. He personally apologized to Mitt Romney for how the anti-Mormon comment is being received (see here). Nobody knows for sure what Huckabee said to Romney other than Gov. Huckabee and Gov. Romney. When asked about it, Gov. Huckabee said, “I said, 'I would never try, ever to try to somehow pick out some point of your faith and make it an issue,' and I wouldn't.” But he did.
Huckabee has also suggested that the interviewer baited him into making the statement and that he assumed the statement would never make it into print. That’s a mark of naivety. The interviewer said that he was surprised when Huckabee casually dropped the anti-Mormon barb as an unbidden addendum to a boilerplate answer.
Some have suggested that Huckabee’s apology wasn’t so much an apology as it was sorrow for getting caught doing something that is now causing him grief. If you parse Gov. Huckabee’s words to the media about the apology, it would certainly seem that way. But we don’t know what he actually said to Gov. Romney. Some (including Bob Lonsberry on his radio show this morning) have suggested that Romney should not accept the apology. Of course, Romney has already graciously done so.
I can understand why some of these folks are upset. Gov. Huckabee didn’t just malign Mitt Romney; he maligned the LDS faith, and by extension, everyone that believes in the LDS faith. But for LDS people that seethe with resentment for Gov. Huckabee’s bigotry, let’s take a quick review of something the Bible tells us.
Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. (Matthew 18:21-22)
Perhaps Gov. Huckabee hasn’t handled his apology in the way we’d like. And perhaps he’s not sincere. But I don’t think the Savior put those kinds of qualifiers on his commandment to forgive. I believe the implication is that anyone that would repeatedly apologize and then re-offend is somewhat less than sincere. So even if you question Gov. Huckabee’s sincerity, the requirement on the Christian to forgive is clear.
Forgiving doesn’t mean that you don’t recognize the action for what it was or that you don’t consider character and actions when making voting decisions. It means you charitably harbor no ill will in your heart for the offender, and that you in fact wish his good — ultimately, his eternal good.