Mitt Romney and the Return of Christ

There is renewed attention on 2007 comments made by Mitt Romney on the subject of the return of Christ; Hollywood Reporter notes:

Taped during Romney’s first presidential run on Aug. 4, 2007, the five-minute video features Romney defending his views to conservative radio host Jan Mickelson…

The video has been a hot topic on Twitter since being uploaded to YouTube on Wednesday. Alyssa Milano has tweeted it to her 2.2 million followersand film critic Roger Ebert and Graham Linehan, the Irish TV writer behind hit U.K. comedy The IT Crowd, have posted it, as well. Linehan then went on a lengthy tear, satirizing Romney’s beliefs.

In fact, although the video was re-uploaded on Wednesday, it’s been available for months; David Brody discussed it for CBN in March, and Tim Murphy at Mother Jones soon afterwards:

…Romney did recommend a [Cleon] Skousen book later in the discussion, when the subject turned to Mormon eschatology. “Cleon Skousen has a book called The Thousand Years,” Romney told Mickelson. The Thousand Years is actually a trilogy that details the 4,000 years that elapsed between the creation of the earth and the birth of Christ. The book, Romney said, could set Mickelson straight on what he actually believes. “It’s throughout the Bible. Christ appears in Jerusalem, splits the Mount of Olives to stop the war that’s coming in to kill all the Jews… That’s when the coming and glory of Christ occurs.”

Further, for the following one thousand years

…the world is reigned in two places, Jerusalem and Missouri.

This detail may sound particularly risible, but that’s because for most of us the concept of “holy scripture” is bound up with ancient texts whose authors had no clue about the existence of another continent on the other side of the world.

At Religion Dispatches, Joanna Brooks was sceptical of reading too much into Romney’s citation of Skousen:

Truth is, Mitt Romney probably couldn’t care less about Cleon Skousen, except as name to drop when trying to score on conservative talk radio… Forget Skousen. Stop thinking of Mormonism as a fringe religious movement.

We should keep this note of caution in mind. As I’ve written previously, many Christians, if asked, will affirm the imminent return of Christ, but the concept doesn’t really form a operative part of their religious identity or thinking. It’s true that some Christians are more actively interested in the subject, consuming the works of apocalyptic evangelists, just as a wider segment of the general public expresses enthusiasm for pop interpretations of Nostradamus or claims about the Mayan Calender – but this hardly ever translates into patterns of personal behaviour that make sense only in relation to an imminent divine intervention.

Of course, as a specific an relatively narrow religious organisation, the Church of Latter Day Saints allows less room for personal manoeuvre than a general identification with Christianity (or even with Roman Catholicism), but I would need more evidence in order to become seriously concerned that Romney would base foreign policy decisions on the prospect of Christ splitting the Mount of Olives.

However, it’s difficult to recall another presidential candidate expounding in public on the Last Days in such specific detail. Ronald Reagan supposedly discussed Russia and Ezekiel with California State Senator James Mills in 1971, and there are accounts of similar  ruminations while in presidential office, but his efforts to limit nuclear arms suggests that he was far from a fatalist on the issue. In all probability, Reagan’s apocalypticism was a private pop-culture quirk.

More recently, end-times pastor John Hagee had a line to George W. Bush, but evidence that Hagee succeeded in influencing policy is hard to detect.