Jesus Fan Club, Alabama Chapter.

Back in early 2007, Mitt Romney faced questions about his religion, and he and his campaign did some pushback, asserting that he was facing a double-standard. He felt he was being asked to be a spokesperson for Mormonism, while other candidates with different religions weren't being asked to do the same.

At the time, I wrote a column for the Boston Globe, arguing that if candidates were going to go around saying that nothing is more important to them than their faith (which so many of them do), then we have the right to start asking them specific questions about what they believe. You can't say, "This is the foundation of all that I am, but don't ask me about it." Yet any time those kinds of questions are asked, people find it an inappropriate intrusion into what ought to be a private matter.

I was reminded of this when I heard about this amusing dust-up (via Andrew Sullivan) in the Alabama GOP gubernatorial primary. You see, among Alabama Republicans, it seems the question isn't whether you’re a Christian fundamentalist, but rather whether you're fundamentalist enough:

"I believe the Bible is true," Republican gubernatorial candidate Bradley Byrne said here Wednesday. "Every word of it." Byrne's testimony came as he tried to clarify an earlier statement seized on by his opponents for the GOP nomination. Byrne had been quoted in the Mobile Press-Register in November as saying, "I believe there are parts of the Bible that are meant to be literally true and parts that are not."

I'm guessing that when he made the initial statement, Byrne was thinking about the Bible's elaborate dietary restrictions, its mandates to execute people for things like working on the Sabbath, or its repeated condoning of rape, slavery, and genocide. No one, not even a Republican candidate in the deep South, actually believes those things today. But if you're going to say that every word of the Bible is true, then reporters ought to ask you some follow-up questions. And of course, they ought to ask those same questions of the other candidates who attacked Byrne for his youthful experimentation with nuance.

You might not remember it, but in one of the 2008 GOP primary debates, there was an exchange on the topic of biblical literalism, and its strict version -- the kind the besieged Mr. Byrne is embracing -- was rejected by Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and even Mike Huckabee. But I wonder what would have happened if Sarah Palin had been there?

--Paul Waldman

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