GREEN BAY, Wis. – Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney faced a tough question about his Mormon faith while campaigning for Tuesday's Wisconsin primary.
A Ron Paul supporter, 28-year-old Bret Hatch, asked Romney whether he agreed with a passage from the Book of Mormon that describes a cursing of people with a "skin of blackness." Romney's staff took away the microphone before the Green Bay man could read the passage.
"I'm sorry, we're just not going to have a discussion about religion in my view, but if you have a question I'll be happy to answer your question," Romney said Monday.
Hatch then asked whether Romney thought it was a sin for interracial couples to have children.
"No. Next question," Romney responded curtly.
Hatch was citing verses from Nephi in the Book of Mormon which describes a cursing of people with a "skin of blackness."
The verse is often cited by critics who accuse the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of racism and consider Mormon teachings heretical. Some Mormons may also have heard the verses in their community as an explanation of why men of African descent had been banned from the church's priesthood until 1978.
Church leaders have said that interpretation is inaccurate. The church recently issued a statement from its offices in Utah denouncing racism and warning against what it called speculation about the origins of the prohibition.
"For a time in the church there was a restriction on the priesthood for male members of African descent," the church said. "It is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began in the church but what is clear is that it ended decades ago."
Romney often talks about the decade he spent as a volunteer Mormon pastor in the Boston area before becoming governor of Massachusetts.
Not long after Hatch's question, Romney reflected upon that experience.
"This gentleman wanted to talk about the doctrines of my religion. I'll talk about the practices of my faith," Romney said, noting that his service as a pastor helped him connect with people on "a very personal basis."
"Most Americans, by the way, are carrying a burden of some kind. We don't see it. We see someone on the street, they smile and say hello, but behind them they're carrying kind of a bag of rocks," Romney said. "I want to help people. I want to lighten that burden."
AP Religion Writer Rachel Zoll contributed to this report.