Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Is Mitt Romney's Religion Fatal to His Candidacy?

Mormon With An Opinion posted here about Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr.’s interview with Neil Cavuto. The portion of the interview he cites revolves around Mitt Romney’s chances for becoming President, given the fact that he is Mormon. It’s an interesting exchange about Romney, which Huntsman concludes by saying, “I'm working hard for him.” It’s probably not a big surprise that Hunstman is campaigning for Romney.

Many bloggers have commented about Romney’s chances for becoming President. While some question whether he’s Republican or conservative enough, most are worried that his Mormonism might offend the GOP’s evangelical base. Many MSM commentators have discussed the topic as well (see Terry Eastland here, James Taranto here, Amy Sullivan here, among many others). (I posted about Romney’s semi-socialized Massachusetts health care plan here and here.)

Mormon With An Opinion expressed his wish here that Romney not run, saying, “The problem isn't that he's Mormon, it's that the evangelicals slander Mormonism in the worst way. If the evangelical reaction to Romney's religion as predicted in Sullivan's article comes true, I would rather he didn't run.” He’s worried that the LDS religion will be “demonized and treated like a piƱata.”

I think MWAO has a valid concern. On the other hand, I think we Mormons sometimes suffer from a persecution complex. We have a deep history of being persecuted, and all you have to do to see it in action today is visit Temple Square in Salt Lake City during the LDS Church general conference. But noisy anti-Mormons don’t necessarily represent the broader evangelical community. I think we fall into the trap of making overly broad generalizations when we make sweeping statements about evangelical attitudes.

The MSM folks all cite the same 1999 poll where 17% of Americans said they could never vote for a Mormon, as opposed to 6% saying the same about a Jew and 4% about a Catholic. I couldn’t find polling numbers specifically for evangelicals in this regard. But most of the commentary I have read actually says a lot more about what people think about evangelicals than what people think about Mormons. The assumption seems to be that Mitt will suffer for his religion because a lot of evangelicals are religious bigots.

Once again, I’m not sure the equation presented achieves that answer. The suggestion is that evangelical theological differences with Mormonism + 300% to 450% more people that would refuse to vote for a Mormon than would refuse to vote for a Jew or a Catholic = enough bigoted evangelicals to cause a Mormon to lose the election. While it’s possible that this equation is true, it’s also possible that it’s false. It has not been tested in a national race.

I agree with Taranto when he says that the Romney ticket will actually “test the proposition that the religious right is an issues-based movement as opposed to a sectarian one.” He notes that Romney’s “views put him well within the mainstream of GOP conservatism,” and are “largely in tune with the Christian right.” If the religious right refuses to support Romney (who aligns with them politically, but not religiously), it would expose the movement as being riddled with sectarian bigotry. I believe that would cause long-term damage to the movement’s credibility, which has been carefully built for two to three decades. The political community simply wouldn’t take them seriously any longer. The media would have a heyday, lumping them into the same boat as the extremist Muslims shouting, “Death to the infidels!” in the current cartoon flap.

Unlike MWAO, I welcome a Romney candidacy. Will my religion get beat up? Probably. Will my religion come out better in the long run, even if Mitt loses? I believe the answer to this is yes, as long as Mitt turns out to behave respectably and admirably. He will be held to a much higher standard than other candidates. I hope he is up to it. I believe that as the campaign progresses, more and more people will moderate their stance on religion in politics, which would be good for the country.

Would I support Mitt? Maybe. Just as I would hope that evangelicals and other voters would not refuse to support a candidate based on the candidate’s religion, I would hope that voters (including Mormons) would not automatically support a candidate based on the candidate’s religion. We should ask whether the candidate is an honorable person (see here), is well suited to the job, and would promote policies with which we agree. If it turns out that Mitt meets these criteria, I will have no problem supporting him. But whether I end up supporting him or not, I believe that his candidacy will be good for the Mormons, the evangelicals, and the country in general.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

I understand that a major part (around 30%) of the political workers getting out the Republican vote all over the country in 2004 were LDS. While not all Mormons will automatically support Romney, his membership in the Church makes support among grass-roots LDS much more likely. And when Mormons get involved in something, they do it with determination and consistency.

In addition to the general Mormon support he can look to all over the US, Romney is strongly plugged into the Mormon network of leaders in politics and business. These people went to school together at schools like Harvard and Columbia and George Washington University, in addition to BYU, and have maintained personal and professional ties over the years. Those ties were strengthened during the 2002 Winter Olympics. These people will be key in efforts such as fund raising and endorsements.

On the other hand, the prejudice against Mormons in politics is very real for some people. It has been just over a decade ago that Larry Echohawk was Attorney General of Idaho and running as the Democratic candidate for Governor. His Republican opponent loudly criticized the fundraiser that was held at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building during the lunch break between the Saturday sessions of LDS October conference that year. Echohawk was portrayed as being a tool of the LDS Church who was being bought by the Mormons. The criticism evoked long-standing prejudice against Mormons among many Idahoans, who see the LDS domination of Eastern Idaho as being a conspiracy against the "normal" lifestyle of people who smoke, drink and gamble.

The same kind of irrational prejudice was displayed in the opposition of Wyoming residents against the sale of Martin's cove to the Church. Anti-Mormons claimed the property was primarily a Wyoming historical site, and the Church would deny access to other citizens, even though no one in the State had ever done anything to ensure access to it for visitors prior to the Church buying the private land that lay between the Cove and the highway.

And of course there is plenty of anti-Mormonism in Utah itself. No doubt a Romney candidacy will prompt the anti-Mormon industry in the state to crank up its press release output to remind people of all of the slanders against Mormons over the last two hundred years, including previous denial of the priesthood to blacks and any polygamy among Romney's forebears.

Nevertheless, the more rabid such prejudice is, the more the contrast of the real Mitt Romney will be highlighted. Ted Kennedy played to this prejudice in his election race against Romney, and Romney did better than any of Kennedy's previous opponents. Within the diversity of the United States, Romney can easily play to the mainstream media's interest in controversy by showing his telegenic side and shifting the story to one of unreasoning prejudice against an historically persecuted minority that is finally succeeding in America through tolerance for diversity.

Reach Upward said...

Thanks for your well-informed and interesting analysis.

Carlos Williamson said...

Mitt is an incredible person and candidate by all appearances. His campaign will bring the work of the Lord before the world spotlight. It is up to us who know that work to make sure the truth be published and known. To let our light shine to the glory of God. He WILL be gloryified.

marK said...

I am remined of the quote from Brigham Young when asked about building a temple in Utah.

"Some say, 'I do not like to do it, for we never began to build a Temple without the bells of hell beginning to ring.' I want to hear them ring again." (JD, Vol. VIII, pp. 355-356)

I agree with him. I want to hear those bells ringing. It will force people to squarely face their prejudices.

Anonymous said...

Romney running for president will KILL the church as we know it. Can you imagine what will happen when the media gets a hold of information regarding the fake translation of the book of abraham, the hat & magic stone to translate the book of mormon and especially when they find out about the oaths Romney has made in the temple vowing to use his time and talents for CHURCH PURPOSES? MY AMERICA IS NOT A THEOCRACY!!!

Bethany Viets said...

i dont think that you should not vote for him because he is morman.. that is they way he was brought up. Look at what he did for the state of Massachussetts as their govenor. i think he would amke a good president, and i would vote for him if i was old enough to do so.

Anonymous said...

Does it make sense for Americans to vote for someone who's become the victim of the convicted fraud Joseph Smith? One thing you can say generally about Mormons is they don't much care about the truth if it conflicts in any way with their ideology. I don't want another president who's easily fooled.

Mr. Nation said...

this is not about religion, black or white, male or female...this is about raising the bar for the nation check out this awesome song www.ericproffitt about this campaign.

GrandmaElaine said...

I'm LDS. I believe lots of weird things like: a virgin gave birth to a son, and that SON literally walked on water, healed really sick people, made cripples walk again, bled from every pore in Gethsemane and hung on a cross until he was dead....all so that I can be forgiven of way too many sins than I deserve and overcome death. I don't want to force my beliefs on anyone...I would like to be able to be considered a Christian...since I am that...above anything else.Mormons believe that the original Christian church was restored to the earth after getting corrupted in the middle ages. We definitely believe in the unorthodox idea that the primitive church was restored to the earth through a 14 year old boy. I know that really does sound strange....call me STRANGE...but please don't tell me I'm not a Christian. -Elaine

Rich said...

This quote "Americans do not respect believers of convenience. Americans tire of those who would jettison their beliefs, even to gain the world." sounds like a veiled reference to Romney's jump from liberal Republican candidate for governor of Massachusetts to conservative Republican candidate for president. But it was Romney who said it in his Texas speech!

Does he not recognize that he is the most blatant jettisoner of beliefs in the present campaign?

Anonymous said...

Well as a devout atheist, I can say that I could care less if the LDS church contradicts "traditional" christianity. BUT. What I do care about is whether an organization, religious or secular, is good or bad for society and whether it does good things with its tithings for its members and for the less fortunate.

Despite giving millions to charity around the world, from the data we can estimate, the mormon church seems much more interested in "missionary" work, making more mormons, and more money so that it can buy its shopping malls and hotel chains. The church keeps its books closed whcih smells of a "secret combination" to me... but the numbers that we can gather from press interviews with people like the late Gordon B. Hinkley don't suggest an organization that does much for charity in terms of a percentage of its massive revenues.

Bishops and pastors may not be paid to preach, but the general authorities are paid an UNDISCLOSED "modest" salary from the revenues of the churches "business investments".

1. What do you mean "modest" (quotes from the LDS website). Does that meana modest cut in terms of percentage? With billions in tithings coming in, that gives these guys a ridiculous amount of cash to invest. With that much capital, you could do just about anything.

2. What the hell is your church doing investing in businesses? Capitalism and christianity are entirely at odds in my opinion. So what are you? Capitalist or christian? Selfish or selfless? Making decisions in personal best interests (competitive capitalism) or for the best of the community (as in the golden rule). Capitalism is more aligned with Luciferianism. And again, I could care less if your dogma is luciferian, just so long as it were properly resented as such.. because again, I'm an atheist and I make no opinions about Dogma. Maybe Luciferianism is the one true church... I really don't know.

One thing is for sure, is that the church I belonged to growing up, didn't audit my income to make sure I was paying 10% and didn't add a bunch of commandments to command me to do so to the bible (what motivation would someone who wanted to corrupt a "true" church have in removing a commandment that is their only source of revenue?) Do you not understand how much that doesn't make sense?

Now, promising to get back to Romney...

As an atheist, I can forgive ro at least tolerate people, even presidential candidates, who support dogma that comes from 2000-year old tales that are poorly documented and tehrefore can be disproven through evidence and are passed via family tradition. But 200 years ago, there was plenty of documentation to prove that Mormonism is a sham, including loads of false prophetic predictions make by JS himself.

If the religion was a sham when it was founded then IT IS STILL a sham now... you can't unshamify something that was a sham just because it happened to catch on.

And it shows a serious lack of judgement and leadership for a presidential candidate to not only participate in this religion, but to propagate and become a (regional) leader in a religion that was founded by con artists. It says to me "hello, I'm Mitt Romney, and I have no respect for human dignity".

I cannot believe that the mainstream media didn't rip the LDS to shreds during Mitt's campaign. I can only think that is because LDS probably owns a big stake in the media.

Anonymous said...

I made some typos in my previous comment that miscommunicate a couple of important points. I'm reposting.

Well as a devout atheist, I can say that I could care less if the LDS church contradicts "traditional" christianity. BUT. What I do care about is whether an organization, religious or secular, is good or bad for society and whether it does good things with its tithings for its members and for the less fortunate.

Despite giving millions to charity around the world, from the data we can estimate, the mormon church seems much more interested in "missionary" work, making more mormons, and more money so that it can buy its shopping malls and hotel chains. The church keeps its books closed whcih smells of a "secret combination" to me... but the numbers that we can gather from press interviews with people like the late Gordon B. Hinkley don't suggest an organization that does much for charity in terms of a percentage of its massive revenues.

Bishops and pastors may not be paid to preach, but the general authorities are paid an UNDISCLOSED "modest" salary from the revenues of the churches "business investments".

1. What do you mean "modest" (quotes from the LDS website). Does that meana modest cut in terms of percentage? With billions in tithings coming in, that gives these guys a ridiculous amount of cash to invest. With that much capital, you could do just about anything.

2. What the hell is your church doing investing in businesses? Capitalism and christianity are entirely at odds in my opinion. So what are you? Capitalist or christian? Selfish or selfless? Making decisions in personal best interests (competitive capitalism) or for the best of the community (as in the golden rule). Capitalism is more aligned with Luciferianism. And again, I could care less if your dogma is luciferian, just so long as it were properly presented as such to its membership... because again, I'm an atheist and I make no opinions about Dogma. Maybe Luciferianism is the one true church... I really don't know.

One thing is for sure, is that the church I belonged to growing up, didn't audit my income to make sure I was paying 10% and didn't add a bunch of commandments to command me to do so to the bible (what motivation would someone who wanted to corrupt a "true" church have in removing a commandment that is their only source of revenue?) Do you not understand how much that doesn't make sense?

Now, promising to get back to Romney...

As an atheist, I can forgive ro at least tolerate people, even presidential candidates, who support dogma that comes from 2000-year old tales that are poorly documented and therefore cannnot be disproven through evidence and are passed via family tradition. But 200 years ago, there was plenty of documentation to prove that Mormonism is a sham, including loads of false prophetic predictions make by JS himself.

If the religion was a sham when it was founded then IT IS STILL a sham now... you can't unshamify something that was a sham just because it happened to catch on.

And it shows a serious lack of judgement and leadership for a presidential candidate to not only participate in this religion, but to propagate and become a (regional) leader in a religion that was founded by con artists. The religion cannot be justified simply because it is 200 years old! It says to me "hello, I'm Mitt Romney, and I have no respect for human dignity".

I cannot believe that the mainstream media didn't rip the LDS to shreds during Mitt's campaign. I can only think that is because LDS probably owns a big stake in the media.