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Is there a Mormon issue in the 2012 election?

Historically, religion and Presidential politics have never been that far apart.  Thomas Jefferson, never one to follow the crowd, took some heat for his views on religion.  In fact, he was so free thinking, that he even wrote his own version of the Bible.

 Abraham Lincoln, while a deeply religious man, was criticized for not aligning himself with a particular denomination.  In his era, to many, this was deeply disturbing.  A century later, John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, had to convince a still skeptical America, that, “…he wouldn’t be taking his orders from the Pope.”

In 1976, Jimmy Carter introduced America to yet another religious phenomenon.  Carter was a born again Christian.  35 years ago, for many, particularly the media, this was a new concept.  Now, in 2012, there is a new religious twist in American politics.  Two of the leading

candidates for the Republican nomination for President (and who is leading, and who is not is hard to fathom in a field so large) are Mormons.  One is Mitt Romney, the savior of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics and former Governor of Massachusetts. 

The other is Jim Huntsman, former Ambassador to China and former Governor of Utah.  As you can see, neither is short on having an impressive resume but for some, the so-called Mormon issue, hangs in the background as a possible concern.  Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t.  
Now, just to offer a quick reference; what is a Mormon?  Mormons are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  They follow the teachings of their first prophet, Joseph Smith.   The basic tenets of the Church were revealed to Smith who transcribed the Book of Mormon and this and the Bible are the basic foundations of Mormonism.

 Now who are they?  That’s not so hard to answer.  I grew up with Mormon kids and knew their families.  They are hard working, thoughtful and community oriented.  Whether it’s business, the military, or community service, they didn’t hold back.  To show how mainstream they are, in High School, where we had just a few Mormon students in our class, our Prom Queen was a Mormon.  And no one thought much about it.   They are, when it comes to their views on politics, while generally Republican, not solidly so.  Harry Reid, majority leader of the Senate, is a Democrat and a Mormon.

While some in the media are trolling around looking for “the Mormon issue” it’s not clear whether there is going to be one or not.  But there might be.  In 1968 another Mormon, Mitt Romney’s father, George Romney, ran for President.  Romney had been the Governor of Michigan and did exceptionally well in his quest for the nomination.  He didn’t win the party nod, but it’s important to note that his failure to become the GOP nominee had nothing to do with his religion.  In fact, it was hardly mentioned.  However, in 2012, things are different.  The Republican Party of the 21st century has a strong evangelical base and these Republicans play an important role in the nomination process.  They’re the ones that turn out for caucuses and they’re the ones who can be relied on to vote in a primary.  And alas, they’re the ones most likely to be skeptical about the prospect of a Mormon candidate.  

Much of this is simply due to a general ignorance about what a Mormon is and what the Church’s beliefs actually mean.   I have talked to some of my activist evangelical friends and many have their doubts.  And many in the Christian media, particularly those on radio, do very little to calm the waters.   Indeed, to hear some radio preachers. and I listen to a few on the way home from work, you’d think Mormonism is some sort of dastardly plot to subvert Christianity.  One preacher on local radio delights in programs where he supposedly spends a couple of hours supposedly debunking Mormonism.  It’s all a bit silly and usually after he gets past his sensational introduction, I change the dial to a more interesting part of the evening drive time programming.  But it does show the underlying prejudice that is still out there.

However, there is one thing that skeptical evangelicals as well as other conservative Christians might want to consider.  First, if anyone has any doubts, the Mormon Church is decidedly Christian and they’re beliefs are socially conservative and family oriented.  They prize hard work and self reliance.  And yes, if you were wondering, they’re beliefs do include avoiding alcohol and caffeine.    

In the 1960 campaign John Kennedy went to great lengths to explain his religious beliefs.  This even included a televised speech aimed exclusively at calming the prejudices of a skeptical Democratic Primary electorate.  In those days, many evangelicals were Democrats, and it worked.  But I am not sure, if today, if that kind of “lay it on the table,” discussion is all that necessary.  Rather, both candidates need to introduce themselves as who they are.  If that means that they have to explain a little about their faith and what it means then all the better.  Romney and Huntsman have remarkable records.  What’s more, many of their views are in accord with the conservative Christian base of the party.  Perhaps, with just a little gentle discussion, the so called Mormon issue may prove to be no issue at all.
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