Recently, The Wall Street Journal in one of its editorials stated that 2012 is likely to be a “one-issue” election, that issue being the economy. In past essays we have written about the U.S. economy from several different angles, be it job growth, the effect of the Euro, the effect of Obamacare and the possibility of its being declared unconstitutional. All of those things demonstrate that this is not likely to be a “one issue” election. No matter the number of issues, however, 2012 is shaping up as a close election.
One of the toughest subjects that has to be faced, and it is difficult to face with any certainty, is whether or not candidate Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith will affect the outcome of the election. We have never had a Mormon president. Religious prejudice is hard to measure. In 2008, one of the two of us participated in Fred Thompson’s short and ill‑fated candidacy for President. Part of that participation included a weekly conference call. Hundreds, perhaps, thousands, of participants, all unidentified, were on those calls. In one call, someone who did not identify himself said, “Watch out in the upcoming primary for Mitt Romney;” and another person immediately shouted out, “Romney, he doesn’t have a chance; he’s not even a Christian.”
We don’t claim to define Christianity. However it should be pointed out that the Mormon religion is properly called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS). Nevertheless, the validity of the statement that Romney didn’t have a chance (because of his Mormon faith) made by the apparent bigot on the conference call has never been tested. Most traditional religions, save Mormonism and other American faiths that emerged during the so-called Great Awakening in the early 19th century, date back many centuries, some many millennia. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was formally established in 1830 and the Book of Mormon is considered by Mormons to be another sacred Christian testament. The LDS Church describes itself as being a distinct restored dispensation within Christianity and, as such, the one true Christian Church. Mormons believe that God re-established, through the Prophet Joseph Smith, the early Christian church of the New Testament. In particular, Mormons believe that the angel Moroni revealed the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith and that, later, new-testament apostles including Peter, James, John, and John the Baptist appeared and endowed him with Priesthood authority, with which he could then endow others, and who, once so endowed, could thereafter, pass Priesthood authority on to others called to serve the church in various leadership roles. Like various other Christian denominations, some doctrines and beliefs of the LDS church are unique to their faith and do not comport with mainstream Christianity. Latter Day Saints do, however, follow the teachings of Christ, believe their salvation is through Christ and are committed to leading their lives, quite literally, as latter day saints.
While every Mormon temple is open to the general public upon completion of construction, once a temple is formally dedicated, it is considered a sacred place, and, thereafter, only open to members of the faith who are in good standing, that is, who are considered “temple worthy.”
How is Mitt Romney affected by his religion? He doesn’t speak of it very often, and were he to speak of it, as he did, quite eloquently, in an address to the nation during the 2008 campaign, it isn’t likely to assuage the opinions of those who have little tolerance of any deviation from their own particular view of religious orthodoxy. According to a June 2012 Gallup poll, 18 percent of registered voters said they would not vote for a Mormon candidate for president. Ten percent of Republicans and twenty‑four percent of Democrats responded that they would not vote for a Mormon. The poll suggests that anti-Mormon bias has remained relatively unchanged since 1967, when the Gallup organization first began measuring such bias. In a close election, that would be an important factor.
It is hard to believe that having elected the first person of color to be their president, Americans will now draw the line with a religious test. Let’s hope that this important election is decided on the merits and not some exclusionary and wrong‑headed principle.
In 2008 Romney addressed the subject of his religion, but, by the time he delivered his address, “Faith in America”, Senator McCain had, pretty much, wrapped up the GOP nomination. Nonetheless, excerpts from that address are worth reflecting upon today.
“…As governor, I tried to do the right as best I knew it, serving the law and answering to the Constitution. I did not confuse the particular teachings of my church with the obligations of the office and of the Constitution –- and of course, I would not do so as President. I will put no doctrine of any church above the plain duties of the office and the sovereign authority of the law…. As a young man, Lincoln described what he called America’s ‘political religion’ – the commitment to defend the rule of law and the Constitution. When I place my hand on the Bible and take the oath of office, that oath becomes my highest promise to God. If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest. A President must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States.”
What more could one ask of any president, regardless of his or her faith?