A Mormon in the White House

Why are people so afraid to support a Mormon running for president? I was not alive during the JFK years and his battling his Catholic roots, but there seems to be quite a few parallels between the two and extremely large amounts of misconceptions and ignorance about what having a Mormon around is like (thanks a lot Big Love). I am not a very big Mitt Romney fan although I deeply respect him as a person; how could you not. I saw him at the Iowa Straw Poll and have paid close attention to his campaigning as he has developed a large following amongst us Mormons. I am more interested in the dialogue about how a Mormon’s take on the world would be received and how it would affect America.
This is a great article http://www.christiancentury.org/article.lasso?id=3594 regarding having a Mormon in the White House through the eyes of a non-LDS history professor from North Carolina. It is an attempt to address the fears of Evangelicals and others that do not respect Mormonism as a religion but find themselves liking the conservative values of LDS people.
My favorite line in the article is regarding the Mormon view on America and her government as compared to the views of a Pat Robertson who looks at this land as a “New Israel,”

…having a Mormon president certainly seems less dangerous than the perils
represented by a born-again president who equates his decisions with God’s will.
Because of their own history of persecution Mormons, by and large, are far more
committed to the protection of individual rights and wary of governmental
intervention than are conservative evangelicals.

This is a good read that should stir up some questions and dialogue. Let’s see what you’ve got

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3 Responses to “A Mormon in the White House”

  1. Chris Stout said…
    The frustrating reality – and I admit to having fallen prey to this myself – is that most Americans have a limited understanding of faiths and cultures other than their own. Despite our impressive diversity, we’re relatively insular on a day-to-day basis. Group clustering like this is a natural human tendency with obvious evolutionary benefits, but in modern society, it’s kind of a bummer.

    The various religions – which, in a globalized post-race environment act almost like tribes – don’t necessarily make this easier. Most faiths are (to varying degrees) open about their beliefs and practices in order to welcome new members, but at the same time remain secretive about other aspects. In 1960 (and continuing today) there were justifiable questions about Catholic dogma and the deified nature of the pope – remember, this was prior to the Protestantization brought about by Vatican II. Similarly, on a national level, it seems like there are many lingering questions about the LDS church due to things like exclusivity in temple weddings, baptism of the dead, etc. And it’s pretty clear that a healthy portion of Americans don’t perceive a distinction between LDS and the fundamentalist Mormons. All of these uncertainties will compound to make things a bit more difficult for Mitt.

    The irony, I guess, is that while Catholicism is the oldest variant of Christianity, Mormonism is relatively young. I would imagine that many LDSers are more or less accustomed to encountering questions about their faith. Catholics were probably a bit more surprised by the hostility coming from the Protestants; anybody with a grasp of religious history should have found it at least somewhat amusing in a biting-the-hand-that-feeds kind of way.

    But I think you’re kind of looking at this issue with a telephoto lens when a 50mm would suffice. Your question shouldn’t be, “Why are people so afraid to support a Mormon running for president?” Your question should be, “Why are people so afraid to support a candidate solely because of a difference of faith?” I’m intrigued by this because, well, most faiths are essentially interchangeable. Maybe that’s an incendiary thing to say, but from my perspective there’s more commonality than dissimilarity. Shouldn’t people of faith be simply looking for other devout candidates? Should it matter if they’re Baptist or Mormon or Muslim, as long as they’re committed to something (preferably Abrahamic)?

    Now, my personal, insanely-biased question would be, “Why does a candidate’s faith or lack thereof matter at all?” Which is an extension of my even-more-biased question of “Why aren’t more Americans outraged by this execrable commingling of faith and politics?” A Gallup poll showed that 95% of respondents would have no issue voting for a Catholic; 94% would vote for an African American; 88% for a woman; 72% for a Mormon. 55% even said they would vote for a homosexual president. But only 45% (and only 29% of conservatives) would vote for an atheist. So while religious faith has assumed a tremendous role in determining voter behavior, it seems like the true rallying point is that of the faithful versus the hell-bound heathens.

  2. You make some brilliant observations Chris and I really appreciate your sharing. I have lots of thoughts and comments but I will just address a couple of things.
    Christianity is such a difficult thing because of all the many variations and differences b/w each sect. The only thing that each person really shares is a belief in Christ. However, there are great varieties from there. Bill Clinton and Billy Graham have vast differences in their understanding and belief about the way one should live and think. Close to home to me, Harry Reid and Mitt Romney have very different views within their own sect. To say one is wrong and the other right sure is difficult.
    To many religionists, atheists are very scary because they are misunderstood; just as you say in your comments, we do not understand those different than us and tend to stick with those who think like us; Christianity is an easy rallying point even when vast differences occur from within (I choose not to go on defense of Mormonism here and our “secrets.”) Plus, it allows us to exercise one of mankind’s worst tendencies; judgement. For people who worship God, we sure like to act as God and judge for Him! It is easier to pass judgement on Christians than atheists for us because of that common belief and I believe sub-consciously we flock to people of faith because we feel that we can judge them without much thought.
    From here, I personally tend to throw atheism into its own form of religion; defined at the most basic level as a belief system that governs thoughts and action. They get a ton of negative attention because their reputation, whether merited or not, is perceived to be eliminating religion. For instance, the Atheist Alliance today put forth a declaration that says ‘religion must be destroyed.’ I would argue that they are being hypocritical because atheism is a religion to me. However, as a Mormon who served a full-time mission for two years, my job was essentially to wipe out the atheist among other religions; thus, I am a bit of a hypocrite myself. All of Christiandom in fact has the same edict to go out and convert the masses; thus eliminating atheism: a religion. All facets of atheism can be counter-pointed by religionists and vice versa; there is no way to really escape this.
    I completely agree that it should not matter at all what a person’s faith is in the political spectrum. How weird is it in the debates when the moderator asks what a candidate’s favorite scripture is? As if that conveys any information, fact, or serves any purpose at all. Am I supposed to cheer on Mitt Romney becuase we share the same religions affiliation? How do I reconcile the variations from how Harry Reid sees things despite our sharing the same faith? (this is unsubstantiated but I have heard that Mr. Reid teaches Sunday School in his ward each week so he is most definitely living his religion; something I would never dispute.) To me, what matters most are the principles that a person lives by: honesty, integrity, and the support of the pursuit of happiness, liberty, and freedom (I love the Constitution and Bill of Rights). No religion has a monopoly on this and to argue otherwise is silly. An atheist has no moral authority over a religionist nor are they more intelligent than those who exercise faith as a determining factor in their beliefs; and vice versa.
    I love Mormonism because our tenant, and what I taught on my mission, is ultimate freedom. We share our experiences and knowledge with you, give you some resources, and then ask you to use them to go out and seek God yourself. We are only encouraging the individual to have an experience by asking God Himself if these things are true from which you as an individual will have your own outcome irrespective of outside influences. If it is not right for you, so be it! Thank you for trying (you will most definitely have more chances). I love Joseph Smith and his belief on this as he said when speaking to a preacher of a different sect, and I paraphrase of course, I might not believe in what you do but I will fight to the death for your right to believe that way. Brigham Young said the same thing as have all the latter-day prophets. It is all about freedom.
    Therefore, I absolutely do not think that faith should be a factor for politicians. Rather, we should absolutely focus on one’s stance on issues and preserving our freedoms and liberties. I am very Nietzschean on this point and share a distrust for state-religion in any form; even as a topic for debates as populism at its worst.
    Not as elequent as you, but I am not a professional like you either;)

  3. I think this is an interesting dialogue. There was a very recent discussion, and I can’t remember where I read it or heard it, about people downright condeming Romney solely because of his religious association. I’m not the most Republican-leaning person, so I probably would not vote for Romney for reasons other than his religion. It’s a shame, though, that so many other Americans do not feel the same way. One would think that with freedom of religion being one of the tenants of this democratic republic, people might have a more open, tolerant, understanding and respectful view of people of other faiths. It’s simply not the case.

    As for the quote you credit to Joseph Smith, if he said that, then he was paraphrasing the great philosopher, Voltaire, who actually said, and I paraphrase here as well, I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. Ah, freedom of speech another great tenant that’s seems to have fallen to the wayside. 🙂

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