Mormons for the White House: comfortable with that?

Americans tend to want candidates who are religious. But then we worry if we think they are going to be serious about it.

On one side, some conservative Christians are calling the Mormon religion a dangerous “cult” and a “false religion." On the other, we’re in the midst of a Mormon charm offensive. It includes the new “I'm a Mormon” ad campaign on television, billboards, and buses.

If that's not enough to keep the religion in the public eye, there’s even a Tony Award winning musical on Broadway, The Book of Mormon, bringing audiences to their feet in enthusiastic standing ovations. (The musical is anything but an official Mormon production: South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone were two of the main collaborators on the play.)

The reason we care, of course, is that two major Republican candidates, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, are Mormons.

The starting place, from my point of view, is that a person’s religion, or lack of it, should not be either the qualifier or the disqualifier for public office, including the presidency. Policy positions, views on political and economic issues, track record, experience in leadership and management, good judgment, and ability to communicate are the right focus.

Still, a candidate’s religion gets a lot of attention these days and with reason. We’re trying to get to know these people, and their faith is part of the picture. Four years ago, it was Sarah Palin’s evangelical faith and Barack Obama’s fiery pastor, Jeremiah Wright. These days, it is Michele Bachman and Rick Perry’s conservative Christianity and Romney and Huntsman’s Mormonism.

The problem the Mormon candidates have, ironically, is pretty much the same thing that has made Mormonism strong: that is, its relatively insularity and high level of expectation. Mormonism is vigorous, at least in part, because it is a disciplined operation with a high level of expectation. This makes a lot of sense when you are subject to persecution, as Mormons have historically been in the U.S.

It has also made Mormonism successful. Mormanism asks something, a good deal, in fact of its adherents. Mormons are expected to tithe, that is give 10 percent to support their church. They are asked to volunteer time in service and mission. They are expected to participate in Mormon practices, including the Word of Wisdom, the Mormon dietary code that eschews coffee, tea, alcohol, and tobacco. Moreover, Mormons are known for their support and care for one another.

I find this high level of expectation, the way Mormons take their faith seriously, to be admirable. But it is also, at least a part of the problem facing candidates who are Mormon. People wonder if, in office, their faith might actually mean something. It’s a sort of odd American ambivalence. By and large, we want candidates to be religious, but not too religious.

Personally, I would rather have a candidate whose faith is sincere and means something genuine than one who only uses religion to burnish their image or as a source of high-sounding but empty platitudes.

But I also want a candidate who is able to differentiate his or her role and responsibilities as a public official, with a primary responsibility to the Constitution and to an entire diverse nation of citizens, from his or her role as a church member or official (Romney has been a bishop in the Mormon church). I want a candidate who is able to distinguish between nation and church, between political responsibilities and religious ones.

While such a distinction isn’t always easy to make, it’s not an impossible one either. Moreover, all of us make similar distinctions daily, differentiating between different roles and sectors of life. What’s appropriate to one setting isn’t right in another.

So I find myself embracing a both/and position on candidates and their religion. On one hand, it is not and should not be the deal maker or breaker. Whether someone is a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, or Mormon or none of the above is not what it's all about when selecting a president or governor or any other public office holder.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Oct 20, 6:25 a.m. Inappropriate

I would ask the writer of this article to please take time to proofread and confirm information so that I, as a reader, am not distracted by incorrect word usage and misspellings. Example:

“It that's not enough to keep the religion in the public eye…” Should be “If that’s not enough…”
“Moreover, all of us make siimilar distinctions daily” Should be “similar”
“So I find myself embracing a both/and position on candidates and their religion” I am really not sure what “a both” is.
“…Mormon or none of the above is not what its all about” Remember that “Its” is a possessive pronoun. Should be “It’s”, which is a contraction for “it is” or “it has”

When referring to GOP candidates, please spell their names correctly. Mr. Huntsman spells his name “Jon” not, as you have used, “John”.

Posted Thu, Oct 20, 7:51 a.m. Inappropriate

Well, the only man I like among the pooplikans is John Huntsman. Oddly, ex-Marmots are sort of like the sons
of Protestant ministers once were - they have well-developed consciences and are imaginative. I can't tell whether this quality derives from Mormonism, which I regard as just another joke, or from the strictness, the initial uniformity or a religious relationship to the world during their youths. > http://www.facebook.com/mike.roloff1?ref=name

mikerol

Posted Thu, Oct 20, 7:53 a.m. Inappropriate

I definitely agree with Tony Robinson that " a person’s religion, or lack of it, should not be either the qualifier or the disqualifier for public office, including the presidency."

I'm increasingly frustrated with the intense scrutiny and debate, much of it fueled by religious bigotry, over the candidates' church affiliations and beliefs. At best it's a distraction from the issues that truly matter, war and unemployment; and at worst it lures candidates and their surrogates into disgusting hypocrisy and ugly personal attacks.

I know it's a futile hope, but I long for the day when a candidate for the presidency will tell us, "I'm an agnostic (or athiest), which has nothing to do with the office, and for the rest of this campaign I'm going to talk about real issues."

Listen, we've elected a long string of professed believers lately, and how well has it worked? God, if there is one, doesn't seem to be providing them a lot of help. Maybe it's time to try something different.

Posted Wed, Oct 16, 6:22 a.m. Inappropriate

I would be as leery of a devout atheist as others would be of a devout Mormon.

LindaSDF

Posted Thu, Oct 20, 8:26 a.m. Inappropriate

A good examination of the issue, Tony. One might even step beyond religion to say that race, gender, ethnicity and many other factors should
not cause voters to choose one candidate over another. As the 20th century progressed, it was thought that a Catholic, southerner, African American, Jew, or woman could not be a presidential or vice-presidential candidate. Those barriers have been broken. I have no doubt that in time
we will have national candidates who are Latino, Asian American, Native American and/or gay. Perhaps even Muslim.

I am not a fan of some Mormon traditions and practices. But I also dislike some aspects of other religions. "E Pluribus Unum" (one from many) our coins say about our country. ML King rightly stated that
citizens should be judged "on the content of their character" rather than
on their races, religions, genders, or other bases.

I agree with you that the most offensive candidates are those who wear their religions on their sleeves so as to use them for political advantage.

Posted Thu, Oct 20, 8:31 a.m. Inappropriate

There's a collectivism in the Mormon faith. Tithing and all that.

You'd think that would be considered a plus to a Crosscut Seattle audience.

Posted Thu, Oct 20, 9:43 a.m. Inappropriate

Mormonism is a movement that originated historically as a persecuted cult and has been working overtime to become mainstream. This one reason why the public images leading Mormons project tend to be devoutly bland and conventional to the point of appearing cartoonish. As noted, they are extremely good at supporting and taking care of their members during tough times. Most of the more egregious jagged edges have been smoothed: polygamy is long gone, and paternalism and racism have been greatly reduced.

Still, the Mormon creation myth -- with an angel delivering golden tablets to a pasture in upstate New York for transcription and a lost tribe of Israelites showing up unannounced in North America -- remains a bizarre fantasy that cannot withstand rational scrutiny. So, whether you're a hard-shell Baptist or a flaming atheist, it's a tough story to take seriously, and it's hard not to wonder about the mental processes of anyone who professes to believe it.

But the good news is this -- in today's modern Republican Party the capacity to believe absurd fairy tales is no disqualification for higher public office. Indeed, it seems to be a fundamental requirement. In this context the nonsense of Mormonism is probably the most harmless of the myths being fondly bandied about. So why get excited? Go Mitt!

woofer

Posted Thu, Oct 20, 9:43 a.m. Inappropriate

Ted... what about an atheist or agnostic? If I remember my polls correctly, they come below all the groups you mentioned in terms of acceptability to the American public as a presidential candidate.

Meanwhile, I see no reason to think a President Romney would take orders from Salt Lake City, just as President Kennedy took no orders from the Vatican.

Posted Thu, Oct 20, 10:13 a.m. Inappropriate

The Constitution, in Article VI, section 3, says " . . .no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." We would do well to remember this. I, for one, would be delighted with a candidate who has NO religious preference.

RNewman

Posted Thu, Oct 20, 10:26 a.m. Inappropriate

This angst about religion wouldn't be an issue if we refused to allow it to become part of the discourse. The benefits would be that information about the candidates could be more focused on their chops for public service...and candidates would be free to worship watermelons if they wanted.

jmrolls

Posted Thu, Oct 20, 10:31 a.m. Inappropriate

And the only person NOT talking about Mormon faith is Mitt Romney himself. Lots of busybodies around him want to make an issue about it.

Posted Thu, Oct 20, 10:48 a.m. Inappropriate

I do think that faith has something to do with who we elect. Our paradigm about life greatly influences our values. I believe that not everyone is capable of living a high standard. This is why the Israelites were given the strict and somewhat merciless law of Moses. It is better than lving like animals. Perhaps the Muslims are in the same boat. I believe that Mormons are at the other end of the spectrum. If you knew one, you might think so also. They tend to be service oriented, honest, moral, community minded folks who support freedom of religion and hold the constitution as sacred.

honestly

Posted Thu, Oct 20, 10:52 a.m. Inappropriate

Would we be having this discussion if Romney were Muslim?

The slightest suggestion that religion were a problem with a Muslim candidate, would be mau-maued and shouted down by the usual politically-correct crowd.

Posted Thu, Oct 20, 11:14 a.m. Inappropriate

In this country we have separation of church and state. Faith has no place in government.

Currently, the church enjoys huge tax breaks and subsidies. This must end, since our government must not extend any special treatment to the church. The church should be allowed to stand on its own, like other businesses.

In very recent history we have seen the insidious influence of state sponsored religion in the the form of so-called "faith-based initiatives". Why are my tax dollars going to support religion?

Every religion is based on discrimination against non-co-religionists. This is spelled out in every religious "holy" text. As an atheist, why would I want a faith-based president who is obligated by his holy text to discriminate against me?

I leave you with a George Bush quote:

"No, I don't know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic. This is one nation under God.… I support the separation of church and state. I'm just not very high on atheists."

andy

Posted Thu, Oct 20, 11:43 a.m. Inappropriate

Agree with those who would like to see agnostic candidates, or candidates who do not feel the need, and an electorate that similarly doesn't feel the need, to spout off about their religion.

All the organized religions seem to have little to offer women other than subjugation and lesser status, and for that alone I reject them. As I understand it (and I'm willing to be corrected if need be), Mormonism has a separate, and lesser, heaven for women.

Catholicism still forbids women control over their own procreation unless they are willing to bear the heavy, and often unworkable, burden of the rhythm method, and of course does not allow female ordination. Most of the (loud mouth) "Christian" congregations preach and expect women to submit to their husbands.

Some Muslim sects demand women be invisible in the world and never move without the permission and company of related males. Somehow they have managed to ensnare women in a no win situation by claiming that their women's freedom somehow endangers their honor. The fact that they would believe and proclaim such foulness is enough for me.

And most, if not all, of these religions have long-standing and well-established reputations as abusers of children and the otherwise vulnerable.

So, I am sick and tired of all the religious folderol. Our constitution provides for separation of church and state. I'd like to see the same separation in politics instead of all this pious stuff I don't believe, and am pretty sure the proponents don't believe, anyway.

As for Mitt Romney, whatever the truth may be, he appears way too smooth and condescending to appeal to me. Rightly or wrongly, I don't believe anything coming out of that mouth.

mspat

Posted Thu, Oct 20, 11:55 a.m. Inappropriate

Ben: I doubt that Americans would accept an atheist or agnostic as president, although I personally would have no problem with it, and suspect it would be a very long time before that would change.

Posted Thu, Oct 20, 11:56 a.m. Inappropriate

John F. Kennedy, when running for the Presidency, famously declared that he would ignore any admonitions coming from the leadership of his church. Is it not desirable that we require ALL candidates to make such a declaration?

busterg

Posted Thu, Oct 20, 12:39 p.m. Inappropriate

Many religions have a misogynist bend, but, maybe because it considers itself a modern religion headquartered in the US, mormonism's insistance in keeping women as reproductive sheeple who cannot be saved if not through a man and can be disposed of summarily by their husbands or fathers if they don't obey and are routinely excommuniated if they raise any issues is particularly uncomfortable. It is difficult to imagine that a man raised in a culture where oppression of women is so integral could ever be fair and knowledgeable about gender issues and rights.

Y_Not

Posted Thu, Oct 20, 2:14 p.m. Inappropriate

mspat and Y_not, I totally agree with you.

One thing that bugs me is the infatuation with Tibetan Buddhism and the Tenzin Gyatso (a.k.a "His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama"). That dude keeps female love slaves in his palace:

http://www.trimondi.de/EN/links.htm

andy

Posted Thu, Oct 20, 4:16 p.m. Inappropriate

Interesting, I just got this top 10 list in the mail... God must be telling me something!

9. “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren’t punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That’s war. And this is war.” Ann Coulter

8. “The ‘wall of separation between church and state’ is a metaphor based on bad history, a metaphor which has proved useless as a guide to judging. It should be frankly and explicitly abandoned.” William Rehnquist

7. "The message of the Declaration of Independence is under attack from the ACLU and atheists because it refuted the lie about a constitutional mandate for ‘separation of church and state.’ Atheists have filed numerous lawsuits in the courts of activist judges to try to eliminate our right to acknowledge God in public places, in the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag and in Ten Commandments monuments. The atheists are trying to change American history, expunge all reference to religion from textbooks and make us a completely secular nation. History proves America was founded by religious men who believed that a divine Creator is basic to good government." Phyllis Schlafly, Eagle Forum

6. “Go back to what our founders and our founding documents meant — they’re quite clear — that we would create law based on the God of the bible and the Ten Commandments.” – Sarah Palin

5. “If you say God scattered Israel, Jews will really be offended. They go, ‘Oh, God scattered us?’ Uh huh. ‘Well, I thought the evil guys did.’ Well, you are under the discipline of God because of your perversion and sin." Mike Bickel, International House of Prayer

4. “We took the Bible and prayer out of public schools, and now we're having weekly shootings practically. We had the 60s sexual revolution, and now people are dying of AIDS." Christine O'Donnell

3. “Atheists are parasites in the sense that they are benefiting from everything that religious culture has built in America, but they are doing nothing to add energy into the system." Rabbi Daniel Lapin, American Alliance of Jews and Christians

2. “AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals; it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals." Jerry Falwell

1. “I don’t know that atheists should be considered citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.” George H. W. Bush

andy

Posted Thu, Oct 20, 10:06 p.m. Inappropriate

So I'm trying to piece this together: Anthony Robinson, an ordained preacher (as highlighted by following the link at the end of the article), is sharing his political view that he wants a president who, if religious, doesn't use his religion to garner votes and funds. The main subject of the article is Mitt Romney's bid for presidency. How does one who belongs to a Church that many Americans believe to be a cult garner substantial votes and funds because of his or her religious affiliation?
Last time I checked, Mormons made up less than 2% of the US population. Some prominent religious leaders have made a point to state that Mormons are not Christians. If that's so, then Romney appears to have no religious edge with the 170 million American who self-identify as Christians (besides the Mormons of course, who according to some, simply can't count their belief that Jesus Christ of the New Testament atoned for their sins as token christianity).
I think you meant to write this opinion on Rick Perry.
http://blog.chron.com/believeitornot/2011/08/gov-rick-perry-evangelical-leaders-hold-prayer-rally-at-reliant-liveblog/

Posted Thu, Oct 20, 10:11 p.m. Inappropriate

First, American political culture dictates that you claim a religion, whether you actually believe all the tenets of it or not. I doubt seriously that any President actually paid more than lip service to religion as president--that includes Jimmy Carter. Just move on.

Second, the identification with a religion suggests at least some moral position that is identifiable. Atheism and agnosticism have no built-in morality that they can refer to. They move the political argument to technocracy not values; they are always against religion but not for much of any alternative, except the vague claim that they are being "rational," whatever that means.

The foundational myths of religions--Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Smith's angels--do not negate their messages or the fact that they help people organize their moral lives into something like a coherent pattern. Atheists have no similar structure except some bizarre appeal to their inherent rationality. Jefferson's "we hold these truths to be self evident" is no different than any religious claim and just as bizarre as anything Andy posted.

Fourth, all the supposed rationality will not give you the wisdom to decide to pull the plug on a dying parent or child. We don't necessarily need formal, established religions (though they help), but we need more than just atheism to help us make these decisions. While the example is extreme, we are faced with these problems everyday and to believe that there is an obvious, rational answer to each one of them separately is, well, irrational--like religion.

bkochis

Posted Fri, Oct 21, 9:58 a.m. Inappropriate

I've never met a Mormon who was a jerk. On the other hand, I've met many evangelicals who are. ...And they call the Mormons a cult. Romney wouldn't be my first choice for president. But I've only had the luxury of voting for my first choice in one candidate in my lifetime. Romney seems to be the most able to defeat Obama, and if the Republicans "pull a Craswell" and fail to nominate him for the sake of some loopy ideological purity, they'll deserve four more years of this Carteresque president.

dbreneman

Posted Fri, Oct 21, 10:40 a.m. Inappropriate

@bkochis, agnostics aren't against religion.

I wouldn't even say atheists are against religion. They simply don't have one of their own. Sure, some would prefer it if no one had a religion, just as many members of proselytizing religions would prefer it if everyone shared their beliefs. But not all atheists are militant.

I am grateful for my cultural heritage, which is predominately Jewish and Confucian. I do not doubt that it came into play when faced with the situation you allude to in your final paragraph. But I don't think I would have done better had I been raised going to temple.

Yes, if there are people out there who think they can get through life completely on their own and without any external moral support whatsoever, they are either extremely gifted or somewhat delusional. But I certainly do not believe that one needs to be a member of an organized religion to be a moral being.

Posted Fri, Oct 21, 11:58 a.m. Inappropriate

@bkochis,

Jefferson was a deist, not an atheist. Not quite sure what point you were making with his quote, though...

Also, atheism is simply the absence of a belief in a deity or deities. It says nothing about a moral belief system, being against religion, being "rational", or anything else. I could have a moral compass based on rolling dice for all you know.

If you have deities to advise you with decisions about ending your relative's life, that is perfectly fine with me. All I ask is to keep religion out of government, make no laws requiring me to obey the various deities, and end the systemic religious rape of children.

andy

Posted Fri, Oct 21, 3:21 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm comfortable with Mormons in the White House. What I'm not comfortable is with morons, and that's what the whole Republican field looks to me. Not a one of them has a grasp on economics, world history, monetary policy, or the rule of law. Willful ignorance, or blatant corruption either way, they all look terrible.

GaryP

Posted Fri, Oct 21, 5:35 p.m. Inappropriate

"bkochis" writes: "Atheism and agnosticism have no built-in morality that they can refer to."

Is a morality based on fear (ie, "Do what God says or boy will He be pissed!") really a morality? Those who are not religious do have a moral compass, the belief that all people's rights should be respected. Certainly some non-believers are moral relativists, but so are some who proclaim themselves devout.

dbreneman

Posted Sat, Oct 22, 6:34 p.m. Inappropriate

Benjamin Lukoff, Andy, and dbreneman, you haven't articulated what your moral position is other than "I'm a moral person." What does that mean? That you think you're a moral person? On what moral basis would you decide to end the life of your parent or child? Contra dbreneman, religious positions do not require fear of a supernatural being, e.g., Buddhism or Confucianism (and, I would argue, Judaism--but another time). Religious positions do provide a moral system or structure that counteract moral anarchy (my morality is as good as yours) and constraints upon the ego--I'll vote to end the social safety net because it's starting to interfere with my freedom to indulge myself.

bkochis

Posted Mon, Oct 24, 2:46 p.m. Inappropriate

bkochis, my moral code is very simple--adherence to the Golden Rule.

You may think that religious people are more disciplined at this, but that is statistically proven incorrect. One quick example--religious people are about twice as likely to get divorced.

Here is a Richard Dawkins quote about Norway:

"Depending on the definition of atheism, Norway thus has between 26 percent and 71 percent atheists. The Norwegian Humanist Association is the world's largest humanist association per capita.

And what has secularism done to Norway? The Global Peace Index rates Norway the most peaceful country in the world. The Human Development Index, a comparative measure of life expectancy, literacy, education and standard of living, has ranked Norway No. 1 every year for the last five years.

Norway has the second highest GDP per capita in the world, an unemployment rate below 2 percent, and average hourly wages among the world's highest."

By the way, Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian mass-murderer is a christian.

andy

Posted Tue, Oct 25, 10:56 a.m. Inappropriate

I think there are real issues about whether voters can trust that Romney can keep his religion and public service separate. The Mormon church's own theology and history works against that. Here's Christopher Hitchens' analysis that harsh but rings true. And also check out the recent NY Times profile of Romney and his history with the Mormon church. I'd like to be liberal and tolerant about this but I'm not so sure.

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/fighting_words/2011/10/is_mormonism_a_cult_who_cares_it_s_their_weird_and_sinister_beli.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/16/us/politics/for-romney-a-role-of-faith-and-authority.html?pagewanted=all

Posted Fri, Oct 28, 12:07 a.m. Inappropriate

Rather than what Christians call the Golden Rule, I'd prefer the rule of Hillel: don't do to others that which is painful to yourself.

I certainly agree with GaryP: the disgust I feel for the Republican candidates has nothing to do with their religion but with their complete lack of sensitivity to the pain of others -- i.e., Hillel's rule.

sarah90

Posted Sat, Nov 5, 11:53 a.m. Inappropriate

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith
Jon Krakauer
Google 'Under the Banner of Heaven'

billp37

Posted Sat, Nov 5, 11:53 a.m. Inappropriate

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith
Jon Krakauer
Google 'Under the Banner of Heaven'

billp37

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