Mitt's Mormonism Doesn't Matter

Americans have no trouble remembering that they are electing a president. Deciding who gets into Heaven? They'll leave that to someone else.

Mormonism is a minority sect once persecuted by mainstream American Christians for its unconventional doctrines and practice of polygamy. It is still viewed by many as an odd cult. But a Mormon is the Republican nominee for president, and he can take consolation that if he loses, it will not be because of his religion.

That may be the biggest surprise of this election year. Freedom of religion is a constitutional principle, but it has long coexisted with widespread hostility toward certain faiths. When he ran four years ago, Mitt Romney's affiliation with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was a novelty that looked to be a liability.

Running against him then, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee -- an ordained Southern Baptist minister -- asked, "Don't Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?" Huckabee went on to trounce Romney in the Iowa caucuses.

During that campaign, in an effort to allay suspicions, particularly among evangelicals, Romney gave a speech announcing, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and the savior of mankind." He ostentatiously aligned himself with Christian conservatives by denouncing those "intent on establishing a new religion in America -- the religion of secularism."

Mormonism has gotten attention once again, thanks in part to the Broadway musical "The Book of Mormon." But his previous candidacy apparently inoculated him against sectarian distrust. This time, Romney has been largely silent on his religion, which has become a practical irrelevancy.

"The vast majority of those who are aware of Romney's faith say it doesn't concern them," said the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in summarizing a July poll. Of those who know he's a Mormon, only 19 percent said it made them uncomfortable.

You might think that starting off with a big handicap among one out of every five voters would be a dismal portent. But Richard Nixon could make a sloth jumpy, and Americans elected him by a landslide in 1972. Jimmy Carter made even teetotalers yearn for a drink. Americans wouldn't trust Bill Clinton with their daughters, but the nuclear codes were a different story.

Discomfort is not disqualifying. Mormonism is only one of Romney's attributes, and the election is not a referendum on the GOP nominee: It's a choice between Romney and Barack Obama, who has traits of his own that rub some people the wrong way and drive others up the wall.

There are two big reasons Romney's faith is having so little impact on the race. One is that the people most inclined to hold it against him have bigger things to worry about. White evangelicals may see the church as un-Christian, but they are so strongly opposed to Democrats in general and Obama in particular that theology gets dismissed.

In 2008, white evangelical voters went for John McCain over Obama by a 73-26 margin, according to the Pew Research Center. This year, they prefer Romney 74-19. They are too Republican to let a little heresy drive them away.

Aside from evangelicals, the group most uncomfortable with Romney's Mormonism consists of those who don't practice any religion. The good news for Romney is that being a Republican, he wouldn't have gotten most of their votes if he were the last politician on Earth.

Only 23 percent of Americans with no religious affiliation voted for McCain in 2008, and Romney is matching that. In a September Pew survey, 27 percent of the "nones" supported him, compared to 65 percent for the president.

But it would be a mistake to discount the other major factor: the ever-growing religious tolerance of the American people. In 1960, John Kennedy's Catholicism roused vocal opposition among large numbers of respectable people.

Protestant ministers and lay people representing 37 denominations formed a group called Citizens for Religious Freedom to assert, "It is inconceivable that a Roman Catholic president would not be under extreme pressure by the hierarchy of his church to accede to its policies with respect to foreign relations."

Today that sort of effort, directed toward Catholics or Mormons, would be seen as scandalously illegitimate. Faith is regarded as a private prerogative. The 2008 attempt to damage Obama with his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, failed for that reason. Even the claim that he was a Muslim didn't matter.

Americans have no trouble remembering that they are electing a president. Deciding who gets into Heaven? They'll leave that to someone else.

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  • R C Dean||

    if he loses

    If? I thought Obama had this in the bag, with a solid lead nationally and big leads in all the swing states.

    I mean, seriously, he's a shoo-in, right? No wonder he looked like he was just going through the motions during the debate.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Yeah, I was going to say the same thing. Also, we will be seeing more documentaries and stories about Mormonism running up to the election. Unlike Obama's muslim problem, Romney actually is a Mormon and a leader in the church. Their cult like and patriarchial practicea will be discussed and some people that may be considering Romney will be turned off by it. Most likely by how much power church leaders like Romney have over their congregations lives. IMHO anyways.

  • Enough About Palin||

    I have mormon friends and you are full of shit.

  • Generic Stranger||

    Yup. I lived in Northern Nevada, which, being adjacent to Utah, had a fair amount of Mormons. They were pretty much just like any other Bible thumpers. They ranged from not very observant (my best in high school, a Mormon whose father was [IIRC] a deacon or a bishop, was an alcoholic and a druggie whose brothers weren't much different), to your standard fundies.

    As an atheist, the alarm that Mormons strike into people of other religions (who from my point of view are just as kooky) as well as atheists who should know better is extremely amusing.

  • ||

    I know this is just an anecdote, but it has stuck with me. When I lived in Twin Falls, Idaho (read: tons of fucking Mormons) my wife ran an apartment complex. One of the families was having hard times. They were considering going on welfare. But that would mean that dad would have had to move out. Well, the pastor/deacon/whatever the fuck, came an paid their rent in advance for 2 or 3 months. People brought groceries and cleaning supplies all so the couple would not have to go on welfare, thus, keeping the family together.

  • Generic Stranger||

    Yeah, they do a lot of that sort of thing too. One thing about them, they sure as hell take care of their own.

  • AlmightyJB||

    I'm quite sure that as long as you two the lion all is well.

  • John Thacker||

    That is what they said about Catholics when Al Smith and JFK ran. Mormons are a smaller minority, though, so automatically more weird.

  • R C Dean||

    The supposed advantage of the Mormon card is that it will cause evangelicals to stay home.

    Now, why evangelicals would be uncomfortable with conservative, family-oriented, and patriarchal, I have no idea.

  • John Thacker||

    Except that the people who say that, categorically, they wouldn't vote for a Mormon are much more likely to be Democrats and Independents than Republicans.

    There certainly are evangelical Democrats and Independents, however.

  • Randian||

    Faith is regarded as a private prerogative. The 2008 attempt to damage Obama with his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, failed for that reason.

    Are you kidding me?

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    It failed because the media desperately squished the story

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    Mormonism. Store food. Fear caffeine. Get nagged in surround sound.
    Yawn.

  • Rasilio||

    Yeah I was gonna say. The real issue is that Mormons ain't exactly feared as some sort of dangerous cult anymore.

    Lets see what happens if a Pentacostal or Scientologist or heavens forbid an Atheist gets nominated.

  • Pro Libertate||

    What? He's Mormon? It's legal for them to run for office?

  • John Thacker||

    Hmm. The percentage of people who say* (yes, that can be qualified) that they wouldn't vote for a Mormon (18%) considerably exceeds that that say that they wouldn't vote for a black person (4%), according to Gallup. Presumably a lot of the people who wouldn't vote for a black person wouldn't vote for a Democrat anyway, so that was no problem for Obama. (Yes, gays, Muslims, and atheists get worse scores than Mormons.)

    And yet I'm pretty sure (but I could be wrong) I remember Steve Chapman being one of those who thought that Obama's race hurt him, and that it was important to vote for him to demonstrate that the racists were wrong. Doesn't that mean that the issue might be hurting Romney, and that it's important to vote for him to remove the historical bias against Mormons?

    Maybe Chapman didn't write that. Without other evidence, I'd certainly conclude from this column that he thought that Obama's blackness didn't and doesn't matter.

  • robc||

    Presumably a lot of the people who wouldn't vote for a black person wouldn't vote for a Democrat anyway

    ???

    Most of the people I know who wouldnt vote for a black person ARE democrats.

    To understand that 4%, you need to spend more time in rural KY and similar areas.

  • Ken Shultz||

    If you spend any amount time talking to people from San Francisco of a certain sexual orientation/persuasion, and you happen to talk to them about Mormonism, you may hear them say a lot of things about how the Mormons bankrolled Proposition 8, which enshrined "marriage is between a man and a woman" as part of the California constitution...

    ...if you're lucky. You probably won't hear anything about the minorities and second generation immigrants, who disproportionately voted for Proposition 8. Mostly, you'll probably hear diatribes about magic underwear, etc. I think it's great that religious Republicans in the south don't seem to hold Mr. Romney's religion against him!

    But just because, in places like California, it's hard to gauge the magnitude of hatred directed at Romney for being Mormon vs. the magnitude of hatred Californians direct at religious people in general? That doesn't mean there aren't an awful lot of anti-religious bigots there.

    Believe me, there an awful lot of Diane Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, and Nanci Pelosi voters in California, who would never vote for Romney specifically because he's Mormon. And they don't think anything of telling you that--straight to your face.

  • R C Dean||

    I wonder how many of those people wouldn't vote for a Muslim, no matter what party? The things that supposedly make Mormonism objectionable should apply to Muslims in spades, right?

    I also wonder how many wouldn't vote for a Mormon if they were running as a Democrat?

  • robc||

    Like Harry Reid?

  • Generic Stranger||

    Reid's Mormonism helps him more than it hurts him in Nevada. A lot of Mormons vote for him just because he's of the same religion, and Mormons are the second largest religious group in the state (the largest is Roman Catholic).

  • robc||

    No doubt, but are there a lot of NV liberals refusing to vote for him because of his mormonism?

  • robc||

    My point being, those CAians mentioned above were lying. They would vote for Reid.

  • Generic Stranger||

    Maybe. Maybe not. It depends on whether their bigotry outweighs their TEAM reflexes.

  • Brandybuck||

    In San Francisco, TEAM reflexes trumps everything.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Yeah, I think a lot of people use bigotry to reenforce team reflexes. I'm not talking about their leaders, per se, though. I'm talking about from the bottom, up. (No pun intended)

    Isn't that what, "Fuck off, Christ-fag" is all about?

  • Ken Shultz||

    The only evangelical who ever made any headway with those people was an atheist.

    There's no way a Mormon could get nominated to run in one of those districts. If it were a national candidate? If Romney were a Democrat from Massachusetts instead? I suspect he'd still have a big problem with the Hollywood/San Francisco crowd. Jimmy Carter had trouble getting any traction with that crowd.

    I'm tellin' ya, these people from Hollywood and NorCal sound like Shrike.

    In regards to Muslims, something I've had some direct experience watching them react to, their defense of Muslims isn't really about being inclusive and tolerant. They defend Muslims because they think it irks the religious people on the right. It's the same think with their position on Israel--they defend the Palestinians because they know some evangelicals support Israel for religious reasons.

    But, you're right, if they were consistent, they'd be bigoted against Muslims, too. And if you scratch the surface, they are. It's just that their bigotry against evangelicals is, for the moment, stronger and more important to them than being bigoted against Muslims.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Some of that may be vague to some of you:

    "The only evangelical who ever made any headway with those people was an atheist."

    Jim Jones was an atheist. His idea was to preach atheistic socialism within the context of a church to reach people in the community who wouldn't have heard that message otherwise.

    Jim Jones' impact on the development of progressives in Norther California is thoroughly downplayed now, but Jim Jones was important in California politics. His relationships with everybody from Jerry Brown to Willie Brown and Diane Feinstein were really important to those politicians. His church members used to do all the grind work--working phones, knocking on doors, all that stuff.

    "Jimmy Carter had trouble getting any traction with that crowd."

    Jimmy Carter had trouble with them, in no small part, because he was a real, live evangelical.

  • Doctor Whom||

    You probably won't hear anything about the minorities and second generation immigrants, who disproportionately voted for Proposition 8.

    A few people brought that up at first, but the politically correct thought police wasted no time informing them that all talk of such matters was strictly forbidden.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    What we need is Vanneman to write a sequel to A Study in Scarlet.

  • ||

    How many Mormons have threatened to bomb showings of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone?

  • Doctor Whom||

    This year, they prefer Romney 74-19. They are too Republican to let a little heresy drive them away.

    I've heard people openly state that the issue is whether they hate Mormons or gays more.

  • ||

    But a Mormon is the Republican nominee for president, and he can take consolation that if he loses, it will not be because of his religion.

    You obviously have not talked to any straight-Republican-ticket voting fundie Christians who will not vote for a Mormon, like my mother. People not voting does affect elections.

  • Leo||

    I finally signed up for an account to specifically request an RSS feed that leaves out Steve Chapman posts. What a bunch of crap his writing is. I was reading through it, watching it get more and more ridiculous; about the time he said "non-religious people never vote Republican" I gave up, then realized I was taken in yet again by a Chapman post. Just stop it.

  • tipuasher||

    It is still viewed by many as an odd cult.
    http://fabianzaccaria.com

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