According to a recent Gallup poll, 25% of Americans would be less likely to support a candidate for President of the United States who is Mormon. When I see that statistic, I have to ask myself, “Why?”
One possibility is that there may be a concern that Church leaders in Salt Lake City would install a batphone in Washington, D.C., just as a previous generation worried about undue influence from the Pope on John F. Kennedy.
But the Mormon Church is really not that heavily involved in politics. They pick their battles, and then concentrate on issues with what they describe as a moral character, such as the ERA in the 1970s or California’s Proposition 8 more recently.
Even when the Church actually does take a position on a political issue, that’s no guarantee that rank and file Mormons will fall into line. The Mormon vote in Utah (when the state was more heavily Mormon than it is today) was instrumental in the repeal of Prohibition, against the vigorously expressed wishes of the then president of the Church, Heber J. Grant.
Mormons overwhelmingly supported Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal at a time when the leadership genrally did not.
And closer to home, many Utah Republicans are not buying into the Church’s support of a moderate immigration law in the State of Utah, preferring a more hard line stance. That Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, is a practicing Mormon should be a pretty strong clue that Church leaders aren’t pulling some sort of political puppet strings behind the scenes.
Another possibility is that people reason as follows: Mormons believe some pretty weird stuff, and we can’t trust anyone who believes weird stuff. But if that’s our standard, we should only elect atheists, for all religions have their share of supernatural, extrarational beliefs, which when described without sympathy from outside the tradition can come off as pure nuts. I have a Catholic friend who once, as an example, gave a description of a Catholic Mass from an unsympathetic perspective, and it did indeed sound crazy.
It’s true that Mormons believe that a Galilean peasant who lived 2,000 years ago had a profound effect on the entire human race, and that after his execution by the state he bodily rose again and ascended into heaven. Absurd as it may be, Mormons really do believe that.
When Mitt Romney ran in 2008, quite frankly the news coverage relating to his Mormon faith was pretty bad. But this time around, it has gotten markedly better. Now it’s not so novel as it was then, and with Jon Huntsman announcing there are two Mormons in the race. News organizations seem to have gotten up to speed very well over the last four years, but the public at large may still be lagging somewhat behind.
People vote for all sorts of different reasons, and if you don’t want to vote for someone just because he’s a Mormon, that is indeed your right. (I’m an Obama man myself, so I won’t be voting for either of them.)
But both Romney and Huntsman have already governed as Governors of states, and they each have a political track record. Rather than trying to infer their character based on the religion they practice, whether that is seen positively or negatively, each has an ample record of actual governance that is a truer predictive measure of what kind of public leader he will be.
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