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The Collective
Friday, December 1, 2006
By Dr. Steven Taylor

I have been otherwise occupied, so have not addressed this issue before now, but I have been giving it some thought. However, there is a legitimate to be raised as to how Romney’s Mormonism will impact his presidential bid. I do think that it is possible, in a field that does not currently have a clear social conservative in the pack, that Romney could win the nomination in spite of his Mormonism. However, I think that the issue is potentially more problematic that may currently be clear.

There are two key issues here. One is a matter of theological understanding, which is why is there a religious issue to begin with from the perspective of orthodox Christianity (although specifically in this case, Evangelicals), and the other is the fact that there are a great number of stories for the the media to exploit in terms of the “Mormon are odd” thesis.

Indeed, as a poll recently published in Time indicated, there are qualms in the public about Mormonism:

. A poll conducted in June by the Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg found that 35% of registered voters said they would not consider voting for a Mormon for President. Only Islam would be a more damaging faith for a candidate, the poll found.

Early this week, Slate had a piece on the topic of Romney’s faith, as did the DMN.

The Theology of it All. This is a fairly straight-forward issue, but also one that non-evangelicals (or the marginally religious) won’t be concerned about. However, if the issue at hand is can Romney appeal to the socially conservative, and especially evangelical, voters, then it is important to understand in terms of assessing Romney’s realistic possibilities to win the nomination.

The main issue between Mormonism and orthodox Christianity (Catholicism, mainline protestantism, Evangelicals, etc.) of various stripes is pretty fundamental: it is disagreement over who Jesus of Nazareth was and is. One cannot get more fundamental than this issue. Orthodox Christianity sees Jesus as the literal incarnation of God and the doctrine of the Trinity states that the Father, Son and Spirit are all God, not Gods, not part of God, not simply manifestations of God, but God: God in three persons. And the God in question is the eternal God, the creator of all things, and is ultimately singular in all of existence for all time.

The Jesus of Mormonism is literally the son of a God, although Jesus Himself is also a God. However, instead of being a complex ontological proposition like the Trinity, the idea here is that there are actually many Gods throughout space and time, Jesus being only one. Further, we all, as humans, can become a God as well.

It is this fundamental difference, in different iterations, that separates orthodox Christian theology from Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christian Scientists. Regardless of any other issue, they have different views on the essence of Christ. This is why, in a nutshell, orthodox Christians will often call these groups, Mormons included, as being cults.

Now, this may ultimately be of no consequence to a large number of voters. However, it will be an issue to some, it is jsut a question of what percentage of evangelicals. As such, Romney’s faith could even being a serious issue for his candidacy, if his views on faith turn off enough evangelical voters.

To put it another way: the non-religious or marginally religious may find all of this to be headache inducing nonsense. However, the difference between the theology of the typical evangelical and the typical Mormon are quite different, despite the cosmetic similarities. And for those voters who are motivated to enter politics because of their religious perspectives are simultaneously the kinds of voters Romney needs to win the nomination as well as the voters most likely to find his faith to be a stumbling block in terms of voting for him.

That is the crux of Romney’s Mormon problem.

For a dissenting view (of sorts) see this post at Evangelicals for Mitt. I say “of sorts” because it doesn’t exactly address the point I am making above, which is about primary voters. Still, the argument that theology doesn’t make for the presidency is a wholly valid one, and likely a position that many evangelicals will take in the ‘08 election. The question is: will enough take the opposite position? Also, if evangelicals decide to set aside certain key beliefs aside, might it be possible for them to set aside other issues and go with Rudy? It will be interesting to watch, at any event.

The Media Factor. There can be little doubt that much attention will be paid to Romney’s faith over the lengthy course of the primary season. Indeed, we have already seen some of this. While most of the stuff listed below are hardly a big deal, they could sum to some voters being uncomfortable with Romney. More specifically, they have the potential to hold Mormonism, and therefore Romney by extension, up for ridicule or treatment as an oddity (for example, South Park’s lampooning of Mormon history). Such a situation is not healthy for a presidential candidate.

  • The Underwear. As has been discussed in the Blogosphere of late (specifically at Andrew Sullivan’s site), there is the practice that Mormons have of wearing specific undergarments.
  • American Indians and Jesus. One of the tenets of the Mormon faith is that after His resurection, Jesus appeared to, and preached to, American Indians. Of course, the lack of any evidence of Christian influence on Native American culture prior to the colonization of the Americas has not been seen as problematic for this scriptural passage-at least not to Mormons.
  • Polygamy. While the mainline Mormon church has long rejected plural marriage, there is no denying that a discussion of Mormonism tends to require at least a passing reference to polygamy.
  • Race. There are also some issues on race that I am only partially acquainted with. They derive from such Mormon scriptural passages like 1 Nephi 23, 2 Nephi 5: 21 and 3 Nephi 2:15. Andrew Sullivan noted some of the race issues in this post. This is no small matter.

And yes, one can likely find any number of odd believes/practices of any given religious group. However, if those groups are mainstream, those items are easily ignored or dismissed. If the religious group is a minority and considered a little odd or mysterious to being with, each revelation leads to greater potential for ridicule. The fact that vast, vast number of Mormons are white makes it easier to ridicule their religious views in a mainstream setting.

Update/Point of Clarification: I am not herein arguing about whether Romney’s religious beliefs should influence voter, but am rather pointing out that there are obstacles that may well exist in his path to the nomination. While certainly not all evangelical voters will care about Romney’s theological views, some will. The question will become will there be enough who are so effected so as to alter his chances at the nomination?

(And as a side note, how acute is my bloggitis/poligeekness, that I consider writing a blog post on presidential politics to be a nice lunchtime break? It’s just sick, really.)

Sphere: Related Content

Filed under: US Politics, 2008 Campaign, Religion | |

18 Comments

  1. A few quick thoughts: Until anyone can show me how Romney has created a theocracy in the state of Mass., I have no fear nor concern about a Mormon Presidency! Frankly, I find the idea rather refreshing to have, what appears to be, a person of integrity and high moral character in office.

    There have been Mormon politicians in Congress for years so I am a little confused about why this is such a “big story.” Even Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, is a Mormon and a Democrat no less!

    Frankly, I think this is a ploy by the media-they are just licking their chops to see if the Religious Right/Evangelicals will support Romney.
    They are just itching to expose them for what the liberal media believes they are-Bigots!

    Comment by RJ — Friday, December 1, 2006 @ 2:04 pm

  2. American Indians? I had always thought they were actually a bunch of Jewish decendants that somehow ended up over here - and a bunch that had built up quite a civilization. (Again, ignore the fact that no evidence whatsoever for this exists.)

    Comment by B. Minich — Friday, December 1, 2006 @ 2:05 pm

  3. Perhaps he would have an easier time if he converted to Scientology…heh.

    Comment by Mark — Friday, December 1, 2006 @ 2:13 pm

  4. RJ,

    Understand: the point of my post is not whether Romney’s Mormonism make him worthy or unworthy to be the President, but whether it influences his chances for nomination.

    B,

    I think that there is an alleged linkage between Native Americans and the lost tribe of Israel, but I did not research that.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Friday, December 1, 2006 @ 2:17 pm

  5. Mitt Romney and the Politics of Mormonism

    Steven Taylor has a longish, detailed discussion of the bearing Mormonism might have on the chances of Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney gaining the Republican nomination, much less winning the presidency in 2008.
    I’ve got no real dog in this o…

    Trackback by Outside The Beltway | OTB — Friday, December 1, 2006 @ 2:24 pm

  6. I heard Mormons believe Jesus was born to a woman who was a virgin. Is that crazy or what? A woman who was a virgin and had a kid! Who could believe that? These guys are real weirdos!
    :)

    (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)

    Comment by LaurenceB — Friday, December 1, 2006 @ 3:52 pm

  7. I think it’ll be a net plus for him, especially in the primary.

    Evangelicals are present in large numbers in the primary. They have been hit over the head for years with the ‘intolerant’ label. This gives a chance to vote for (arguably) the most conservative guy and ditch the intolerant label in one swell foop.

    I think this is on occasion why black republicans tend to rise in the party mind quickly. Gives a chance to back a fresh face that’s different and prove the tolerance of the big tent. The same dynamic can be in play.

    Comment by Buckland — Friday, December 1, 2006 @ 4:59 pm

  8. I appreciated your article, for a number of reasons. One, Governor Romney must face each one of the issues you presented and be able to answer them in an effective manner, especially the race and polygamy (It remains a doctrine but is not practiced presently) issue. Something that you did not mention is that the Mormon Church does not tolerate any type of compromise with any of their Doctrine concepts; they even have an elaborate court system to deal with thinkers that investigate opposing views of the LDS churches management style of administrating its church affairs in which these theorists were excommunicated. There was an actual purging of these thinkers in the 1990’s. The concern here can the President (Romney) of the United States make a decision for “all” the citizens of the country that will have his soul condemned to be cast out of heaven.

    Comment by James Warren "Flaming Eagle" Mooney — Saturday, December 2, 2006 @ 12:57 am

  9. I wrote a longer, detailed post, but I lost it, so the race issue is a HUGE problem as blacks were forbidden to join and the church didn’t integrate until 1978. I am pretty sure Romney was a member prior to 1978.

    Comment by Talmadge East — Saturday, December 2, 2006 @ 11:41 am

  10. It’ll be very interesting to see how it all plays out! I think when people get to know Gov. Romney as a man — not just having the most prominent piece of info on him being his Mormonism — they’ll like him. Plus, think about alll the Southern Baptists who GOPers would never want to support: Gore, Clinton, Carter, et al.

    It’ll be interesting!

    Nancy

    Comment by Nancy — Saturday, December 2, 2006 @ 12:00 pm

  11. […] Blog Post: On Romney and the Politics of Mormonism, by Steven Taylor The main issue between Mormonism and orthodox Christianity (Catholicism, mainline protestantism, Evangelicals, etc.) of various stripes is pretty fundamental: it is disagreement over who Jesus of Nazareth was and is. One cannot get more fundamental than this issue. Orthodox Christianity sees Jesus as the literal incarnation of God and the doctrine of the Trinity states that the Father, Son and Spirit are all God, not Gods, not part of God, not simply manifestations of God, but God: God in three persons. And the God in question is the eternal God, the creator of all things, and is ultimately singular in all of existence for all time. […]

    Pingback by Steven Taylor Gets the “Main Issue” Right « Mitt Romney and Mormonism — Monday, December 4, 2006 @ 8:40 am

  12. The Mormon Church did not forbid any race from baptism or membership in the Church at any time. Blacks were denied the Priesthood, which Mormons believe is the authority to act in God’s name in such matters as Church administration and the performance of ordinances like baptism. That was what changed in 1978. With the receipt of the priesthood, black males could and have assumed leadership roles.
    For Mormons it is analagous to the physical descendants of Aaron being the only members of the House of Israel permitted to serve as Priests.

    Comment by Joe L — Monday, December 4, 2006 @ 10:09 am

  13. The fear for people who have lived under Mormon rule in Utah, is that Church views will become law. Health Sec. Leavitt’s appointment of a “anti-birth control” leader for family planning is a great example of where this leads. Mormons are patient. They awaiting the opportunity to fulfill their destiny to rule the world. BTW, the practice of polygamy was not ABOLISHED in the 1890’s, it was SUSPENDED until conditions make it possible for them to follow God’s “commandment”. Mormons are very clear (among themselves) on their many ultimate goals. Controlling government is a prime enabling objective. That’s what scares people who really understand the Mormons and their “mission”. A good study of objective Mormon history should be required reading for all non-Mormons before they embrace Mitt.

    Comment by William Mibbs — Monday, December 4, 2006 @ 11:30 am

  14. As I am a Mormon who is also southern I think I’ll weigh in here. I won’t vote for anyone based on their religion. So Mitt won’t get my vote automatically. Your commentary on our beliefs is fairly on target but presented in such a way to make us look strange. But that’s really another point. If being a Mormon alone makes a difference in one’s vote either way, then you are right about one thing, Mitt won’t get much of a chance. As to my vote, too early, don’t know enough about Mitt but can’t stand McCain or Rudy.

    Comment by Terri Wagner — Monday, December 4, 2006 @ 2:45 pm

  15. My intention was not to make Mormons look strange, but to highlight that they will, in fact, be cast that way in many a media story on Mitt Romney. Further, I was trying to underscore for the non-religious in the audience that many evangelicals do see Mormons as “strange” and I do think that that will have an effect on some of the GOP base come primary time.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Monday, December 4, 2006 @ 3:17 pm

  16. Dr. Taylor, I realize this is off topic, but I must respond to Mr. Mibbs’ apparent paranoia.
    I think he has confused Mormonism with some well-known terrorist groups who, in fact, are trying to take over the planet.

    “A good study of objective Mormon history should be required reading for all non-Mormons before they embrace Mitt.” OBJECTIVE being the operative word if such a thing exists.

    I have lived in Utah for quite some time now and I will take it over any other place I have lived.
    There is not a strip club on every corner, the place is generally clean and neat, the kids are fairly well behaved and the beauty of this place makes me wonder if this really is God’s Country.

    There is a reason Washington County, Utah is in the top 5 fastest growing places in the Country and it is not due to LDS birth rate.

    So Mr.Mibbs, you keep right on reading your history and spewing that rhetoric because I sure as hell hope the secret of this place doesn’t get out!

    Comment by Rae — Monday, December 4, 2006 @ 5:20 pm

  17. If the fact that religion could possibly prevent a well qualified politician- as Mitt Romney seems to be- from becoming President, then what does that say about the wall between religion and politics? Does that wall only work one way? Does it only work towards the direction that the loudest whiners push. If there is a seperation between church and state, then leave it there! Let the man run on his merits, not on other people’s superstitions.

    Comment by DaleThornton — Monday, December 18, 2006 @ 11:38 pm

  18. Romney’s Mormonism Redux

    Damon Linker has an interesting piece in TNR that more explictly looks at Mormonism and how that may affect the candidacy of Mitt Romney for president.
    Within days of stepping down as governor of Massachusetts on January 4, Mitt Romney is expected to a…

    Trackback by Outside The Beltway | OTB — Tuesday, January 2, 2007 @ 3:02 pm

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