Monday, January 23, 2012

Concerning Mitt Romney's "Mormon Problem"

Yes, he has one.

America's come a long way since JFK's uphill slog to prove that a Catholic could get elected president, but not so far that Mitt Romney's affiliation with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints isn't a problem for him, with respect to both the Republican Party's presidential nomination and the general election.

Evangelical Christians -- who constitute a big bloc within the GOP's primary electorate -- don't like Mormonism. They don't consider it a real version of Christianity, and some of them consider it a cult. They're not on board with Romney.

And, as this article from the Palm Beach Post explains, African-American voters aren't likely to be very positive about Romney when they learn about his church's historical treatment of blacks.

Now, it's true that a Republican presidential candidate has a hard time getting black votes anyway, and that it's even harder when he's running against a black sitting president. But the Mormon angle certainly doesn't help with those voters, and it's not likely to sit that well with non-Mormon white voters who have moved past identity politics, either.

I might as well trot out my fairly basic knowledge of Mormon doctrine (I joined the LDS church at 18, and left it a few years later) on this issue, as it bears explanation.

Per Mormon doctrine, we are all literally children of God, with the potential to "grow up" to be gods ourselves. Jesus is our eldest brother. That war between in heaven, in which Satan and the rebellious angels were expelled? They were our errant brothers and sisters, too. We were all angels in the "pre-existence," and took part in that war before coming to Earth to "gain a body" and learn some important lessons on our paths to godhood.

In that war, some angels fought bravely on the side of God. When they came to Earth, they got light skin.

And there were the bad guys, Satan's legions, who were "cast into the Outer Darkness."

A third group was the angels who were on the right side but cowered, hid, or cut and ran ... and, well, they got dark skin. Oh, and they were banned by God from the priesthood (which includes all adult males, btw) of the one true church.

Until 1978, that is, when the church got sued and its president (whose titles include "prophet, seer and revelator") got a memo from God -- I'm sure the timing was coincidental, just as it was with the church's abandonment of polygamy, in 1890, under federal government pressure -- that he'd changed his mind about the whole "black people as priests" thing.

So you can see why African-Americans, and those who think that African-Americans probably weren't angelic cowards in the pre-existence, might not be thrilled with the idea of a Mormon president. Especially one who was serious enough about his religion to serve as a missionary for two years and then as a local bishop and a stake president (stakes are area-based groups of Mormon congregations).

In actuality, American voters generally don't seem to like the idea of a president who takes his religion extra-seriously regardless of what that religion is. That's why we haven't seen a President Pat Robertson, President Gary Bauer, etc. yet.

Sure, a presidential candidate is expected to attend church. "I sleep in on Sundays" doesn't work when that question gets asked. It's less about religion per se than it is about energetic "community involvement." It's probably a plus if he's a deacon, or heads up a local ministry to the poor, or whatever.

But if he's been in the pulpit on a regular basis as a preacher, chances are he's said some things that will come back to haunt him. And if his religion is even a bit out of the mainstream (voters seem to prefer Baptists and Methodists), he starts looking a little too weird to trust with Ye Aulde Nuclear Footeball.

Romney's Mormonism is not the only killer of his presidential ambitions. But it isn't helping him, that's for sure.

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