Jun 15, 2012

The Elephant in the Room: Mitt Romney's Religion

The Mormon Temple
Salt Lake City, Utah, ca. 1880-1900
Two widely accepted facts about Mitt Romney is that he is a family man and an avid supporter of the LDS church. While the GOP says it has decided not to include Rev. Jeremiah Wright in the Election 2012 dialogue, another point of apparent agreement is a hands-off policy on discussing Romney's Mormonism. We may not be talking about it, but Romney's religion is an elephant in the room.

Mitt Romney is not the first Mormon to run for U. S. President. In 1844, Joseph Smith, Jr. , who had revealed a plan for organizing the kingdom of God on earth with himself as king, declared his candidacy for president of the United States,  just six years after Missouri's Governor expelled 15,000 Mormons from the state. In June, Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were arrested, dragged from jail, and murdered by a group of militia called out to protect the state against a feared Mormon uprising. Three years later, Mormon leader Brigham Young founded St. Lake City as home to the Mormon faithful. In Utah, under the long leadership of Young (1847-1877), building on the precepts of plural marriage and patriarchal, prophetic governance promulgated by Joseph Smith, the Mormons established a unique, cohesive, economically self-sufficient, and thriving society. Today, there are 14.4 million Mormons world-wide, six million in America and 8 million outside our country.

Throughout the nineteenth century and most of the twentieth, Mormonism has been viewed as an aberrant, bizarre, isolated, and largely self-contained religious movement cut off from the mainstream of American society according to Donald Scott, Queens College, City University of New York.

Although there are five or six Mormons in the Senate, including Sen. Harry Reid, and nine or ten in the House of Representatives, surveys show that 50% of non-Mormons know little of the LDS church and 42% are uncomfortable "with a Mormon" as president.  A Gallup tracking poll in April and June 2012 reported Romney commands the support of 84% of Mormons with President Obama garnering only 13%.

When John F. Kennedy ran for president in 1960, the country expressed the same concerns about his Catholic religion. Many feared the involvement and influence of the papacy on a Catholic in the White House. Kennedy addressed the nation on the issue of his religion.  He said his choice of religion wasn't important, but rather, his vision of "what kind of America" he believed in.

Fifty-two years later, the question of a candidate's religion resurfaces. Will it be a factor that influences the vote? We'll know when the election ends on November 6.



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