Monday, January 30, 2012

The GOP’s Mormon question

(Salt Lake City, Ut.) A mostly unspoken reason for Mitt Romney’s failure to break away from the pack in the Republican presidential primary may be his Mormon faith. Beyond the famous Mormon Tabernacle choir, the fact that Mormons once practiced polygamy, and the internet picture of a voluptuous model wearing a shirt bearing the words “I can’t, I’m Mormon,” most voters in Georgia and around the country are probably unfamiliar with the Mormon religion. According to the Association of Religious Data Archives, only about five percent of Georgians are Mormon. The Pew Religious Landscape Survey indicates that nationally the percentage of Mormons is even lower at less than two percent.

Briefly, the official name of the Mormon Church is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church got its start in New York around 1820 when Joseph Smith said that God told him that all religions were wrong. As he recounted in his testimony, Smith tells of heavenly visions and visits by angels over the next few years. Smith said that in 1823 a resurrected prophet named Moroni directed him to a collection of buried golden plates that contained the writings of early American writings of Jesus. Smith recovered and translated the writings on the golden plates and published them in 1830 as “the Book of Mormon,” named for one of the prophets who compiled the writings.

Mormons believe that the Book of Mormon contains descriptions of an ancient Israelite immigration to America and Jesus Christ’s visit there. In addition to the Bible and the Book of Mormon, the LDS Church has two other sacred texts. The Doctrine and Covenants is a collection of Joseph Smith’s prophetic writings and the Pearl of Great Price contains Joseph Smith’s recreations of lost Biblical texts and a record of Abraham’s life in Egypt, which Smith allegedly translated from an ancient papyrus.

Smith started the church in Ohio, and eventually moved his followers to Missouri and then to Illinois. According to, Smith was killed by a mob in Carthage, Il. in 1844. After Smith’s death, Brigham Young led the Mormons to Utah where they established a theocratic settlement.

Because of Mormonism’s unique history, many mainstream Christians do not consider Mormons to be Christian and some even call it a cult. Unlike the Bible, much of which is supported by archaeological finds, the Book of Mormon’s history is vastly different from archaeological evidence. There is no physical evidence that supports the idea of ancient Israelites in the Americas and, because Smith returned them to Moroni after he had translated them, the golden plates cannot be examined. Further, the LDS Church believes in “open canon.”

As History of puts it, “Church leaders called General Authorities are also considered to speak the word of God in their callings. All these sacred words are considered to be scripture as well, and are treated as such.” At various times, this has allowed leaders of the church to reverse traditional church doctrines in short order such as the declaration in 1890 that prohibited polygamy and a more recent declaration in 1978 that permitted “all worthy male members of the Church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard for race or color.” Previously, the church had taught that one of the Israelite tribes that immigrated to America was punished with a “skin of blackness” for their disobedience (2 Nephi 5:21). Open canon is sharply different from the evangelical doctrine of Biblical inerrancy.

There are other important theological differences as well. The LDS Church teaches that believers will be made “equal in power, might and dominion” to Jesus and God, essentially becoming gods themselves, in the afterlife. With respect to the virgin birth, the official Mormon position is that Mary’s conception of Jesus was supernatural, but critics point to writings by Mormon leaders that say that Jesus was conceived naturally. Where mainstream Christians believe that hell is a place of everlasting torment, Mormons believe that, for most people, hell is a temporary “spirit prison” where they will have a second chance to repent. Along these lines, Mormons believe that the dead can be baptized vicariously, while mainstream Christians reject this doctrine. The Southern Baptist Convention created a video, “the Mormon Puzzle,” that addresses many of the differences between the LDS and other Christian churches. Many Mormons believe that this video portrays them unfairly.

Conversely, Mormons do share many values with mainstream Christians. These include patriotism, a strong sense of morality, and a belief in the importance of families. Like most Christians, Mormons tend to oppose abortion and same-sex marriage. This often places Mormons in the Republican camp with other religious conservatives. Utah is a reliably Republican state.

While there are definite theological differences, the question is how much they will (or should) matter in the presidential race. Article VI of the Constitution prohibits a religious test for any public office so Romney’s (or Jon Huntsman’s) religion cannot officially be considered. Unofficially, Americans have the right to vote for whoever they want for whatever reasons they choose. Polls by and the Salt Lake Tribune indicate that a strong majority of Americans (and a slight majority of Democrats) prefer a Christian president. Almost half of the respondents in the Tribune poll either did not believe or were unsure that Mormons were Christian. On the other hand, one in five respondents to the Christian Post poll still believe that President Obama is a Muslim.

Voters in the Republican primary will have to weigh Romney’s Mormon religion against a number of other factors. Romney has consistently performed better against Obama than the other GOP candidates in polls showing prospective matchups for the general election. Further, Romney’s platform, which includes promises to repeal Obamacare and keep taxes low, is more in line with the beliefs of most Republicans and Americans than that of President Obama.

Even though he is a Christian, President Obama’s policies have often angered Christians. There have been attacks on the freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, support for abortion and same-sex marriage, and a general insensitivity to religious believers such as omitting “by their Creator” when quoting the Declaration of Independence and not mentioning God in his Thanksgiving address.

In a close election, even a few votes swayed or not cast by Romney’s religion could return President Obama to the White House. Voters concerned about his Mormonism will have to decide whether to support a conservative Mormon or a nominal Christian whose administration is largely secular and far to the left of the American mainstream.

This article was first published on

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