Imagine—a Mormon in the White House! What has this country coming to? If you’re worried about the implications, you’re not alone. Millions of Americans share your concerns, but just what are the implications?
The 2012 Republican presidential primary candidate list includes not one, but two Mormons: Mitt Romney and John Huntsman. That so much is being made of that fact says a lot about the way Americans a vet political candidate in this country.
For some reason, misrepresentation of the facts is a natural part of the strange election ritual we’ve performed almost since the beginning of our republic. Candidates routinely misrepresent themselves in favorable ways and the other candidates in unfavorable ways.
In a democracy there are plenty of legitimate reasons to oppose a candidate, but using religious preference as litmus test is a tricky game at best. There is so much conjecture, urban legend, and sensationalistic gossip circulating between the various religious denominations it’s hard to sift through the thick layers of inaccuracy and get to the truth.
Take for example, the concern many have about Romney (and Huntsman) being Mormons. In a recent article in USA Today, Cathy Grossman notes that Robert Jeffress, a prominent Protestant minister in Dallas, “has long preached that if a Christian is not elected, God will lift his favor from the USA.” She goes on to quote Jeffress as saying, “[Mormonism] has always been considered a cult by the mainstream of Christianity.”
A 2011 poll done by LifeWay showed that seventy-five percent of Protestant pastors believe Mormons are not Christians. Twenty percent of both Republicans and independents say they would not vote for a Mormon candidate according to a recent Gallup poll. Like any other claim made in a political campaign, the idea that Mormons utterly fail to meet some abstract notion of what it means to be a Christian can be tested by anyone serious enough to check the facts for themselves.
In such cases, the discovery of the truth can leave a person with a lot of strange feelings. For example, it’s strange that “non-Christian” religions like many claim the Mormon Church to be, would call itself “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints” as the Mormon Church does. It’s strange that a “non-Christian” religion would observe the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper every Sunday, as the Mormon Church does. It’s strange that a “non-Christian” religion would believe in a book (The Book of Mormon) that mentions Jesus Christ twice as often as the New Testament, and openly invites the world to, “Come unto Christ and be perfected in Him” (Moroni 10:32), as the Mormon Church does. It’s strange that a “non-Christian” religion would have as its modern-day historical genesis, the literal visitation of God the Father and his son Jesus Christ to Joseph Smith, as the Mormon Church does. It’s strange that a “non-Christian” religion would require its members to openly express faith in Jesus Christ and his atonement as one of the requirements for entering its most sacred buildings (temples), as the Mormon Church does. Yet, in the face of all these facts, the rumors persist—”Mormons can’t possibly be Christians.”
Misrepresenting political candidates didn’t begin with the controversy over Romney’s (and Huntsman’s) religious background, nor will it end there, but this controversy is a clear example of the kind of distortion that can and does taint the political process.
The controversy over the issue highlights the fact that the religious background of a political candidate is important to some, but to others it is completely irrelevant. Jeff, a registered Republican, seemed almost apologetic as he explained that he thought Mitt Romney was a “nice guy and everything,” but, he went on to say, “I just can’t support anyone who thinks Jesus Christ was nothing but a good man, that he’s not really the Son of God. That’s why I can’t vote for Romney.”
On the other hand, Daniel, also a registered Republican and Romney supporter explains, “The person’s religion isn’t going to hurt me. To me it’s a non-issue.” For Daniel it seems to be more of a question of values rather than religious affiliation.
Clearly there are opinions on both sides of the question of whether religion should play any role at all in qualifying or disqualifying a person to be president, but the larger question is the role truth should play in a political campaign.
This is not a Republican problem or a Democratic problem; it’s an American problem. It’s perfectly acceptable to disagree with a candidate for whatever reason we choose. As long as that reason is based on accurate information, democracy will thrive. The more corrupt information becomes the rule for how we choose our leaders, the more corrupt the system itself will become, and we have no one to blame but ourselves.