Faith in the individual candidates
With former Utah governor Jon Huntsman and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney both believed to be gearing up for a run for the presidency, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has again found itself answering questions about what these two prominent members believe.
Post reporter Sandhya Somashekhar wrote in a story published Tuesday that Mormon leaders see the ascendancy of these and other Mormons (such as convert Glenn Beck) as a sign "that the community has finally 'arrived,'" but added "researchers say there remains a deep mistrust of Mormons and that little has changed in public opinion to suggest that voters will be more open this year than they were in 2007."
If conservative Christian and Mormons share a political agenda, why do suspicions still plague Mormon politicians? Do media personalities such as Glenn Beck help or hurt the cause?
During the presidential campaign that led to the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960, my Sunday School teacher taught us as fact that:
1. If JFK were elected, he'd call up the Vatican every day to get "marching orders."
2. All Catholics stored weapons in their homes for the eventual uprising that would overthrow "Protestant America." Latin was still used by Catholics so they would have a means of secret communication during that war.
3. Convents had secret rooms where the dead babies resulting from illicit trysts with priests were kept. There were secret tunnels between priests' quarters and those convents.
4. Catholics were not Christians, as they worshiped "idols" and discouraged the study of the Bible.
Only later did I learn that much of this "fact" was taken from potboiler novels of the 1800s and intense Nativist prejudice. JFK went on to win the presidency, and the world did not come to an end, the Vatican was kept in the dark about much of US policy, and the Catholic uprising never took place. Kennedy was elected on the basis of youthful charisma, progressive ideas, and other factors that overshadowed his Catholicism (not to mention the "Five o'clock shadow" that helped do in Quaker Richard Nixon!). One of my relatives, virulently anti-Catholic, even developed a grudging admiration for JFK and bought a "Kennedy on a rocking chair" salt & pepper set!
I have a sneaking suspicion that the same would be true with a Mormon presidential candidate. Some would call attention to so-called "Salamander Letter" (see an LDS explaination of that controversy), others to the secrecy of some of the church's ceremonies. There would be scrutiny of the hierarchy in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the fact that Mormons view the church's president as a modern-day prophet.
At the same time, there would be people who would point to Mormonism's emphasis on family life, abstinence from alcohol and other drugs, commitment to service, patriotism, and entrepreneurial spirit. The claims hurled against Mormons would be found to be a mixture of fact and overstatement. We'd discover that Mormons are human - just like the rest of us!
It will then boil down to the qualifications of the individual candidates - and the ability of those candidates to avoid Nixon's mistakes in the debates! At that point, the excesses and overblown rhetoric and theatrics of a Glenn Beck will certainly harm Beck's chances for political office - but I doubt the more measured tones of a Romney will be called into question by those antics.
I think there are serious theological matters within Mormonism that should bear scrutiny; there certainly are within Quakerism! Imagine: Quakerism, a religion in which absolute integrity and honesty is expected? All people are treated as equals? War and the preparation for war are to be avoided? Sworn oaths are eschewed? Simplicity and plainness are lifted up as important principles? Outward forms are by-passed in favor of inward substance? Primary authority is seen as residing in the Holy Spirit and not written text and tradition? Goodness! Any one of those principles would appear to disqualify a candidate who is a member of the Religious Society of Friends! Yet we had two Quaker presidents in the 20th century - Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon!
I know, I know --I've heard it before. With Friends like these.... But my point is that they were elected on criteria other than the peculiarities of their little sectarian religion. They also proved to be very effective and fine presidents in certain areas - although they, too, proved to be all-too-human.
If a candidate with religious ties to Salt Lake City emerges with the qualities the electorate sees as needed in a president at this time: an answer to our economic woes; a sensible foreign policy; a viable domestic policy, then s/he may well be the next president.
February 8, 2011; 11:48 AM ET
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