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Introduction: As we go to press, the GOP convention is being held in Tampa, Florida, where Mitt Romney will become the first member of the LDS Church to become a major party nominee for president. In this series of short commentaries, we have asked our contributors, "Does Romney's Mormonism make a difference?" We have purposefully left that question very open to interpretation. We hope our readers will enjoy this roundtable commentary.

I. Bryan Benson: On the Romney Candidacy and Mormon Assimilation

It is a well-worn, because true, cliché that history is full of ironies. And the fact of a viable Mormon candidate for the US Presidency surely qualifies as one them. Back in 2008, when, as it turned out at least, Mitt Romney was just getting warmed up as a Presidential candidate, in an academic venue at Princeton University Professor Kathleen Flake discussed Romney's prospects in light of the 1903 Smoot hearings. The concern with Smoot, she noted, was really not all that different from the concern with Romney in 2008: everyone just wanted to be sure he was not a religious fanatic; Americans want their presidents to be religious, just not too much so.[i] Safe to say the Romney campaign believes this still holds true in 2012. If Romney's Mormonism ever sprang from religious zeal or what was once called enthusiasm, at least in a way that transcended a mere sense of duty, we are not likely to hear about it in this campaign. So far, in fact, we have not even heard much about the sense of duty. At any rate, the great irony, of course, is that that "relic of barbarism", i.e., polygamy, that so much separated Mormons from the rest of America, and that, more than anything, prompted four years of Senate hearings on the question as to whether Smoot should be allowed his seat, is now so far in the past and so much repudiated by the church as to be of no concern at all for Romney's candidacy. Romney must be, as much or more than any presidential candidate in history, a model monogamist.

But this obvious irony cannot be separated from the economic one. The communitarian principles or elements in Mormon doctrine are more or less well-known, as are the attempts of the early converts to the faith to establish and live by them in Ohio, Missouri and elsewhere. The economic history of Utah Mormonism is less rehearsed. Brigham Young understood very well that "Zion" could only be a more or less closed society, protected as much as possible from the outside influence of "Babylon." In the late 1860s, as the completion of the transcontinental railroad neared, the tension between these two worlds came to a sort of head as a group of merchants and freethinkers—collectively known as the "Godbeites", after their intellectual leader, Salt Lake City merchant William Godbe—who favored both free trade and open discussion defied President Young's attempts to maintain a relatively closed, authoritarian and economically restricted society. As Ronald Walker notes in his fine history of this conflict, while Brigham Young succeeded in excommunicating Godbe and, thereby, stifling the influence of he and his followers for a time, the kingdom President Young was trying to build, or merely to hold together, was no match for the for the juggernaut of American capitalism.[ii] It was a defining moment, Mormonism's last stand against economic assimilation. And so it is that the current Mormon moment in politics can feature a Mormon candidate who is both a model monogamist and model proponent of capitalism. Alas, what would Brigham Young say?

Whatever the answer to that question, and, admittedly, it might be complicated, it is hard to argue against the proposition that politics has shaped Mormonism much more than Mormonism has shaped politics. The principles that separated Mormons from the rest of America seem to be solidly in the past. However, while the eccentricity of polygamy still garners most of the attention, our economic assimilation is more important, and more relevant in the current election. Romney, like anyone else, can be completely in harmony with the Church's teaching on marriage; polygamy, we now know, is not a requirement for exaltation. The teachings respecting Zion, on the other hand, remain intact. Whether one believes that we are not called to live those teachings at this moment or that we simply do not live them, no serious Latter Day Saint can feel completely comfortable with either economic individualism or with the tremendous inequality that results from it. This is not to say that one must see government as the remedy to inequality, but simply that the principles themselves, because in tension with Mormon doctrine, must necessarily produce a certain amount of unease. If we find no sign of uneasiness regarding these things in Romney or other Mormon candidates for high office, it may be more a matter of prudence than principle. Or it may be a sign of the extent of Mormon assimilation.

In that respect, it is worth wondering how far assimilation can go. That may be a question that cannot be avoided. Now that it is claimed by some to be both 'hateful' and 'intolerant', for example, to oppose innovations in the meaning of marriage and family, how long can a favorable view of Mormons persist? Of course it is not a given that these accusations of intolerance represent or will come to represent the majority view. But given the tendency of the debate, it is not inconceivable. If so, the Mormon moment and the Romney candidacy may turn out to be doubly ironic. Conservatives in large part still oppose same-sex marriage, perhaps for differing reasons, but what is clear with respect to Mormonism is that our unique theology makes any sort of compromise on this issue impossible. Should such a shift of opinion take place, the decades of "good behavior" on the part of Mormonism and Mormons required to make a Mormon President a genuine possibility may much more quickly give way to a renewed opposition between the Church and American society. And the first Mormon moment, because this is where assimilation must end, could turn out also to be the last one.>p>

[i] Flake, K. (2007). Senator Reed Smoot: America's 'Pontifex Babbitt' and Mormonism's Political Prototype. Presented at the Mormonism and American Politics Conference, Princeton University, November, 2007. Retrieved from: http://www.princeton.edu/~csrelig/mormonism&politics#EarlyEncounters

[ii] Walker, R. (1998). Wayward Saints: The Godbeites and Brigham Young. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press.


2) Stephen Cranney: Mitt Romney's Mormonism: A Series of Rants

Some pundits have argued that Mitt Romney should de-emphasize his Mormonism as much as possible for fear of unleashing American-as-apple-pie anti-Mormon fear.

People ready to pounce on the Church have argued that he should be forced between a rock and a hard place of having to comment on past church practices and doctrine, forcing him to either appear to be a sell-out to his beliefs or a believer in doctrines that can appear unreasonable to modern sensibilities. Somehow nobody is anxious to ask President Obama whether he thinks it is okay to physically assault people who disagreed with him theologically (i.e. Jesus in the temple), or ask Joe Lieberman if it’s okay to kill your son because you think God is telling you to do so (i.e. Abraham’s sacrifice), and try to imply an invidious connection between his views on this and his approach to child welfare. For adherents of a mainline religion, it is generally understood that these behaviors are out-of-bounds regardless of whatever theological explanations they privately hold for justifying them in the past. But when it comes to Romney, some honestly believe that he’s metaphorically going to strap his son onto the altar.

As Mormons, should Mitt Romney’s Mormonism play a factor in who we vote for? Both voting for him because he was a Stake President and voting against him because voting for a Stake President would make one too much of a conventional “Utah Mormon,” (replace with “New York Jew” and see how it sounds) is equally dumb. There is enough of a variety of Mormon political opinion that one really can’t draw too many policy-specific conclusions by the mere fact that he’s a member of the LDS church, or what he would do once he got into office. Because of the LDS emphasis on chastity, dietary laws, etc., I assume he’s going to refrain from Kennedy-era bacchanalias and diplomatic cocktails, but I’m not one to see that as terribly relevant. Thankfully, the substantive lines between the two “fundamentally different visions” (Obama) of the two candidates are becoming more apparent, helping assure that this election is about real issues, and not reduced to calling the other person’s religion playground invectives.

Because of shared narratives, frameworks, and vocabulary, we fellow Mormons can use his Mormonism as a heuristic device that outsiders don’t have, but I’m not even sure if this is terribly accurate, or if it really gives us any new information. For example, I’m fairly certain that he comes from that segment of Mormonism that does not see anything morally wrong with gratuitously massive accumulations of personal luxuries and indeed, often sees such accumulations as manifestations of divine favor. In my admittedly anecdotal experience people like this tend to be very business-like leadership styles, a hardly revelatory conclusion in regards to Mitt Romney. The fact that he was a Bishop could indicate that he does have a more sophisticated approach to individual-level human issues than he is given credit for, but for a political office that by its nature deals with broad-brushed, macro-level policies I’m not sure how relevant this is either. At most it might deflate the notion that he’s lived in a hermetically sealed Garden of Eden his whole life. His Mormonism does suggest that, for all the media emphasis on his lack of conviction (although I’m not sure why Obama hasn’t been stuck with that label as well), there is a core something there.

I could go on, but if you were to place a dozen Mormons in the room they would be a dozen different opinions on this question, which reflects the diversity of opinion and experience found within Mormonism, a diversity outsiders would do well to note before they canonize the source on Mormonism that confirms their preconceived notions.

This diversity within Mormonism should be respected by Mormons themselves. People can pick their own pet doctrine and use their own personal exegesis to say that real Mormon doctrine emphasizes (insert here: preserving the environment, not torturing prisoners, women’s rights, helping the poor, economic freedom, etc.); there’s nothing wrong with this per se; I have my own personal views on what themes in the scriptures and traditions God cares more about, but people should not try to read their own “authentic” brand of Mormonism into Mitt Romney or dictate it as a basis of what he should represent above and beyond what he should do as a human being. The office of the President is a political and public one and is my business as a voter. How closely Mitt Romney adheres to the genuine will of God is a personal matter between Brother Romney and God, and is not my business any more than theological disagreements with Protestant, Catholic, or non-believing Presidents are my concern.


3) Ryan Decker

Mitt Romney’s Mormonism raises two main issues for me. One may be unique to me and a few other Mormons, but the other should concern all of us. The first is my concern and annoyance at the sheer volume of attention the Church has received in the media during the Romney campaign (and will likely continue to receive during a Romney presidency). Rarely does a day go by that I do not see another article about Mormonism in major press. Most of these articles say similar things. The author has stumbled upon what they believe to be an original and insightful view of the religion and its people: Mormon culture is a product of a “Protestant work ethic” along with special attention to wealth by Joseph Smith and other leaders; we may even be a “gospel of greed.” Our admirable focus on family values is offset by our strange practices (usually including some confusion about Church policy on caffeine), a past of racism and oppression of women, and a view of “continuing revelation” which must explain the apparent ease with which Mitt Romney changes his political preferences. Few of these pieces bother to explore the wide heterogeneity which exists among Mormons, and nearly all of them think they have cleverly explained everything about Mitt Romney by drawing on his religion. The typical Mormon article is far less original and clever than the author thinks, and it is typically riddled with inaccuracies—inadequate portrayals of Mormon faith and culture if not factual errors. I find most of these articles less than helpful in explaining the Church to non-Mormons, and frankly I find it annoying to read about my religion, and see others drawing oversimplified conclusions about it, nearly every day. This complaint is not likely to be representative of Mormons in general; many of us are basking in the new light of this “Mormon moment” and enjoying seeing discussions of, say, the Church’s fiscal prudence in national press.

My second complaint, though, should receive more attention that it presently does in Mormon circles. Simply put, a national political career is unbecoming of those with Mormon beliefs and is unlikely to accurately portray the values we embrace as a religion. Surviving in national politics requires passing through several filters. A successful national politician must be willing to dishonestly misrepresent the views their opponents and even their own past positions; they must claim to believe a checklist of things which they are very unlikely to actually believe; they must actively sell influence and policy promises to narrow interests, often to the detriment of broader national interests; they must sacrifice the privacy of associates, friends, and family under the intense vetting of press and opponents; they must make promises they know they cannot keep; and they must do a number of other things which most people would consider dishonest and immoral in any other context but politics. Needless to say, this is a very high cost to pay. I do not pass spiritual judgment on those who choose to pay the cost, but I can say that a politician’s behavior is not what we should want from the most high-profile member of our religion. Complicating the matter further is the fact that a national leader must make difficult decisions with considerable moral implications on topics like legislation of religious tenets, national security and human rights, war, and poverty. These will be controversial and will inevitably affect the way many people view Mormonism, as will the ever-present partisan toxins which permeate the minds of so many. Some of us are excited simply to see that a member of a group which was once forced to leave the United States at gunpoint can now contend for the nation’s most important office, and that sentiment is understandable. But we should stop and consider whether having our people in national office will have the effect on broader understanding which we desire. A recognition of the costs of a Mormon presidency, though, does not render the voter’s choice obvious; it is simply another factor to weigh in the decision.


4) Ralph Hancock

Unless you believe that a person’s deepest views about life’s meaning – what makes it good, what rules ought to govern it, etc. – are irrelevant to politics, then you must believe that Mitt Romney’s Mormonism matters for his candidacy for the U.S. Presidency. And how can the governance of a political community not involve questions concerning the preservation and advancement of the distinctive goods of that community?

To be sure, that most urgent stakes of this election (jobs, deficits, healthcare) may seem far removed from religious questions. But, much as we might like to compartmentalize and defer the vexing “social issues,” they beset us, and they will not be going away. The democratic platform, I am told, will contain a pro “Gay-marriage” plank for the first time. In any case, it is an illusion to imagine that the “economic” and the moral-social can be separated. It suffices to notice that grave and pressing issues of religious freedom have already appeared within the healthcare debate. Moreover, the illusion that economic and moral-familial health can be separated is not some neutral finding but a partisan position – the increasingly defining position of the Democratic party. Democrats favor non-judgmentalism regarding family forms and sexual customs, and they look to the state to facilitate and subsidize our liberation from the traditional family. Some Republicans see that “the family is the basic unit of society” and that the state can never take its place, but ought rather to nurture and incentivize and legally protect strong, traditional families.

Is Romney one of these Republicans? One would think so, since he is by all accounts a deeply committed L.D.S. Of course it is possible to be L.D.S. and favor the new “tolerance” that increasingly defines the Democratic party -- and which of course is limited in its tolerance for view of the family that are on “the wrong side of history” – the views of “bigots,” that is. Harry Reid, I am told, gave it as his view, in a recent meeting with L.D.S. students, that the Mormon church would ere long get over its opposition to gay marriage. I don’t think so, and I don’t hope so. And I imagine Mitt Romney to agree with me (and, incidentally, with multiple and emphatic statements by Church leaders – whatever Harry Reid might wish or expect them to say, some day). But does Romney have the courage of his convictions – or, perhaps more to the point, the is he acquainted with the reasoning necessary to support his moral-religious convictions and advance them in the public square? This, alas, may be doubted, since the descriptions we have read of Brother Romney as essentially a technocrat seem all too plausible. It seems he pursued his higher education right in the midst of the first great outbreak of the “culture wars” in the late sixties and early seventies, but somehow hardly noticed the ethical-political tumult swirling about him, while he was achieving those high grades, or the intellectual challenge implicit in this tumult.

Like many of us, a President Romney might wish and hope that this challenge can be deferred while he attends to the purely economic dimensions of the job. I think such a wish is bound to be disappointed.


5) George Handley

The opportunities to tell our story to the world have never been greater than they are now in the so-called Mormon moment of Romney’s candidacy, and we as members have a responsibility to be proactive in shaping the discourse. For the most part, I sense that Romney’s candidacy has helped the rest of America to sort out the various positions that are possible within Mormonism. It seems Harry Reid’s Mormonism, for example, has received greater attention than ever before.

But I have more concerns about how we Mormons understand ourselves than how the world comes to understand us. I wonder if we can remember that our church has members across the world with a wide variety of political philosophies and that the reason the church strives to remain as politically neutral as it does has to do with the fact that the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the central mission of the church in bringing the restored gospel to the world transcend political divisions within and between nations. This fact seems to make it incumbent on us to remember the need to keep politics and gospel principles at some remove from one another. I don’t mean to suggest that one’s faith should not guide one’s political philosophy. What I do mean, however, is that whatever the reasons I might feel drawn to certain ideas due to my loyalty to a set of revealed doctrines about the nature of God and of his Kingdom, I should be careful about assigning the same weight to my political views as I do to my religious convictions. I still need to attend church and worship and be unified with brothers and sisters of a wide variety of political convictions. Maybe because I am a liberal living in Utah County, but I am reminded weekly of this responsibility. I wonder if it is the same for many of my Republican brothers and sisters here whose experience as a super majority has only narrowed the gap between religious and political conviction.

What I wish we could see more of, on the right and on the left, is a political philosophy that allows for the possibility that the same spirit that moves me to certain ideas and policies might be moving others in different directions. That might seem like a contradiction, but it is the key to civility and to a broad-minded view of the gospel’s relevance. We see this principle in action every time a new bishop or a new mission president is called. Certain changes are made and a slightly or sometimes very different tone and set of decisions begin to change a ward or a mission as a result. And yet we remain convinced that both the old and the new bishop acted under inspiration, even if they seem to be in disagreement with one another. Doesn’t something similar happen when presumably even leaders of the church vote differently? Political philosophies are like prisms that allow only a certain range of light to reflect upon our reality. Somehow we need to keep turning the prism to see the full range of possibilities available to us. We might have a better idea of that range when we finally have a Mormon Democrat running for President, or a European Mormon socialist running for Prime Minister somewhere, or, say, a moderate Mormon woman or Mormon of color running for office, anywhere. I never thought I would see the day when a Mormon was this close to the presidency of the United States. So now it has me really dreaming.


6) Valerie Hudson

In my opinion, Romney’s Mormonism only makes a difference if it makes a difference to him. The evidence on this score is ambivalent. Perhaps that is by design: after all, some argue that if Romney’s Mormonism makes a difference in the positions he takes on policy issues, then he is unfit to be president since he would be “under the thumb” of some religious leader. However, as a principled voter, if Romney’s Mormonism does not make any difference in his policy stances, that gives me very little reason to vote for him (which does not mean I would necessarily vote against him).

Could one tell Romney is a Mormon from his policy positions? In one case, the answer is indisputably yes. I was pleased to see that the press states Romney would allow exceptions for abortion in the case of rape or incest or threat to the life of the mother, which aligns more or less with the LDS (and the general American) stance. In this Romney differs in a positive way from both his vice presidential pick as well as the GOP platform. However, that stance is not mentioned on his website at all, though it states his desire to overturn Roe v Wade and allow each state to determine its own law. (http://www.mittromney.com/issues/values ) This raises a question in my mind: if a state chose not to allow such exceptions as Romney proposes, would Romney merely shrug and say, “that’s the people’s will”? On the issue of marriage, Romney believes in federal legislation, even a constitutional amendment, to constrain state law; would he do the same or not concerning abortion?

In virtually all other policy areas, it is difficult to readily discern the influence of his LDS belief system. For example, Romney can sound quite bellicose on foreign policy and his website states he is determined to increase defense spending to 4% of GDP, though the LDS are exhorted to “renounce war and proclaim peace.” On other issues, we might inquire whether Romney evinces concern for “the least of these my brethren.” I honestly cannot say from the policy positions on his website; perhaps he does, but the matter is open to interpretation. While others won’t vote for Romney because he is a Mormon, it is possible others may not vote for Romney because they would never know he was a Mormon if all they had to go on were the policy positions enumerated on his campaign website. In the meantime, I’m still trying to figure it all out . . . maybe we will learn more after the GOP convention.


7) Karen Hyer, J.D., Ph.D., former candidate for US Congress

I am grateful that information about Romney’s upbringing, family and Church leadership positions is finally coming to the public eye.  Basically he is what you see: no guile, detail and goal oriented, a bit awkward before the press, loyal to his friends, competent, visionary, and holding clear values of faith, family, and commitment.  He is just what Washington needs—someone who is no nonsense about his work and goals but caring with those who need help.  He has shown throughout his life that he loves to take challenges and solve problems.  And his great earned wealth and how he lives with it gives me comfort that he will not be so easily manipulated by the interest groups and cronies who are continually focused on their own bottom lines and personal aggrandizement.  After all, he does not need their money to secure his family’s status and future.  Indeed, this may be his greatest challenge if he gains the White House—how to stay on course to meet his goals for the greater good given the constant pressures to deviate to benefit special interests, sometimes driven by people he has known for years as colleagues.  Basically, I think Mitt Romney is a good man and he will do his best to solve problems for the greater good.  He will learn not to make light of serious matters but hopefully will continue to have a good spirit and be a clear channel for positive inspiration.

As to us, as Members of his Church, Romney’s nomination is a two-edged sword.   We are already under scrutiny and the debate is heating up about the nature of our religion.   Positively, the Church, its members, its worldwide humanitarian outreach, the adherence to family values and the importance of personal integrity and development are becoming more known and respected.  Negatively, the investigative reporters will seek to expose not only the quirks of our members, but also the darker side of some of the human interaction in the Church.  Of course, the usual issues with polygamy come out, no matter how we try to set the historical record straight.  As an educated female convert, I shied away from joining the Church for decades because of my perceptions concerning the status and treatment of women.   Some of what I heard and internalized was wrong, but when I chose to come to “God’s university” instead of taking a job back at my alma mater, Stanford, I endured gender and age discrimination that I had never experienced before in my life growing up in the technical and educational circles of the west coast and Silicon Valley. There are many others who have had the same experience and have quietly continued with their work but have deep feelings of hurt and oppression.  And I wonder if part of Mitt Romney’s desire to do his undergraduate work at Stanford reflected his own desire not to be bound by cultural constraints he considered backward. Interestingly, it was Ann who insisted that they remain at BYU.   This soft underbelly of the Church has been discussed numerous times by the top ecclesiastical leadership who try to model better behavior in their own relationships.   This is one of the areas where a President Romney can be a role model. He shows love and devotion to his wife and his family and he has hired some important women on his staff. But as President, he will have to reach out to many others and choose people with real competence and courage.  He has told Newsmax reporter Ronald Kessler in the September 2012 issue that he wants to make government more efficient and productive by hiring people who “are able to contribute to the public good without burdening it” and in vetting nominees will concentrate on their actual performance history.  I am looking forward to having a man in the White House who is truly widely experienced, has proven competence, and has a history of looking after others.  He is confident in his well-used ability to solve problems but humble about his status as a man.


8) Erik Linton

There is plenty of room within the Mormon faith and culture to accept or reject Mitt Romney. The general public may have a harder time separating Mormon faith, culture, and doctrine from Mitt Romney. Is this a good thing or a bad thing for the church?

In 2008, Romney’s Mormonism was a sore on the heel of the Romney campaign. This time around, even the most conservative evangelicals are facing the catch 22 of voting for a Mormon candidate or a liberal incumbent. The result is that many of the previous antagonists are looking for a way to justify voting for a Mormon. Rather than disputing distinct and divisive points of doctrine, mainstream American Protestants are looking at shared values. Inevitably, this is a step closer to recognizing Mormons as legitimate Christians rather than a religious cult. Rather than Mormons fighting their way into the current of American Mainstream Christianity, the current is finding them.

Noah Feldman of Bloomberg speculates that the “normalization” of Mormonism presents a challenge to the characteristics that make Mormonism distinct, such as additional scripture or modern day prophets. He postures that Mormons may downplay their differences in order to simply fit in. In contrast, I believe that Mormons only want their differences to be clarified. The Mormon faith is intrinsically bound to those unique characteristics of continued revelation, modern-day prophets, and the divine restoration of the ancient church of Christ. The Book of Mormon is referred to as the keystone of the Mormon religion. If Mormonism is to be normalized, it will be done as Mainstream American Protestants broaden their definition of a Christian as someone who accepts Christ as their savior.

History has shown that Mormonism is not bound to one specific political ideology. Mormonism as a whole has and will continue to ebb and flow from the left to the right. Mitt Romney and Harry Reed will both attend their church meetings this Sunday. The city of Zion may move from Independence Missouri to the Salt Lake valley, but the identifying characteristics of Mormonism will be constant. It will be much easier for the Mainstream to accept what Mormons already claim, that they are in fact Christians, than it will be for Mormons to pluck the keystone from the arch of their religion.


9) Janille Stearmer

I find myself greatly disappointed by Mormons in politics this year, particularly Mitt Romney and Harry Reid. I cringe at some of their behavior and statements, personally finding them uninformed and out of touch. I hope non-Mormons will withhold judgement on the rest of us.

I suppose I can truthfully say that Mitt Romney's Mormonism does make a difference to me, because I hold him to a higher standard as a presidential candidate. He's been a life long member of the Church with a long pioneer history, as have I, and he has held many leadership positions, as have I. Thus, I know that he has been taught many of the same doctrines and principles that I have. So, it is with great disappointment that as I learn more about his business practices, his political and social policies, and observe his campaign behavior, I find that, in my opinion, they do not match up to what I feel he has been taught throughout his life in his religious upbringing. When I read articles that quote other prominent Mormons saying that they support Romney because of "shared values" I often wonder what "shared values" those may be. I personally have found many non-Mormon political candidates to share the same values I do in many respects, and I have found many Mormon candidates to have policies that I find to be in direct opposition to my religious values.

Interestingly enough, I think it is this very circumstance that will help other Mormons, American or not, to really evaluate their business and political interactions with Mormons and non-Mormons alike. The Mormon community has been very insulated as a form of self-preservation and we form very tight knit communities wherever we are. On the positive side, that tendency produces a huge support system for church members around the globe. On the negative side, however, it has produced a bias towards what I would call almost a blind trust that has led to a great many personal and financial tragedies in the LDS community. It is a tendency that I fear leaks over into the political realm as well, with Mormons assuming that because a candidate is Mormon, or in their stake, ward or mission (or a relative's stake, ward or mission) that they "share the same values" and no further due diligence is required. It must be noted that one can disagree with a Mormon candidate on political and social policy, yet still find them to be a generally decent person, in good standing with the Church.

Mitt Romney's presidential candidacy at this time, particularly with other prominent Mormons in high political positions as well, will hopefully encourage Mormons to really investigate their own understanding of Church doctrine and how that translates into the public sphere when supporting any candidate, regardless of religious or political affiliation. We are a global religion that is still growing and if we take the statements made by Church leaders seriously, that principles compatible with the Gospel can be found in all major political parties, then it becomes our responsibility to seek out and understand these principles better, and discover how the application of those principles translates into public policy.


10) Thelma Young

Mitt Romney’s Mormonism does not matter to me because I will not be voting for him. His policies that he has laid out do not reflect my own belief system, even though we are from the same religion. I believe if he were to become President it would adversely affect the lives of America’s poor, minorities and women, as well as increase the level of socio-economic inequality that exists. Furthermore, I believe his energy policy will lead to further unnecessary destruction of this earth.

If there is any message that rings loudly in Christian doctrine, and especially in the Book of Mormon it is the importance of taking care of the least fortunate in our society.  We are told to “succor those that stand in need of your succor” and to not “suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish” (Mosiah 4: 16). Indeed our salvation depends upon it –

“And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you-that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God-I would they ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spirituality and temporally, according to their wants” (Mosiah 4:26).   

Mitt Romney has made it clear that he does not care about America’s disenfranchised and claims his focus is on the needs of America’s middle class. [1]  I do not believe he will help the social safety net, and instead I believe his plans to cut non-security spending as well as give breaks to corporations and the rich will hurt those most in need. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that 62% of the cuts proposed in Paul Ryan’s plan, Romney’s VP pick, will come from low-income programs. [2]

The Book of Mormon stresses repeatedly the dangers that happen when socio-economic inequality increases in a society, and in America it has been widening the past 20 years. [3]  The six heirs of the Walmart empire have a combined wealth of some $900 billion, which is the more than the entire 30% of the bottom of America. [4] When 20 million American kids get a free or reduced-fee lunch every school day [5], when almost a quarter of the country is living in or near poverty [6], it is horrific to me that these and other social safety net programs could be cut. I do not believe Romney’s plan to help large corporations will help America’s poor. Republican’s trickle down theory has not worked. Since 1980 the GDP has doubled, but poverty rates have remained essentially flat. [7]

Romney lives in the fantasy world that hard work alone will be enough to let people take care of their families. America does not work that way, nor has it ever. America’s political and economic system has always favored white males. There are huge gaps between races in America still. The median wealth of white households is 20 times more than African-American households and 18 times that of Hispanic households. [8] Living in inner city DC and now in New York City I see every day the stark inequalities that exist in our society. Romney sees these differences, and just chalks up people’s concerns of structural inequalities to just “envy.” [9] The book of Mosiah clearly tells us to not judge the beggar, for we are all beggars.

Furthermore, Mitt Romney’s energy policy absolutely horrifies me. [10] The Lord created the heavens and the earth and he “remembered every creature he has created” (Mosiah 27:30). We also know that even though the things of this world are for our use, we must use these earthly blessings with wisdom and prudence. D&C 59: 20 says  “And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion.” I believe that Romney’s plan to take “full advantage” of North America’s oil, gas, and coal will do irreparable damage to this earth and constitutes excess and extortion.  Romney wants to lift restrictions on the coal industry which will further mining via mountain top removal in West Virginia. I do not believe God gave us mountains and resources so that we could blow them up, pollute rivers, and poison families. There is a price for extracting these resources, even though Romney claims it is inexpensive. We will pay for it with health care bills, clean up teams after a disaster, and more. NOAA recently released their yearly State of the Climate report, and it they examined various natural disasters to see if it had been impacted by climate change. For my family in Texas and for many families, NOAA’s finding that the Texas drought was made severely worse by climate change [11] should be one of many loud alarms the earth is sending out – a loud weeping even, perhaps similar to the one that the earth gives in Moses 7:48.  Texas isn’t the only place being forever damaged because of the world’s lack of judgment. I value this earth God has created, and I believe Mitt Romney’s policies focus more on extortion than stewardship.


[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQnxHBK6zMY . [Back to manuscript]

[2] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/files/2012/08/ryan-poor-graph.jpeg . [Back to manuscript]

[3] http://billmoyers.com/content/the-triggers-of-economic-inequality/ . [Back to manuscript]

[4] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/blogpost/post/wal-mart-heirs-have-same-net-worth-as-the-bottom-30-percent-of-americans/2011/12/09/gIQAkg6FiO_blog.html . [Back to manuscript]

[5] Food Research and Action Center, School Breakfast Scorecard, http://frac.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/sbscorecard2010.pdf . [Back to manuscript]

[6] http://trackingpovertyandpolicy.org/ . [Back to manuscript]

[7] http://www.demos.org/sites/default/files/publications/Slideshow.pdf . [Back to manuscript]

[8] http://pewresearch.org/pubs/2069/housing-bubble-subprime-mortgages-hispanics-blacks-household-wealth-disparity . [Back to manuscript]

[9] http://money.cnn.com/2012/01/12/news/economy/romney_envy/index.htm . [Back to manuscript]

[10] http://www.mittromney.com/issues/energy . [Back to manuscript]

[11] http://www1.ncdc.noaa.gov/pub/data/cmb/bams-sotc/2011-peterson-et-al.pdf . [Back to manuscript]


11) Rachel Zirkle

When it comes to religion for the President of the United States, there is an unspoken level and type of religiosity that is acceptable, which I feel makes a mockery of the religious freedom we as a nation profess. The United States is founded on freedom of religion, which has allowed all kinds of religions to flourish without government intervention. The precedent of separating church and state has allowed individuals to decide religion for themselves. This first great amendment hardly extends to those running for high political office though. The rigorous campaigning, high profile schmoozing, fundraising, and media blitzes requires candidates to downplay, up-play, dismiss, or invent their religiosity to fit whatever their Party and electorate is demanding of the candidate. The question is then, can an individual become President if they are unwilling to play this game?

I feel like this will be a great test for Mitt Romney and for America because being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not a luke warm endeavor. Will America be able to allow the man his religion or will there continue to be pressure to fit the presidential mold of matching the accepted level and type of religiosity? And how will this affect other members of the LDS church anxiously watching the presidency unfold?

In response to the first question, I am not overly optimistic that the media and public will let the Mormon card go. It is a difference that makes it easy to define Romney and his choices and actions, whether his religion is the motivator or not. The idea of religious freedom has been increasingly narrowed as equality has begun to be interpreted as “sameness.” For those who do not believe, or believe differently, religion challenges equality for those not of the fold. The recent Chick-fil-a vs. gay community is one well-known example. The more the media and public paint religion as exclusive, the more religion will be unwelcome in the public sphere. It is also deeply troubling how often President Obama is challenged on his Christianity, with polls by the Pew Research Center saying, “nearly one in five (17%) voters say Obama is Muslim…and 19% of voters say they are uncomfortable with Obama’s religion.” These numbers are then often compared to Romney’s level of voter discomfort over his Mormon religion. The underlying message here is a Muslim cannot be President, much like the media makes it sound like a Mormon cannot be President, and yet no one challenges this. This flies in the face of religious freedom and leaves me less than hopeful.

As for the second question, I feel members of the LDS church will be affected by Romney’s presidency only if they make the mistake to no longer separate church and state. Even if Romney became President, he would still not be the voice of the church – a spot held only by the Prophet. While religion is about being steadfast, politics is all about compromise. For Romney to get things done in office, he will need to be prepared to compromise. I could see members getting upset if they felt Romney was taking a course of action they felt did not jive with church policy. To these members I could admonish them to remember Romney is not the Prophet, he is not acting for the church, but for the American people he is representing. He would enter office as a man elected to lead, not as a Mormon. A direct analogy is Obama entering office as a man elected to lead, not as a black man. The world likes to define people by their differentiating characteristics and then project that definition onto their agendas. But this is wrong. Just as things did not change drastically for blacks throughout Obama’s presidency, I do not think things would change drastically for Mormons throughout Romney’s.


Full Citation for this Article: Bryan Benson, Stephen Cranney, Ryan Decker, Ralph Hancock, George Handley, Valerie Hudson, Karen Hyer, Erik Linton, Janille Stearmer, Thelma Young, Rachel Zirkle (2012) "Roundtable on Romney: Does Romney's Mormonism Make a Difference?" SquareTwo, Vol. 5 No. 2 (Summer), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleRomneyRoundtable.html, [give access date].

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COMMENTS: 1 Comment

1) Raymond Takashi Swenson

With respect to the main question in the subtitle of this article, “Does Romney’s Mormonism Make a Difference?”, I don’t see why it should make any more or less difference than it does for any Mormon politician who is seeking election by a constituency that is not predominantly Mormon, basically the members of Congress elected from states other than Utah. A president Romney cannot assume a common vocabulary with most voters that would allow him to use allusions to LDS scripture and principles as a shorthand to achieve understanding of his positions by voters. Clearly he is going to use phrases and articulate ideas that come out of his Mormon background (such as the phrase “mourn with those who mourn” in his statement after the Aurora movie massacre) that don’t have the same constellation of meaning to the general public. But that special vocabulary is not going to help him galvanize support among the majority of citizens that he needs to implement his programs. He needs to be bilingual in the language of general American politics as well as the language of Mormonism. And given the fact that he prospered in a national business for years, and as governor of Massachusetts, I have no reason to believe he is not fluent in both tongues.

The participation of Jon Huntsman in the New Hampshire Primary offered a comparison with Romney. It seems to me that Huntsman actually is the kind of adaptive politician that many accuse Romney of being. Huntsman was able to twice convince largely conservative Utah Republicans that he was preferable to the Democratic candidate for governor, but when contrasted with Romney, Huntsman’s status as a more traditionally liberal candidate made him non-viable for the Primaries. No upwelling of financial support came from his former constituents in Utah. And in a series of statements, Huntsman made it clear that he did not feel as deep a loyalty to standard Mormon beliefs as Romney does. In a contest with a Democrat, Huntsman was perceived as conservative enough for Utahns statewide, but in the context of a primary race where he was positioned to the left of all other candidates, he was no longer viable.

My estimation is that Romney is positioned as materially more conservative than John McCain, and more so than George W. Bush. At the same time, the rest of the Republican candidates were generally trying to position themselves well to his right, even though the actual record of Newt Gingrich (joint appearances on TV commercials with Nancy Pelosi and all) seems far more moderate politically than Romney’s positions. In taking those positions, I think they rendered themselves far less viable as candidates able to appeal to swing voters who lack ongoing ideological commitments. Romney’s successful primary campaign demonstrates political savvy and determined commitment to a winning strategy that did not rely on being anybody’s rock star. Romney was not only a genius in the business world, he has demonstrated that he can defeat a field of other candidates who each took turns as the “not Romney” of the moment before serially self-destructing. His strategy resembles the way America won World War II, with a steady commitment of resources that outclassed the opposition time after time. The fact that he won by dint of his intelligence and character rather than through any emotional connection to his personality gives me hope that we finally have an adult vying for the White House who is not in the race for the emotional high of shouting crowds, but rather as an extended job interview and selling effort similar to the way he sold Bain Capital’s expertise to institutional investors.

Mitt Romney’s personal knowledge of the poor and his personal care for them as a bishop and in other Church positions are clear. It is also clear that one Mormon idea he would carry into the White House is the importance of getting recipients of financial assistance back on their feet as self-supporting workers. He pointed out that there are numerous programs already in place to support those in official poverty, while the really wealthy can take care of themselves, but the middle class that has supported itself without government aid is hurting and is going to recover only as the larger economy recovers. That is not “trickle down” economics. When you are hired for a job, your paycheck flows to you as a revenue stream, it does not “trickle down” in fits and starts. The real “trickle down” economic theory is the Keynesian belief that government can spin up the economy by borrowing vast amounts and then spending it on major government projects. The 800 billion dollars spent by the stimulus plan was supposed to flow down and turn water wheels of prosperity at the local level that would benefit private businesses. The program spent as much as one million dollars per job created! And all those jobs ended a year ago! And the downward flow of paychecks has now dried up, and there is no visible sign of its passage in the private sector economy.

If Romney serves as president, I believe the net effect on the Church will be to neutralize the more virulent denunciations of Mormonism. Nothing Romney does in office is going to be radical, nothing will be identifiably “Mormon” in nature. The entire meme of Mormon weirdness is going to lose steam as Romney demonstrates how boringly ordinary his religious practices are. That may put some of the marketers of anti-Mormon fear mongering out of business, and show up the rabid haters among both religious people and atheists as being out of touch with reality. His political opponents will transfer some of their resentment to the church, but I think there will be a segment of the populace who will see Mormonism as more rational and common-sensical than they had ever believed, and some portion of them will investigate and join the Church. This will not be mass conversions, and it may be hard to see the trend against the other trends affecting conversion rates, but I think it will be detectable in the anecdotal testimonies of those who come in because of it. It may be that the simple existence of a Mormon president would eliminate some of the bureaucratic obstacles the Church encounters in other nations, especially those erected due to falsehoods about Mormon behavior. These effects are not a reason to vote for Romney, but if you support him anyway, I think they are positive side-benefits.

The notion that the transitory climate of this past year is indicative of an increasing trend is simply not scientific. It partakes of the same fallacies that Al Gore fell into when he placed on the cover of his book and DVD for his “Inconvenient Truth” tour a picture of Hurricane Katrina, and claimed that we would see an increasing pace of more frequent and stronger storm systems. They then failed to materialize. I remember a major drought cycle back in the mid-70s when I was in law school, at a time when the global temperatures were at their lowest level in the 20th Century. The fact is that the global temperatures of the last 15 years have essentially been flat, violating all the predictions of all the models offered by the UN IPCC to predict a range of potential warming scenarios. CO2 increases have kept pace with predictions, but the correlation with rising temperature has been destroyed by 15 years of data. And note that there was only about 20 years of rising temperature data to support the correlation in the first place. The consistent drop in temperatures from 1935 to 1975, through world war and postwar industrial expansion, is still begging for an explanation. Besides, none of the “green energy” programs of the Obama Administration have any hope of decreasing CO2 levels for 40 years, because manufacturing and erecting wind farms requires lots of conventional fossil fuels that are INCREASING CO2 levels in the short term.

In summary, I personally agree with the policy positions of Romney, and believe they offer the best hope of preserving economic freedom and prosperity, a prosperity that is the true source of wealth that can help sustain the poor, and allows us to afford the costs of enhanced environmental regulation.