The probable candidacy of Mitt Romney for U.S. president has stirred wide–and sometimes wild–speculation about whether a Mormon could or should be elected to that office. The debate over Romney’s candidacy and its implications for American democracy has been featured prominently in the New Republic magazine. In the January 1-15 issue of that magazine, Damon Linker cites surveys showing that close to half (43 percent) of Americans would never vote for a Mormon.
Linker argues that as the public becomes more acquainted with Mormonism and its political implications, that opposition will likely grow. Linker compares the possibility of a Romney (or any LDS candidate) presidency with that of John F Kennedy as the first Catholic president. The fear that Kennedy might have made his political decisions in deference to Rome pales in comparison to a prospective president like Romney and the influence of the LDS church.
Linker writes that the Mormon emphasis on prophecy and continuing revelation (in the form of statements from the church’s president) can override scripture and tradition. Such a position tends to distrust philosophy and natural morality and makes it inaccessible to non-Mormons, causing the religion to be “theologically unstable” and “politically perilous.” In a responding article in the January 29 issue of the magazine, Mormon historian Richard Lyman Bushman argues that Linker’s fears mirror the concerns about electing Mormon senators going back to the early 1900s.
Judging from the historical record, there have been no signs that the church pressures politicians to close ranks as Mormons. He adds that Linker’s argument about the lack of natural law or morality in Mormon teachings ignores how “revelation actually works.” A new revelation by Mormon prophets continually reinterprets and “works outward” from previous revelations. The prophet puts his own authority in jeopardy if he “disregards the past,” Bushman writes.
Meanwhile, although Romney may be losing support among the general population, he appears to be gaining more favor among evangelicals, according to the independent Mormon magazine Sunstone (December). Romney has made a special attempt to court the religious right. In late October he invited 15 evangelical leaders to his home, including Jerry Falwell, Richard Land, and Franklin Graham. Romney has recently urged evangelicals to remember that he shares with them beliefs that Christ was born of a virgin, was crucified and rose from the dead.
Evangelicals have recently started EVANGELICALSFORMITT.ORG, which offers comparisons between Romney’s stated beliefs and those of evangelicals, drawing about 5,000 readers a day. [The growing affinities between evangelicals and Mormons may be evident in political campaigns, where style often trumps substance. RW has noted that Mormon and evangelical books, music, and films have had significant crossover appeal in both communities; see February, 2003 RW].
(Sunstone, 343 N. Third W., Salt Lake City, UT 84103-1215)