The failed candidacy of Mitt Romney both created greater visibility for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and served as a painful reminder to Mormons that they are still not fully accepted in American society.
The Wall Street Journal (Feb. 8) reports that the high rates of opposition to or wariness about a Mormon candidate found in the polls tended to surprise many observers and scholars. Mormon sociologist Armand Mauss said, “I don’t think that any of us had any idea how much anti-Mormon stuff was out there. The Romney campaign has given the church a wake-up call.
There is the equivalent of anti-Semitism still out there.” While other factors may have been at play in Romney’s withdrawal from the campaign trail, even secular analysts noted the anti-Mormon fervor. Both evangelical and Catholic leaders, such as Bill Keller and Fr Richard John Neuhaus, cited Romney’s religion as a factor in why he should be defeated, while secularists, such as Christopher Hitchens, were unsparing in their ridicule of the Mormon faith.
Although Mormons have been taught not to defend their religion publicly, the last straw may have been commentator Lawrence O’Donnell’s tirade against Mormon teachings and practices on the national McLaughlin Group show. That show has served as a “rallying cry” for Mormons to engage in a “wave of activism,” with the encouragement of the church leadership, to speak out and defend their faith. After M. Russell Ballard, one of the church’s 12 apostles, urged the students at Brigham Young University to use the Internet and the new media to defend their faith, there was a rapid growth of websites—numbering over 150—established for that purpose.
The church has also engaged in a public relations campaign and posted a series of videos on YouTube to counter anti-Mormon footage on that site. Mauss concludes that post-Romney, there will be a “wholesale consideration with how Mormons should deal with latent and overt anti-Mormon propaganda.”