Thursday, November 03, 2011

Mormonism To Be A Bigger Issue In The General Election, Say Evangelicals

Excerpts of Romney's Mormonism To Be A Bigger Issue In The General Election, Say Evangelicals - The Huffington Post
The loudest objections to Mitt Romney's Mormonism have not yet been raised, according to evangelical leaders and conservatives.

Romney's faith does give many protestants pause. But polls, and evangelical leaders, tell another story:
If the former Massachusetts governor is the Republican nominee, his faith may be attacked and questioned more aggressively by liberals in the general election than it has been by conservatives in the primary.

Other prominent evangelical leaders told The Huffington Post that they believe Romney will be ambushed by the press. "The major networks are heavily invested in Barack Obama's reelection," said Richard Land, a leader with the Southern Baptist Convention who heads its ethics and religious liberty commission.

"And they're all going to run detailed specials, now that we have the first Mormon nominee for president: 'What does the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints believe?' And they're going to go into all the beliefs of Mormonism, hoping to scare the 40 percent of independents who make up the decisive vote in the electorate to not vote for someone who believes such things."
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, agreed.

The flip side of these predictions, if they come true, is that these evangelical leaders, along with pastors across the country, would be put in the unlikely position of defending a Mormon candidate who many of them have eyed with deep suspicion for years.

Conservative Christians have issues with Mormons on theological grounds, but are coming to the realization that they share public policy goals for the most part. On the other hand, the fight over gay marriage in California -- where Mormons played a big role in overturning the state Supreme Court's decision to legalize it -- demonstrated to liberals that the Latter Day Saints are not their allies in the political arena.

Polls have shown this shift is taking place. The Pew Research Center for People and the Press reported in May that "more Democrats than Republicans say they would be less likely to support a Mormon candidate."

"Liberal Democrats stand out, with 41 percent saying they would be less likely to support a Mormon candidate. Only about a quarter or fewer in other groups say this," the Pew report stated.

A Gallup poll in June found 27 percent of Democrats said they "would not support a Mormon for president," while 20 percent of Republicans and Independents said the same.

Similarly, an Oct. 11 Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll reported that 66 percent of GOP primary voters are "comfortable with Mitt Romney and that his religious beliefs will not interfere with his decisions as president," while 13 percent did "not feel comfortable with Mitt Romney and worry his religious beliefs will interfere with his decisions as president."

But when the pool of respondents was broadened beyond Republicans to include all voters, the number of voters "comfortable" with Romney went down 19 points to 47 percent, and the number of people not comfortable with him went up to 21 percent.

"What Robert Jeffress has done -- quite unwillingly, I'm sure -- is to damage his own Christian witness by weighing in on politics with simplistic and unreflective comments," wrote Peter Wehner, a former White House adviser to President George W. Bush.
The issue of Romney's faith has been less vigorously discussed on the left. But as far back as 2006, Slate's Jacob Weisberg wrote a column saying he opposed Romney because of his faith, in large part because he believed the religion's founder, Joseph Smith, was "an obvious con man."

"I wouldn't vote for someone who truly believed in the founding whoppers of Mormonism," he said.

More recently, columns from outspoken atheist Christopher Hitchens and from New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd have delved into the stranger aspects of the Mormon faith and practice, some of them real, some not.

Dowd ran through a laundry list of things she found odd or objectionable about Mormonism in an Oct. 19 column: "Magic underwear. Baptizing dead people. Celestial marriages. Private planets. Racism. Polygamy."

Many Mormons do in fact wear special underwear, though they do not call it "magic." Romney has never disclosed whether he wears the undergarments, though he has been asked. Posthumous baptism is done by proxy, with a person standing in for the deceased. Celestial marriage is a theological term for the belief that a couple's relationship continues in the afterlife. The idea of private planets appears to be something of an urban legend about the Mormon faith.

As for race, the Mormon Church did not allow black men to be ordained as priests in the church until 1978. And polygamy was practiced officially by the church during the second half of the 19th century, but it has been disavowed by the church since 1890.
John Aravosis, a liberal blogger at Americablog, spotlighted the 2009 discovery that unknown Mormons performed a posthumous proxy baptism for President Obama's mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, in June 2008, and that others in the church have done the same for deceased Holocaust victims.

"It's pretty aggressively nasty duplicitous stuff," Aravosis wrote on Oct. 17.

Hitchens' Oct. 17 column was headlined: "Romney's Mormon Problem: Mitt Romney and the weird and sinister beliefs of Mormonism."

Hitchens said the 1978 decision to admit black men as priests was recent enough "to cast serious doubt on the sincerity of their change of heart."

"One of the issues for Mormonism is that it is now being discussed in public in a way that will bring a great deal of attention to Mormon beliefs and practices," Rev. Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said in an interview. "I have to believe that Americans are going to find many of those beliefs absolutely bizarre and strange."

Church leaders in Salt Lake City, Utah, have responded by expanding an ad campaign begun last year in nine cities to 12 more. The ads point to a website filled with three- and four-minute video profiles of everyday Americans, often minorities and young, attractive people, that end with them saying, "I am a Mormon." The point is clearly to try and demystify the faith.

As their common cause with Mormons on policy and politics has become more clear to evangelical leaders, it is pushing theological and ecclesiological issues to the back burner.

Chuck Colson, a former Nixon White House official who went to prison for his role in the Watergate scandal and is now head of Prison Fellowship Ministries, wrote on Oct. 17: "Is the Mormon faith Christian? No. It is not. There are significant and un-reconciled doctrinal differences between Mormonism and Christianity, like the sole sufficiency of Christ and the exclusivity of the Bible."

"Having said that, there may be no other group of people I appreciate more as co-belligerents than the Mormons," Colson said. "They are stalwarts on life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty issues." ...