Of Course It Matters that Mitt Romney Is a Mormon

(Longtime readers of this weblog will know that I published a version of this post some years ago. But it seems, somehow, still relevant…)

U.S. presidential aspirant Mitt Romney continues to attract attention because of his allegiance to the religion of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), known popularly as the Mormon Church. Above all that attention is the “meta-question” about whether his Mormonism should even matter in political discussion. I suggest that there should be no question that it does.

Many point to John F. Kennedy as the first successful non-Protestant to win his nation’s highest office. So if Kennedy’s faith wasn’t a problem, so this logic runs, nor should Romney’s.

But Kennedy, as several decades of history have subsequently shown, was different from Romney not only in the type of religion he had–Roman Catholic versus LDS, which is a pretty big difference in outlook–but also in his adherence to it. Romney, by all accounts, is a faithful Mormon. Kennedy, by all accounts, was no one’s idea of a faithful Catholic. So of course Kennedy could be relied upon not to take political orders from Rome. He certainly wasn’t taking sexual orders from the Church. His Roman Catholicism literally didn’t matter. But Romney really believes LDS doctrine and really practices that religion’s faith.

So of course it matters that Romney believes that Joseph Smith really received divine revelation and offered us the latest, greatest gospel of Jesus Christ; that Jesus visited North America; that lost tribes of Israel came to this continent; that women shouldn’t hold office in the church; that God has a body of flesh as we do; that all true believers will reign as deities over their own worlds some day; that family life is sacred; and so on. In any such list of LDS propositions and values, key insights into Mr. Romney can be ascertained.

If someone ran for office and believed in Scientology, that would matter, because it would say something about that person’s intelligence, outlook, values, and so on. If someone ran for office and was a faithful Islamist, that would matter for exactly the same reasons. If a candidate is a Richard Dawkins-type atheist, or a James Dobson-type evangelical, or an Ayn Rand-type libertarian (UPDATE: and Romney’s running mate is!), of course it matters. Politics is all about understanding situations as clearly as possible, assessing plausible responses to those situations, selecting the best of those responses, and working well with others to actualize them. Beliefs, values, and practices all pertain to how one meets such challenges.

Therefore of course it matters whether you believe in UFOs or a Supreme Being or a mindless universe. Of course it matters whether you believe that love for others is more (or less) important than love for self, or that God has (or has not) given us guidelines for ethical behavior that must not be second-guessed, or that this holy text (the Bible, the Book of Mormon, The Fountainhead, The Origin of Species) is (or is not) authoritative in a way no others are.

So let’s agree that Romney’s world-and-lifeview does matter (it’s easier to drop the word “religion” here as distracting, as if other people’s views and values do or don’t matter because they are or aren’t “religious”), and move on to assessing three things: (1) what that world-and-lifeview actually is; (2) what it says about that person that he or she holds such a view; and (3) what difference it would make in acting as President of the United States to make decisions in the light of it.

We should do exactly the same thing with Barack Obama—or anyone else. What are these people’s fundamental convictions and what difference will they make in office?

Of course all this matters.


7 Responses to “Of Course It Matters that Mitt Romney Is a Mormon”

  1. Erik Charter

    Jimmy Carter & George W. Bush were born-again Christians and neither worked out too well. I’m ready for a wise turk. I don’t know if Romney is one.

    • John

      I understand what you mean, Erik, in terms of Christians not necessarily voting for another Christian–a perspective I share. But I trust it’s clear that the point I’m making here is that Romney isn’t a wise Turk (= Muslim), but a wise/not-wise Mormon, and asking whether that difference makes a difference.

  2. Rick

    Of course they matter. But I think there are larger questions that simply if they matter, and I’d love to hear what you have to say. How will his worldview play out in his presidency? And, how does his past political track record possibly help inform this?

    • John

      I agree, Rick, that these are the next questions to ask. Maybe I’ll try to answer them, but I expect there are lots of people already trying to do so, no?

  3. Josue

    Romney’s religion doesn’t matter much in the upcoming election, as Mormonism is not a hot-enough-button issue. What really matters, for me, is that although I might disagree with his religion as a whole, his ethics and worldview (which are certainly influenced by his religion) from what I can tell are 1) superior to Obama’s, 2) more in line with America’s, and 3) better for the world. And that’s the litmus test, to me.

    Besides, whatever one calls his or her religion is often mere formality. A person (and, their religion) is shaped more by other things, like culture, than one may think: Romney’s religion is inevitably steeped in the country club and in corporations, whereas Obama’s is in Marxism, liberalism. I prefer the former to the latter because its shape, so to speak, fits into that of America’s ideals.

    Theoretically Obama may be all fine and well, but I think in practice his worldview (to continue the metaphor) is square-shaped yet trying to fit into a round hole, just in the same way one may have described Bush’s attempts to “give democracy/freedom” to the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. A candidate’s awareness of and willingness to work within one’s context is of critical importance as we consider a candidate’s religion and beliefs.

  4. David

    Not sure the question gets behind the complexities of the situation. …

    But I am thinking that the fundamental question for Americans choosing a leader is not what his/her religious views are, but whether they will be an effective leader.

    I would think, given the situation the US finds itself, that if they could find someone to get them out of the mess they’re in, … would they really care if the guy was a Raelian?

    I think I could stomach a guy that worshiped UFOs on Sunday as long as Monday to Saturday he turned back the economy to circa 1983 when money flowed like water.


Comments are closed.