Friday, February 08, 2008

Romney campaign took the pulse of nation on LDS faith

Peggy Fletcher Stack is the author of an interesting and troubling article in today's Salt Lake Tribune. The article may be accessed here. It is posted below for reflection, particularly by evangelicals who might want to consider the ramifications of this situation on three fronts. First, in a postmodern world Mormon beliefs are likely to be considered as "strange" as more mainstream Christian beliefs. After all, we do believe that a peasant Jewish carpenter who claimed to be Messiah was literally raised from the dead. Strangeness in religion is a fairly subjective endeavor these days. Second, America is increasingly pluralistic, and mainstream Christians will have to more carefully negotiate their place in the American landscape, especially in the political sphere. Third, it would seem that we have made at least some strides in evangelical-Mormon understanding and relations, but we have a long way to go, and thus more dialogue is needed. I echo Richard Bushman's comments below: We desperately need "a new age of conversation where we don't preach or debate, but learn to converse candidly in a straightforward way with curious outsiders and contribute to mutual understanding."

Romney Campaign took the pulse of nation on LDS faith
By Peggy Fletcher-Stack

Mitt Romney dragged fellow Mormons into the presidential race, whether they liked it or not.

Most thought publicity for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whether positive or negative, would be a good thing. With optimistic naiveté, many believed the more people knew of Mormonism, the more Latter-day Saints would be accepted into mainstream America, legitimate players on the national stage.

That didn't happen. Instead, some said, Romney's failed campaign revealed what many Americans really think about Mormons. It forced Latter-day Saints to acknowledge that they don't just belong to another American denomination.

"We have to live with the fact that a lot of people think our beliefs are strange," said LDS historian Richard Bushman, the professor emeritus at Columbia University who helped explain Mormonism to a skeptical public. "Mormons have never had so much exposure as we have in the last year, so much genuine curiosity on the part of high-level media. I don't think we'll ever be the same."

If it has been tough for many Latter-day Saints to see themselves as others do, it has been equally hard to face the country's continued bigotry, said others.

Romney's candidacy "exposed a real intolerance for Mormonism in parts of this country, something this country should be embarrassed about," ABC News senior political analyst Jake wrote on his blog Thursday. "And I'm not just talking about Evangelicals, I'm talking about supposedly tolerant liberal-types, too."

National news Web sites posted photos of LDS undergarments, reporters asked Romney questions about where Jesus would touch down at his Second Coming and Republican candidate Mike Huckabee "innocently" wondered whether Mormons believe that Jesus and Lucifer were brothers.

Authors in liberal publications such as The New Republic and Slate suggested that anyone who believed the seemingly outlandish story of Mormon origins was not fit to be president, while at least one conservative Christian declared that a vote for Romney was a vote for Satan. Career anti-Mormons had a field day on the Internet and in mailings to potential voters, accusing Latter-day Saints of being racist, misogynist and polygamist.

An August 2007 poll by the Pew Research Center found that 25 percent of Americans would be less likely to vote for a Mormon and just 53 percent of the public had a favorable opinion of Mormons. The tone of the questions and comments is what upset Nancy Dredge, editor of Exponent II, a Mormon women's magazine published in Boston.

"It's OK to challenge our beliefs but no one wants to be treated like they're weird," she said. "When commentators asked 'Who would vote for someone who believes the Garden of Eden is in Missouri?' and other mocking things about our beliefs, I felt very attacked and hurt."

The anti-Mormon whispering campaigns in the Bible Belt may also have permanently derailed the growing political alliance between Mormons and evangelicals.

"As long as the Republican Party is primarily a party with an evangelical base, I don't see how any Mormon could do any better than Romney," said Alan Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College. "You can't explain how a relatively competent, successful businessman and governor could do so badly in the Southern primaries without pointing to his Mormonism."

Still, Bushman hopes this new awareness will usher in "a new age of conversation where we don't preach or debate, but learn to converse candidly in a straightforward way with curious outsiders and contribute to mutual understanding."

--- * PEGGY FLETCHER STACK can be contacted at pstack@sltrib.com or 801-257-8725.

6 comments:

Dave said...

Yes, hopefully this experience will lead to an America that is more tolerant, more civil, and ultimately more kind to our fellowman. And I don't mean just to Mormons but hopefully to all different religions, ethnicities, cultures etc.

Seth R. said...

Unfortunately, the more I dialogue with Evangelicals, both nice ones and not-so-nice ones, the less and less I want to move my religion in their direction. I'm really starting to get the vibe that we Mormons really ought to weigh anchors, forget about trying to reconcile with traditional Christians, and start charting our own course as a new world religion - without hardly any reference to traditional Christian assumptions and terminology.

I start to think, who really cares if Southern Baptists don't think I believe in Jesus? I believe in him in a way that is satisfying to me, and if they don't like it, tough for them. Who really cares if I'm a "monotheist" or a "polytheist?" If I'm right, I fail to see why I should care. So maybe I'm part of a "Gnostic heresy." Why is that a bad thing? So I believe God is married? Why should I apologize for that? My great great grandfather practiced polygamy - and you know what? I'm not the slightest bit apologetic for that.

We've been allowing traditional Christians to set the agenda for far too long. I'm sick of playing the apologist. Time to forge ahead and let the rest of Christianity eat our dust.

I'm just tired of begging for a place at the table from people who are never going to give it to me anyway. Time to find another table.

John W. Morehead said...

Seth, thanks for sharing your thoughts and frustrations. I would beg just a little more patience. There is a growing movement of traditional Christians interested in moving beyond this. There are important issues we need can discuss while being respectful, as we did with our groundbreaking neighborhood food, fellowship and faith dialogue dinner just last night. I think more promising times are ahead.

js1993 said...

I heard there is a new documentary out that addresses religious intolerance in America. "Article 6" or something like that. It seems to be creating some national buzz with it's recent screening tour across the country. I did catch the Cspan interview with the director of the film and i will have to admit it looks very interestnig. Might be worth checking out.

tolyk said...

It has always seemed strange to me that so many people hate the fact that mormons: give to the poor and needy, serve their fellow man no matter what he believes, tries to live an honest life, believes in trying to be more Christ-like. Let mormons keep doing what they're doing... contributing and helping society. What is wrong with this? Why do people want to fix something that is not broke? It seems crazy that "Mormons" are always being attacked from all sides. When have you seen for example a baptist putting out some anti-catholic material? Let anyone worship how they want to worship to whomever they want to worship.

Jeff said...

There is a price to be paid for hyperbolic rhetoric. When "a vote for Romney is a vote for the devil," there is no room to allow for the fact that on almost every issue that Christians care about, Romney is in agreement with them. The result may be nominating and even electing someone they are far less in agreement with.