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Friday, July 22, 2011

Mormon Candidate Discrimination




Mormon candidates for president are still pretty unknown for the most part in politics and part of it might be the rhetoric that may remind people, particularly those old enough to remember JFK’s campaign, of the anti-Catholic sentiment that existed back then which is now directed against Mormons, especially Mitt Romney, though I imagine Jon Huntsman might have his share of criticism as well. The same kind of idea persists with a religion that has secretive aspects of its teachings, the modern target being the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints instead of the Holy Catholic Church. Part of it might be that Catholics were still foreign in some ways to Americans in the 60s, though this is startling to me, having grown up around 20 years later when Catholics are regarded as, in most cases, little different from Protestant Christians, or at least tolerated in the same way Jews and Muslims are in many areas of the U.S. Of course, Muslims are treated with a similar, if not greater, suspicion than Mormons nowadays, since they are the new foreigners to pick on that immigrate into America, even more than Mexicans (you know, our immigration issues we’ve been having recently?). But Mormons are distrusted for different reasons. It’s not necessarily that they’re anti-American, it’s more that they reflect secessionist or separatist tendencies. They behave, to the uneducated, as a fringe group. While this might be the case for fundamentalist Mormons, more reformed Mormons, Romney included, have adjusted with the times, which is what makes former Mormons, like author Tricia Erickson, all the more skeptical of their trustworthiness. Erickson has written a book called “Can Mitt Romney Serve Two Masters?” In it she claims that any indoctrinated Mormon like Romney cannot and should not serve as president of the United States. Her reasons vary, but they overlap between her personal religious beliefs coming out of the Mormon church and her political ideology of how particular religions create dangerous politicians.

In terms of religious reasons, she has justification, from what I understand of Mormon beliefs and how that squares with her beliefs coming out of what she regards as a cult. I wonder why she doesn’t make a distinction between fundamentalist and reformed Mormons. It could be because she doesn’t view them as terribly different from each other in the similarities they share, such as the temple ceremonies and oaths they swear to the church. But I have to wonder if these are much different in the long run than other religions pledging loyalty to their divinity, particularly Christians of other stripes (yes, I consider Mormons Christian, at least in the basic sense of the term, finding salvation through Jesus in some form or fashion). How is a Mormon making an oath in a temple in Utah any different from a pastor in Tennessee being sworn in and making vows to serve his church and God? I don’t think it would be much of a stretch to say that both Mormons and Protestants have a capacity to distinguish between their loyalty to God and their loyalty to their country. Mormons understand, like evangelicals, that regardless of their eschatology, along with many Christians (rapture much?), they should try to be fair in their governing of people of various faiths and do what they think is best for everyone. There can be problems with making that distinction for some types of religious believers, especially those of a more fundamentalist nature, who insist that the U.S. must conform to certain basic tenets and laws derived from their holy scriptures, or it is doomed to failure. The people of the “Christian nation” mode of thought could be considered under this, especially those who insist that Christianity has and deserves a special place in our government’s eyes. When critiquing Muslims and Mormons alike for being untrustworthy in political contexts, Tricia Erickson forgets that cult like behavior she calls Mormonism and Islam on can exist just as easily in the Christian faith she embraces now. Beliefs in the resurrection of Jesus or the rapture are equally preposterous to an outsider and could make them just as skeptical of whether a committed Christian candidate can be trusted to make sound decisions for a religiously diverse populace, not all of whom share the same beliefs or even any of their beliefs concerning God and the afterlife.

Just because someone’s religious beliefs are nonstandard or irrational in one way or another does not automatically discredit them in terms of political decisions. A Mormon like Mitt Romney is not any less likely to follow American values than a Christian or a Muslim also running for president. You’d have to find some compelling evidence that he isn’t for America primarily, and his belief that he’ll be a god in the future hardly qualifies. Some Christians, for example, seem to believe God favors the United States and will rapture all the believers at some undetermined time, which is equally silly on its face. Muslims believe the same as Christians that Jesus will come back in the end times (with a sidekick), so how is that less silly than believing you will become a god by following God’s commands and such? Whether a person believes or doesn’t believe in God, an afterlife, a soul, or any other associated ideas that the U.S. population could present to a potential voter, shouldn’t affect whether they consider that person as being worthy of governing, be it as the president of the country, a congressman or a local official. I support Ron Paul, for example, because I agree with his libertarian politics, even if I disagree with his Christian beliefs. But if worse comes to worse, I will probably vote for him over even an atheist candidate who’s overly neo-conservative or an overly liberal agnostic. The religion or lack thereof of any candidate is incidental to their political beliefs, even if there can be associations between their faith and their choices about governance. An atheist politician can be just as misguided in their sociopolitical positions to me as a Christian and I would equally choose someone else over both of them even if they were a Muslim, for instance. That is how one should discern and choose a candidate to vote for: not based on agreeing with your personal beliefs about the divine, but whether they square with your political ideals. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

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