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Questions Raised by Mormons’ Candidacy

As America gears up for another presidential election season, do we really have to agonize yet again over whether being a Mormon disqualifies a person for the presidency? Since the answer apparently is yes, at least let’s try to get some use from the discussion by understanding what’s really at stake.

With two Mormon ex-governors in contention for the Republican nomination, the polls—those omnipresent, omniscient, and too often uncriticized monitors of public opinion—find fully 25% of Americans less likely to vote for a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

But hang on. Upon closer examination, it turns out that figure is deceptive. Within the larger group that makes up the 25%, liberal Democrats—41% of them, we’re told—are less likely to support a Mormon. The reason, suggests The Washington Post, is “the church’s social conservatism and the fact that Mormons tend to be Republicans.”

Well, yes. But in that case liberal Democrats’ antipathy is based not on religion as such but on politics. Think what you like of it, at least it isn’t an expression of religious bias—and there’s less dislike of Mormon candidates on theological grounds than the 25% figure might at first suggest.

All the same, it does seem likely that at least some of those who look askance at a Mormon contender for the White House do that because of his church. Just here we run up against the Constitution’s ban on a religious test for public office.

It’s extremely important, however, to grasp what the no-religious-test principle does and doesn’t rule out. Specifically, this is a guarantee of the right of anyone of any faith persuasion to run for public office and, if he or she wins, to serve. It has nothing to do with the right—indeed, the duty—of voters to apply relevant criteria derived in part from their own religious formation to the task of evaluating candidates.

For example: Where does a candidate stand on abortion, on capital punishment, on same-sex marriage, on cutting entitlement spending? These are questions that voters are entitled to raise precisely against the background of their own deeply held faith-based convictions.

Over 50 years ago, John Kennedy muddied these particular waters by promising the Protestant ministers ofHouston that as president he wouldn’t be influenced by his Catholicism. Kennedy’s privatizing of religion has borne much bitter fruit in the past half-century. Among other things, it’s been extended—in line with secularist thinking—to imply that citizens shouldn’t be influenced by their religiously grounded values in deciding how to vote.

But many are so influenced. And, provided the values in question are pertinent to true political concerns, that’s not only inevitable but right. As there are no atheists in foxholes, so in the voting booth, voters—including atheists—should be guided by their conscientious convictions.

And those two Mormon would-be candidates—what about them (or, for that matter, what about Michele Bachmann, who severed her ties with a Lutheran sect that thinks the pope is Antichrist)? If either Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, or Bachmann winds up on the ballot, the appropriate question for a conscientious voter who’s a person of faith won’t be: How do I feel about this individual’s church? It will be: How do I rate the candidate’s ability to promote a good and just society according to my own religiously formed convictions about what such a society should be like?

That’s responsible citizenship. Don’t let some secularist mouthpiece in the media tell you differently.


Russell Shaw is a freelance writer from Washington, D.C.


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  • Every time I think of the LDS church teachings my mind goes back to that scene of Yiddish-fluent native Americans in the movie Blazing Saddles. with all due respect I don’t think I would vote for someone who holds the view that most indigenous Americans are descendants of a huge group of people who crossed the Atlantic ten centuries before Columbus. Of course they have the right to disqualify a Catholic for believing that God can be a wafer (they usually say “cookie”).

    As far as JFK goes I am certain that he did not let his religious upbringing influence his politics, or his morals, or his life for that matter. He was a pioneer. Today we are still wondering if we can put a woman in the White House. He had them girls there all the time! Hey! The man was ahead of his time!

    But I am rambling again. My point is that neither the LDS Church, the Catholic Church, or any of the many-many Protestant confessions teach their members to be corrupt, or dishonest, or to disgrace political office. Those behaviors are reserved for men and women that don’t believe in anything at all.

    Those who really believe and practice what they believe have already made the point moot: they are already good people, even if their religion may hold some strange unpalatable dogma. Declaring to be Catholic does move me to spare any candidate of my scrutiny. For example, I would not vote for Nancy Pelosi for dog catcher and yet I would certainly vote for Mitt Romney if the two were running in the same race. I don’t agree with Mr. Romney 100% but I know he is a good man running for office for all the right reasons.

    So it boils down to the question: “How true, how good are you?”

  • I meant to write “does NOT move me to spare any candidate of my scrutiny”

  • florin

    I agree with Carolos. I would vote for a Morman who is living a good, moral life rather than a Catholic who isn’t, such as Pelosi, Sebelius, Biden, Kerry, Daschle, Dodd, the Kennedys, Gingrich et al…there has been no scandal associated with Romney so, although I may not agree with all he has done politically, I would vote for him if he ran against Obama.

  • florin

    Sorry, I meant to say ‘Carlos’ not Carolos…

  • Carolos is Carlos in Latin. You were not that far. Few have noticed that we had one Pope called “Carolos” our beloved Karol Wojtila, John Paul II.

    🙂

    • florin

      Actually, after I had written “Carolos” I thought immediately of our beloved Pope John Paul ‘Karol’…I believe the English is “Charles” – is that right?

      • You are right. I am not an etymologist but I was told that Carl, Karl, Carlo, Carlos, Charles, Karol, etc. come from the Old Norse word for “farmer” denoting a free person that owned plot of land. May be someone out there can confirm that.

    • Would that be Pope Chuck?

  • 🙂 No doubt! But John Paul II’s nickname was Malek. We’ll have to wait for the next. There was a previous Pope named Carlo: Clement XIII (Carlo della Torre Rezzonico) born in Venice.

  • goral

    Lolek is what every Polish Mom calls her dear little Karol, a shortened form of Karolek.
    Usually the fiancee uses the same endearing form, which in due time reverts back to Karol.

  • Thank you Goral. My Polish is a little rusty…:)

  • goral

    You’re velcome, Carlos.