Religious Intolerance Plays Role in Presidential Politics


Judge a person by his character, not his race, color or creed.  

It seems Americans — liberals and conservatives alike — could use a booster shot on this topic, at least when it comes to the issue of Mormons, or members of the Church of the Latter Day Saints. Two men with LDS roots, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, are candidates for the Republican nomination to be president. A sizable chunk of Americans haven’t warmed up to that idea.

According to a recent poll by the Pew Center for American Politics, roughly one in four American voters said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who is LDS. The rate is about 23 and 20 percent for Republicans and Independents respectively, 31 percent for Democrats.

LDS is a uniquely American religion, just as jazz is a uniquely American form of music. (OK. OK. That’s about where similarities end.) But still, for many Americans a “stake house” is the place you go for sirloin and Moroni (a key angelic figure in the LDS religion) is the guy who invented the radio.

About 1.5 percent of Americans are Mormon, but in Utah, more than half are. I grew up (Protestant) in Idaho, which is about 25 percent LDS.  

I have lived in cities where the mayor was LDS and in state where the governor was LDS.  As a newspaper reporter on the cops-and-courts beat I watched judges who where LDS mete out justice, and watched prosecuting attorneys who were LDS prosecute. I’ve had schoolteachers and childhood friends and shirttail relatives and mountain climbing companions who were LDS. I have worked for and alongside LDS colleagues, both in newsrooms and in the woods.

In my experience, all these Mormon folks can be summed up in one word: human.

No doubt, whenever political power and religious institutions mix, there’s opportunity for trouble.  But it’s illiberal to judge candidates by their religion. It was wrong to judge John Kennedy solely for being Catholic in 1960. It was wrong to smear Obama with the jeremiads of Rev. Jeremiah Wright in 2008. And it’s wrong to judge Romney and Huntsman solely for their beliefs in 2011.

There are plenty of reasons to vote against either candidate. Judge ‘em by how they vote, how they govern and from whom they take money. But where they spend their Sundays is irrelevant.

Sometimes, the most insidious, treacherous parts of democracy are the whisper campaigns. What other silent undercurrents are driving voters in these troubled times?

Image: Mitt Romney's Mormon faith may cost him votes and that ain't right.

 Ben Long is an outdoorsman, conservationist and writer in Kalispell, Mont. He is senior program director at Resource Media and is a former Sunday School teacher, though few would ever guess it.

Sarah Allan
Sarah Allan
Aug 16, 2011 02:50 PM
Although I find this article kind and well intentioned, I completely disagree. Religion forms a central part of many people's lives; it influences their perspective on the world as well as many other aspects of their personal and professional lives. I live in Idaho and am appalled at the influence that the LDS church, as well as other religious organizations, have on local and regional politics and policy. Unlike race, religion is not an inherent, human characteristic; it is a conscious choice that is made over and over again throughout the course of a lifetime. I think that it is fair to judge people by the choices that they have made and the lifestyle decisions that they continue to affirm.
Although I have nothing against the Mormons in particular, I am skeptical of all individuals that resort to anti-intellectual religious tenets in order to make sense of the world.
Deb Dedon
Deb Dedon Subscriber
Aug 16, 2011 04:24 PM
What, we shouldn't consider HIS biases? Worldview strongly influences actions. I've known a few people who left that flock and withstood the punishment dished out. That alone exposed the shaky foundation under their soaring pinnacles.

Controlling tactics are a sign of insecurity in both people and organizations. Not something I want in the White House.
Ryan Channell
Ryan Channell
Aug 16, 2011 10:32 PM
The fact that people are religious is a product of their lack of skepticism, it's not something to be lumped together with their race or color. I'm going to continue judging religious people, and I am going to continue to be "intolerant" to their fiction based dogmas just as they are intolerant to the many victims of such dogmas.
Bente-Marie Callaway
Bente-Marie Callaway Subscriber
Aug 16, 2011 11:54 PM
I'm sure your article will act as a lightning rod for disagreement, but I agree with you, based partly on my own interactions with church members where I lived in the US and overseas and partly on my intellectual curiosity about the historical development of the movement and its theology. Until the 1970s, or thereabouts, religion was an mainly an important issue in state and local politics and only occasionally at the national level. That all has changed. I don't know the religious affiliation of Rick Perry or Michelle Bachman, but I am quite sure that their political beliefs are much more highly motivated by their religious beliefs than either Mitt Romney or John Huntsman. Like you, I find, much to admire in the social practices of this group and also much to disagree with. But I have absolutely no fear that the LDS church will play a role in determining the politics of either candidate.
Graham Martin-Royle
Graham Martin-Royle
Aug 17, 2011 03:53 AM
You're worried that voters may take issue with someone who is worshipping as a member of the mormoms. What if a candidate were to come out and say that they were an atheist?
Bill Gore
Bill Gore Subscriber
Aug 17, 2011 08:16 AM
I too have often wondered about folks who proudly champion 'inclusivity' and then in the next breath engage in stereotyping. I am a native northern arizonan who has lived throughout the west. I have Mormon cousins, coworkers, school buddies. I happen to be Roman Catholic, and I do attend Mass. I have NEVER heard a Mormon utter a disparaging word about another person's faith. While there certainly are aspects of official LDS Church doctrine and policy that I am uncomfortable with, this also applies to my own church. As far as I'm concerned I don't have to apologize for the many shortcomings of my church and they don't have to apologize for theirs. Churches, after all, are human institutions attempting to communicate with and describe the Divine. Calvin taught that all human institutions are fundamentally flawed, while the perfection of God is infinite. The impulse to know God, however, is a small spark of this vast beauty, and should be honored and nurtured wherever it appears.
J Thew
J Thew
Aug 17, 2011 12:49 PM
I visited the inner sanctum of a Mormon temple before it was sealed against we infidels, and it was beyond eye-opening. I then delved into the Book of Mormon. These folks are flat out loons. I would no more want a Mormon president than a Scientologist or Moonie, because people who believe such dreck are not emotionally or intellectually adept enough to be the leader of the free world.
Paul Formisano
Paul Formisano
Aug 19, 2011 09:32 PM
Really, J Thew? Loons? Yeah, there are crazies out there in any religion but by and large the membership of the church consists of folks that are human (as Bill Gore noted above) trying to do their best to make their communities better places. Sure we have differences (yes, I'm Mormon), but slapping broad stereotypes on millions of adherents doesn't help in moving toward a more civil discourse in which different perspectives can be engaged. It's time to move beyond these stereotypes that pushed Mormons west in the first place. The problems that plague the region environmentally and otherwise won't stand a chance at finding solutions if groups like the Mormons, who make up a sizable portion of the West's population, are sworn off as "not emotionally or intellectually adept" to contribute to the larger cultural landscape. Let's move past 19th century anxieties toward a more productive, open dialogue. And this goes for Mormons as well.
Ben Long
Ben Long
Aug 22, 2011 08:05 AM
Boy. Interesting thread of comments. I think there is an important distinction between a religious institution and a political candidate. I am skeptical of all religious institutions, but understand the hunger for faith is a fundamental human trait and a deeply individual choice. I disagree with many positions of the LDS church, but can also recognize that there are many good LDS people serving the public. I am willing to give candidates the benefit of the doubt, regardless of their faith. To paint millions of people (Jews, Christians, Muslims, LDS, whatever) with a broad brush because of their faith is wrong. I remember what George Carlin said: Everybody is somebody else's weirdo.