Ready for a Mormon President?
Brandon Sun, April 30, 2012 - David McConkey
Mitt Romney is poised to clinch the Republican nomination, and so has a good chance of being elected president.
Because Romney is a Mormon, fascinating questions arise – both for citizens in the U.S. as well as in Canada.
What is Mormonism? Is the U.S. ready for a Mormon president?
Like many people, I am more aware of Mormonism now as Romney’s rise prompts notice in the media. In fact, we are in what has been called a “Mormon moment.” In addition to Romney, there is “The Book of Mormon,” a Broadway musical comedy. Also, Mormon author Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series of teen vampire novels.
After learning a bit about the religion, I see why it is so popular, especially in the U.S.
The founding of Mormonism by American Joseph Smith in the 1830s is significant, for it moved religion from the Middle East. Mormonism expands on the usual Bible story to describe Jesus visiting America. It also relocates the Garden of Eden from the Middle East to Missouri. This makes the U.S. not only the political and economic centre of the world, but also the religious one as well.
The Mormon religion fits with how many Americans view their country: divinely founded, industrious and prosperous, with a God-given mandate to be a global superpower. And an America where individuals become wealthy and help each other without much use for the government.
Romney, a multimillionaire businessman, lives and articulates this vision.
He advocates free enterprise, small government, and a robust military with the option of preemptive war and use of torture to get information from terrorist suspects. Romney calls for lower taxes – including on the top 1%. Like most Mormons, Romney tithes: annually giving 10% or more of his earnings to his church.
Mormon values are “as American as motherhood and apple pie,” Romney says. “My faith believes in family, believes in Jesus Christ. It believes in serving one’s neighbour and one’s community. It believes in military service. It believes in patriotism; it actually believes this nation had an inspired founding. It is in some respects a quintessentially American faith."
We can expect to hear much more about the Mormons. This includes their original belief in polygamy. (Romney is a descendant of some of the early polygamist members of the religion.) Then there is the interesting Mormon practice of avoiding not only alcohol, but also tea and coffee.
And, among other theological points, adding more levels to heaven and baptizing the dead to allow them a chance to become Mormons in the afterlife.
If Romney is elected president, it will mark a watershed in American history, ranking with John F. Kennedy’s election in 1960 as the first Roman Catholic president.
The U.S. constitution forbids any religious test for elected office. But a politician’s religion does influence their outlook, so religion should be scrutinized by voters. And, in the half century since Kennedy, religious beliefs have become much more central in political discourse.
A cultural divide has opened up in the U.S. (and to a lesser extent in Canada.) To simplify, on the one side are religious traditionalists. On the other, secular progressives.
This division has also been identified as falling along another fault line. Religious traditionalists have “authority” as a major principle. Secular progressives have “nurturing.” Again, a simplification, but quite descriptive and important.
These two sides have very different views on hot-button issues such as guns, birth control, equality of women and men, and rights of gays and lesbians. In the American election this fall, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama will spar on topics like health care and abortion. Interestingly, all these issues were rarely discussed in 1960.
Watch for more debate on other controversial issues like taxes, wealth and poverty, euthanasia, science, climate change, the War on Terror, the War on Drugs, corporal punishment of children, crime, prisons, and the death penalty.
A Mormon as president? Get ready for that question, and many more. How about: Will we have a secular progressive future? Will we see a mass religious revival – what the Americans call a “Great Awakening”?
What will be the lasting impact of today’s “Mormon moment”?
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