Why Mitt Romney’s Mormonism Doesn’t Matter
I’ve never been impressed with the argument that Mitt Romney makes for a weak Republican nominee because conservatives don’t like him. That’s not how that party works. Like they say, “Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line.” Don’t believe me? Think back four years. When the race was still up in the air, the venom aimed at McCain was ten times worse than anything being suffered by Mitt. I collected the stuff back then: Rush Limbaugh said McCain threatened “the American way of life as we’ve always known it”; Ann Coulter said he was actually “a Democrat” (oof!); an article in the conservative magazine Human Events called him “the new Axis of Evil”; and Michael Reagan, talk radio host and the 40th president’s son, said “he has contempt for conservatives, who he thinks can be duped into thinking he’s one of them.”
Then McCain wrapped up the nomination, and Mike Reagan suddenly said, “You can bet my father would be itching to get out on the campaign trail working to elect him.” One thing Republicans understand: In American elections you have to choose from among only two people - not between the perfect and the good.
This year the pundits honk that Romney faces an even more fraught minefield than McCain did, because he is a Mormon - and the Evangelical base of the Republican Party won’t vote for a Mormon. The New York Times recently introduced us to R. Phillip Roberts, the president of a Southern Baptist seminary and author of Mormonism Unmasked - subtitle: “Confronting the Contradictions Between Mormon Beliefs and True Christianity” - who chases around the country preaching that the likes of Mitt Romney are heretics. The Newspaper of Record then asked its readers “to understand the gravity of their theological qualms”: While “traditional Christians believe in the Trinity: that God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all rolled into one,” the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints holds “that God the Father and Jesus are separate physical beings, and that God has a wife whom they call Heavenly Mother.” They backed the claim up with statistics: Just one-third of white Evangelicals in a Pew poll last November said Mormons were Christian. And what kind of Evangelical wants a president who isn’t Christian?
I think they’ll get over it. In American religious history, theological qualms tend to get pushed aside when politics intervenes.
Consider that little more than a generation ago, Catholics had it even worse than Mormons do now. “Theological qualms”? Try this one on for size: Once upon a time many, if not most, Protestant fundamentalists identified the Roman Catholic Church as nothing less than the Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth - the dreaded “Whore of Babylon” described in Revelation 17 and 18. More prosaically, they identified Catholics as an alien force. Billy Graham reassured his followers in 1960 that it was legitimate to vote against Catholic John F. Kennedy out of religious prejudice, because the Roman Catholic Church “is not only a religious but also a secular institution, with its own ministers and ambassadors.”