Mormonism should not affect candidacy

By Isaac Himmelman

Gage Skidmore/flickr

Still far from having secured the 2012 Republican nomination, Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith is already in the national spotlight. Dallas pastor (and Rick Perry supporter) Robert Jeffress created quite the stir when he described Mormonism as a “cult.” The Mormon bashing continued when last week in an article for Slate titled “Romney’s Mormon Problem,” atheism’s pulpit prince Christopher Hitchens launched hard-hitting questions about the religion’s origins and racist history, finally concluding that Mormonism is “one of the most egregious groups operating on American soil.”

These attacks don’t surprise me. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have faced religious persecution in this country since the religion’s founding in the 1820s. In fact, Mormonism is perhaps the only religion in the history of this country that has been threatened with government legislated annihilation. In 1838, after violence broke out during an election, Governor Lilburn Boggs of Missouri issued Missouri Executive Order 44 — more commonly referred to as “The Mormon Extermination Order.” This order called for local Mormons (who had recently had an altercation with state militia believed to be an anti-Mormon mob) to be treated as enemies of the state and exterminated. All of this from a country that was founded on the principles of religious tolerance.

Now personally I can think of several political areas where I disagree with Mitt Romney. That being said, and with politics aside, the question to consider is whether Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith would somehow compromise his role as president.

The answer to this is no. Despite a history of government legislated persecution, the Mormon Church and its adherents have shown nothing but patriotism and devotion to this country. In fact, the fundaments of the Mormon faith are intrinsically tied up with the notion of an American cosmic destiny, making one’s love for country a foundational element of the Mormon faith.

Indeed, many of the fundamental doctrines and practices of the Church do not holdup against academic scrutiny, and as scholars rightfully point out, the origins of the Church and Joseph Smith’s founding of it are dubious at best. Yet, I’d be hard pressed to name a major organized religion that does not have fundamental doctrines that require its adherents to take a figurative leap of faith. Modern adherents of all religions have to contend with fair academic questions surrounding the historical accuracy of their faiths. And yet, why are we so quick to question a candidate whose religious doctrine speaks of Israelite Wars on American soil while never thinking twice about electing a candidate whose doctrine is based on the idea that God had a Jewish son with a penchant for fishing who possessed a long list of neat party tricks including the ability to walk on water?

And just as modern adherents to Mormonism are forced to reconcile the teachings and beliefs of their Church with the reality that the Mormon Church does indeed have a history of racism, every American has to reconcile their love for this country and its ideals with our own history of state-mandated racism.

It is fair for voters to consider a candidate’s religious affiliation at the ballot box insofar as it is related to their ability to hold our highest office. Yet, Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith would in no way compromise his ability to be president, just as Barack Obama’s mainstream Christian faith has in no way compromised his ability to be president. The history of Mormons in this country is a history of perseverance, progress and ultimately, patriotism. I cannot say that Mitt Romney would be my first choice for President. Yet I can say that I would be honored to elect a Mormon to our highest office and I would hope any sensible American would be too.

Isaac Himmelman is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].