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Voting for or against a Mormon as President

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Voting for or against a Mormon as President

Roger P. Hansen

Emotions often run high during key elections. Such events provide good opportunities to identify core beliefs and deep heart issues, the non-negotiables that most accurately define us. The last two Republican presidential primary elections have provided a good opportunity to take a look at the divide between Mormons and evangelicals. How do people in these two religious communities feel about supporting a Mormon for the presidency of the United States? Why do they feel the way they do?

Although public attention is most often focused on how evangelicals feel about voting for a Mormon, it is worth asking as well how Mormons feel about voting for one of their own. Nearly two-thirds (62%) of all Mormon Democrats look favorably on Mitt Romney, as do 94% of Mormon Republicans, according to a recent Pew poll (Jan 12, 2012). If these numbers sound a little abnormal, possibly David Campbell, a Mormon political scientist from the University of Notre Dame (and advisor to the Pew poll), has a possible answer: "He [Romney] is a pathmaker for Mormons just like Obama was for the blacks and Kennedy was for the Catholics." It is no secret that Mormons tend to vote for Mormons. Romney received 90% of the Utah Republican primary votes in 2008.

A current (Jan 12, 2012) Salt Lake Tribune poll shows that 60% of all voters would be comfortable voting for a Mormon as president. That changes considerably when compared to evangelical voters who, just like Mormons, prefer to vote for those who think and believe like they do. That should not come as a surprise. Still, in 2012, 14% of evangelicals voted for Romney in conservative Iowa, where 60% of the voters are evangelicals. Romney received 19% of the evangelical vote in the 2008 primary election even when running against an evangelical pastor, Mike Huckabee, who received less than half (46%) of the evangelical vote. In that same year Mike Huckabee received only 1% of all votes in the Utah Republican primary. It seems likely that the majority of those votes came from the small number of evangelicals there and that the number of Mormon votes he may have received would not even register. Why didn't Huckabee receive anything close to 19% from Mormon voters, as Iowa evangelicals gave Romney? Evangelicals are sometimes accused of bigotry and criticized for letting their religious beliefs determine their vote, but it appears that Mormons fit an even more rigid profile. However, they are never criticized by the liberal, politically correct press for such electoral "bigotry."

The real question that should be asked is this: "Why should either Mormons or evangelicals be criticized for voting their convictions?" Isn't that what democracy is all about?

The last two Republican primaries do spotlight significant tensions between evangelicals and Mormons, and they provide a good opportunity to try to understand why those tensions exist.

From an historical viewpoint, Mormons are taught that their founder, Joseph Smith, was told by Jesus Christ with God the Father (both of them standing together in physical bodies), that all other churches are wrong, that all their creeds are an abomination, and that all who profess those creeds are corrupt. Evangelicals are understandably offended by that statement. So, the tension starts there. Obviously there are huge theological differences. Actually, in its beginning the theology of Mormonism was much closer to that of evangelicalism than it is today. However, Joseph Smith, claiming new revelations from God, changed the teachings of the LDS Church over the next 14 years to the point that those doctrines became openly and blatantly heretical by the standards of historic Christianity. If those outside the LDS Church bring these concerns to Mormons' attention, Mormons typically refuse to listen. Mormons are taught to trust only their leaders regarding doctrine or the origins and history of the LDS Church and are instructed not to seek information from outside the Church. The Mormon/evangelical divide is widened because those who point out troubling ethical, historical, and biblical problems with Mormonism are primarily evangelicals. Mormons, in turn, believe such evangelicals to be presenting lies, or half-truths at best, and for the most part look upon evangelical critics as enemies of the LDS Church. Therefore, Mormons are often wary of evangelicals. Unfortunately, some evangelicals have not always expressed their concerns in love and have alienated themselves from their Mormon neighbors. And, of course, the reverse is true as well.

For both sides, what they believe to be true is of prime importance and bears eternal consequences. Mormons see evangelicals as persecuting them for their beliefs and evangelicals see Mormons as deceived, heretical, and Christian in their chosen name only. They see the enormous Mormon PR media campaigns as deceptive in presenting the LDS Church as theologically Christian, while at the same time not outlining in clear language what the Church actually believes. Mormons prefer the "milk comes before meat" approach to casting their doctrinal pearls for everyone to view. When they do talk about their faith, they often use the same words that evangelicals use but with totally different meanings. (For example, "salvation by grace" means that God guarantees immortality for virtually everyone whether they believe in Christ or not, but eternal life with God only for those who qualify by their good works. The title "Heavenly Father" means that before the world was made all people existed in heaven as the spirit children of God the Father-and of his heavenly wife, our "heavenly mother.") Evangelicals consider it "deception" that representatives of the LDS Church commonly use such terms when addressing the public without clarifying adequately what those words mean, and this is very troubling to evangelicals.

A major election-related concern for evangelicals has been that Mormon missionaries, using their sound-alike terminology, will take advantage of a Mormon as U.S. president to gain entrance into homes to proselytize people the world over. With over 55,000 LDS missionaries worldwide, each possibly knocking on a dozen or more doors each day, the ramifications could be huge. This translates into millions of homes each week. The July 16, 2011 World magazine, for instance, published an article in which two people took opposite positions on the question, "Can a Mormon be president?" The one who took the "Yes" position concluded:

If having a Mormon in the White House would give cultural cachet to a false religion, then that might be a reason-the only one I can see-for evangelicals to vote against him on religious grounds.

It is interesting that the person who gave the "No" response essentially gave this very same reason for his position. I have to assume the two writers did not read each other's responses prior to submitting their papers. Here is the "No" argument:

So the real question is whether supporting a Mormon for president promotes Mormonism. My answer to that is yes. Electing a Mormon to the world's most powerful political office would dramatically raise the profile and positive perception of Mormonism. That is why I cannot in good conscience vote for Romney, despite agreeing with him in a good many social and fiscal issues.

So, it appears that the divide is deep on both sides and will remain that way for years to come. But hopefully by better understanding the divide we will all show compassion and reach out to one another in love.