Would you vote for a Mormon for president?
An article in Slate argues that anti-Mormonism is part of the next frontier of prejudice in this country. While the Republican presidential candidates have been quick to condemn anti-black prejudice (such as the word “Niggerhead” painted onto a rock at Perry’s family’s leased hunting camp) — because it’s easy to attack the bigotry of one’s grandparents — they’ve sat on their hands when Romney’s faith was called a “cult” and not Christian. Not to mention they also sat on their hands when a gay soldier was booed.
The article points to national polls that demonstrate Americans are open to electing someone who is black, a woman, a Catholic, a Jew, Latino (all of these scored lower in the “less likely to support” column). The Pew Research Center suggests “gender, race and ethnicity are not major factors” in influencing people’s voting decisions. Still, people are less likely to vote for a Mormon, a homosexual, a Muslim, an atheist, someone who had an extramarital affair, or someone who smoked marijuana in the past. Of all of these, atheism drew the highest disdain.
I feel this numerical analysis is lacking. It doesn’t get to the depth needed to address this new “frontier of prejudice.” If we remember, Dallin Oaks gave a speech in 2009 comparing past anti-black prejudice to present-day anti-Mormon prejudice in society after the Prop 8 fight. The speech drew condemnation because the Church is prejudiced toward gays (anyone who actively “acts on their same-sex attraction” won’t be baptized because same-sex intimacy is said to be an “abomination”) and historically toward blacks (Oaks failed to mention the difference in degree of the prejudice, plus the Church’s own history of prejudice toward blacks), etc.
Below the Slate article, a commenter writes:
Race is not a choice; religion is.
The Mormon faith includes steadfast condemnation of those who “practice” homosexuality, and until recently didn’t allow blacks full membership. They also believe that the Constitution will “hang by a thread,” and only a Mormon can save it. They also pledge in their temples to give everything and anything to uphold their church, even their own lives if necessary. Women are allowed only in secondary positions of leadership; the entire “top tier” of leaders are men.
Romney has a choice to believe or not believe these things. He has been through the Mormon temple, so he has made those commitments to the Mormon church.
Being apprehensive about someone who has chosen these, and many other similarly discomfiting, beliefs is not bigotry. It’s being concerned about someone’s choices and allegiances, and that we should feel very free to question a future President about.
This led a Mormon to offer the following logical analysis:
Not the same thing, apples and oranges. Race is not a choice; religion is.
Sorry, but in this case, that difference doesn’t matter. If you say you won’t for a Mormon, what you’re saying is:
(1) Person X is a Mormon
(2) All Mormons have the same views on certain critical issues.
(3) I don’t agree with those views.
(4) Therefore, I could never vote for a Mormon
But premise (2) is just false. It’s false that all blacks think alike, or that all women think alike. Just because someone is a member of a certain group doesn’t mean that all people in that group think alike.
The same is true of Mormons — not all Mormons think alike. If you disagree with that, you’re pre-judging someone because of the group they are a part of. Or, in other words, you are prejudiced.
I would say that if one educates oneself about what Mormons do believe (as opposed to holding stereotypes, like thinking they’re all polygamous — although I’d say some Mormons are polygamous), then it’s perfectly reasonable to expect a Mormon to believe something until the candidate makes clear that he or she doesn’t agree with the Church on a specific issue. As much as it’d be nice to think that religious beliefs and policy decisions don’t overlap, they do.
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Certain aspects of anti-Mormonism today can be compared to race-based prejudice, but perhaps not in the way Dallin Oaks would like. For example, if we look at anti-polygamy discourse in the 19th century, Mormons were compared with polygamous Africans and Asians to make a case for how “un-American” they were. Today, the fact that anti-polygamy discourse still haunts Mormonism shows that the stereotype stays alive not only because of misinformation, but because people are intentionally engaged in a kind of nation-defining discourse.
On the progressive side of things, we want a nation where (and therefore a leader who) believes that gays should be given rights of marriage, women can be in the same spaces of leadership men can be, and so on. But even these beliefs overlap with certain prejudices — for example, some have argued that the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell points to a new historical moment where Western nations use their money and military might to punish homophobic non-Western nations. Muslims and Africans continue to be stereotyped as “backward.”
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Anyhow, the point of this post is that numerical analysis won’t be enough to address these “new” prejudices, since they overlap with the old and with each other.