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.

* * *

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.”

* * *

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.

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57 Responses

  1. dpc says:

    chanson –

    My comment was directed more at comments like #21 “Visitor” rather than you. Your position is certainly reasonable. I just don’t think that it’s a good path for us as Americans to go down with respect to religion and politics. A Protestant doesn’t have to explain aspects of their religion away. How many questions did John McCain face regarding his religion? I couldn’t even tell you what religion he is. I would be more concerned about who a presidential candidate is tied to financially more than any ‘non-violent’ religious belief.

  2. chanson says:

    My comment was directed more at comments like #21 Visitor rather than you.

    I can’t speak for “Visitor”, but I’d like to explain my own personal reaction:

    On principle, I don’t really care for the meta-discussion about whether people are getting over-worked about little things, or whether we should be bothering to discuss this or that subject at all. It’s the type of not-terribly-relevant tangent that turns the discussion away from the arguments at hand and towards a personal “What’s your problem?” We’re simply here having a conversation and people can bring up what topics and questions they are interested in.

    OTOH, I get that your term “hand-wringing” is relatively mild, and in sometimes it makes sense to tell people they’re overreacting. On the other other hand, it’s really hard to tell from typed words the exact emotion and intonation behind them (unless they have caps-lock on). So, if people are interested, we could discuss how helpful/interesting meta-discussion can be. 😉

    A Protestant doesnt have to explain aspects of their religion away. How many questions did John McCain face regarding his religion? I couldnt even tell you what religion he is.

    True, and a good discussion point. This is the kind of comment that opens up constructive discussion.

    What religion was he anyway? Did picking a super-Christian running-mate help him avoid the discussion, or is it just that if you’re Christian and don’t make a big deal about it, no one will bring it up?

  3. wayne says:

    At least until now, without fact checking, Protestants have been the majority of American voters, so if your candidate is also protestant you may not feel you have to ask.

    Also, if a candidate is different enough from you, you may not vote for them simply based on your lack of a shared background.

  4. dpc says:

    After a little research, I am proud to announce that John McCain is a Baptist congregant who was brought up Episcopalian, or so says Wikipedia. There’s also an article on Bloomberg that says he keeps his faith to himself. John McCain, although I don’t think he would have been a good president, comes across as a genuinely good human being, so I think that his religion seemed irrelevant. I also think that if Jon Huntsman was the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, his connection to Mormonism would be less of an issue for many. There’s something about Romney that people just don’t seem to like. Maybe it’s because he’s just a little too successful and we’re envious and too proud to admit that he might be as a good a person on the inside as he appears on the outside.

    @Wayne: Unless I am wrong, I think that every President except JFK has been Protestant. Unless, of course, you believe the conspircacy theorists that think that President Obama is Muslim…

  5. Chino Blanco says:

    Re #39, thank you, ProfXM, your comment was exactly what I was looking for.

    The only thing I’ve added was this bit in reply to Laurie’s assertion:

    I would refer Ms. Maffly-Kipp to this July 28, 2008 letter sent to Mormon leaders in California regarding the Yes on 8 campaign, that states, in part:

    What is the timeline from here for the next few weeks? Answer:

    Congregations of LDS all having been taught the doctrine in July so that they may see the importance of fundraising and grassroots participation.

    The call to support Yes on 8 was presented to members of the LDS church as doctrinally based. Its right there in the letter. Heres the link:


    Thanks again. I’ve mentioned this before, but one thing that will be happening as Mitt gets closer to the nomination is that a new site will be going up that’s dedicated to discussing the topic of this thread. Once I’ve got a URL for y’all, I hope to see some familiar faces over there who can help to keep the discussion honest and informed.

  6. Chino Blanco says:

    Re #54, re Mitt, as I just commented over at T&S:

    Massachusetts elected a Mormon. That same Mormon returned the favor by mocking the state that elected him. Yall are familiar with the term chicken patriarchy well, Id describe Mitts approach as chicken co-belligerence and its no good for his church or his country.

    For the record, Id vote for a Mormon. If Ben McAdams ever runs for president, Id likely volunteer for that campaign.

  7. chanson says:

    I also think that if Jon Huntsman was the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, his connection to Mormonism would be less of an issue for many.

    I think there are several reasons why Mormonism is much less of an issue for Huntsman:
    1. Romney is actively trying to sell himself to the Religious Right (as one of them). Those are the folks who are the most picky about people’s religious orthodoxy. (As Chino points out @56, liberal Massachusetts elected Mitt.)
    2. Huntsman is less focused on selling himself to the (Christian) values voters, and he’s also outside the expected (stereotype) of Mormon voting patterns. (see this tweet: “To be clear, I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.”) So he already gives them impression of voting his own positions rather than voting the positions of the church.
    3. Huntsman has made public statements to the effect that he’s basically a jack-Mormon.
    4. Romney’s “Tapestry of Faith” speech emphasized the importance of faith — arguing how his faith is like that of all those other faithful Americans. This, naturally, invites the question “How similar is it, really?”. Unlike JFK’s speech affirming the importance of separation of church and state.
    5. (As you noted) Huntsman is not a frontrunner, so there’s a lot less media attention focused on him in general. But, who knows? Maybe if he were the frontrunner, he’d get the same sorts of questions about Mormonism.

    Theres something about Romney that people just dont seem to like. Maybe its because hes just a little too successful and were envious and too proud to admit that he might be as a good a person on the inside as he appears on the outside.

    There are different ways to measure success, and, in all sincerity, I don’t think that Romney even outwardly appears to be a good person.

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