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.

You may also like...

57 Responses

  1. Chino Blanco says:

    This current moment is probably as good as it gets for Mormons who’re concerned about the direction of the national discussion about their church. Once Mitt secures the nomination, that’s when the press will pivot and start churning out pieces on “what Mormons think”… Before this is over, I’m guessing not a few LDS leaders will wish they’d taken Gene England’s advice and worked on making the membership less lock-step Republican.

  2. aerin says:

    Wasn’t Bill Clinton a Southern Baptist? I’m not terribly happy about some of their beliefs either (like wives obeying their husband). And I believe Nixon was a Quaker.

    I think it’s a lot more complicated than one or two factors (as the poll suggests). How religious is a person anyway? How does their religion impact their leadership and political decisions? Are they a politician first and a religious person second? (ignoring whether or not an atheist could be elected…)

    I think religion is only a part of any choice I would make.

  3. Hellmut says:

    I certainly don’t think that Mormon stereotypes apply to me.

  4. Badger says:

    I feel strong instinctive disapproval for the sentiment “I wouldn’t vote for a Mormon” (or Catholic, Jew, etc.) However, as I try to think through my reasons, it becomes murkier than I’d like.

    First, I don’t see any problem in general with ruling out candidates based on organizational affiliations. “I wouldn’t vote for a Democrat/Republican” seems quite defensible (if atypical) on the grounds of establishing legislative majorities. “I wouldn’t vote for a member of the KKK” is hard to argue with. I think the affiliation speaks for itself and I couldn’t take seriously the approach of “not all KKK members have the same views on race.” There is spectrum between the politically red-hot KKK and essentially politically inert organizations like, say, the PTA, and we all have to draw a line somewhere.

    It’s easy to come up with hypothetical extreme cases where we would all agree a candidate should be ruled out by religion. That’s not very interesting, so leaving the tabloid-headline murder cults aside, why should exclusion of candidates by religious affiliation be avoided? I wish I could give a confident and unequivocal answer to the effect that it is un-American, our national constitution prohibits de jure religious disqualification, and that it runs against over two centuries of commitment to religious pluralism.

    Unfortunately (in my opinion) I don’t believe such a commitment is widely held, or ever has been. I’ve even received bulk emails from Mormons to the effect that America is a Christian nation, and that it should be governed by Christians (or “Judeo-Christians”, and don’t get me started on that). I have to assume that these Mormons believe they would be included in the favored Christian class. I don’t know why.

    So, for candidates who mingle their religion and politics inseparably, there’s no point trying to dissect them apart or feeling bad about not voting for someone based on religion. This reduces the commenter’s point to a weaker assertion: if all you have is a label (“Mormon”, “Baptist”, etc.), that’s an insufficient basis. As my KKK example illustrated, this isn’t always true; there’s basically only one reason to join the KKK. Mormonism is very different; many are born into it, and politics isn’t usually important in conversion stories. On the other hand, the organization stands for a few political positions (e.g., Prop 8), the culture has a strong political character and a subtler but influential and politically relevant set of presuppositions about matters such as the nature of authority.

    As seen by the larger culture, it seems to me it’s somewhat comparable to then-candidate Obama’s affiliation with the Rev. Wright, and numerous other connections of that kind (Bob Jones University has come up more than once). Criticism of Rev. Wright led Obama to resign from his church, but he might plausibly have chosen to remain a member and take the heat. I didn’t get the sense that criticism of Obama for the connection to Wright was widely perceived as off limits, by Mormons or non-Mormons. If somebody thinks Romney should resign from the LDS because of its position on gay rights, we here may suspect that Romney is being asked to pay a higher price than Obama did, given the status of resignation in Mormonism. But from an outsider’s point of view I think it would be comparable. Of course, Romney doesn’t want to distance himself from his church leaders in the same way Obama did from Wright, so it’s just a hypothetical comparison.

  5. JJL9 says:

    I think every American has the “right” to discriminate as they please. They have the “right” to dismiss a potential candidate because he/she is Mormon.

    But to come out and claim that Mormonism is a cult, and then defend your position like this –> http://tinyurl.com/3p7ukt5 with CNN’s Anderson Cooper will do more to convince people you are stupid than to convince them not to vote for Romney.

    His basic claim is that any church other than his own is not true, not Christian, and therefore a cult.

    He should probably watch this –> http://tinyurl.com/5uncp4k

    At any rate, I think a quick check of Harry Reid’s votes against Jason Chaffetz’s votes should dispel any false claim that a Mormon’s politics are somehow dictated by the Mormon church.

    That said, I would not vote for Romney, and it has nothing to do with his religion.

  6. dpc says:

    Alan – You said “I would say that if one educates oneself about what Mormons do believe…then its perfectly reasonable to expect a Mormon to believe something until the candidate makes clear that he or she doesnt agree with the Church on a specific issue.” You could replace all those word Mormon with Catholic, Jew or Muslim and still give the textbook definition of “stereotype”. Why should your prejudice determine what another believes?

    There are so many different things that a Mormon could believe and still be considered a Mormon. What beliefs are common to all Mormons everywhere? Would this mean that a candidate would have to list out in inordinate detail what they do or do not believe? Perhaps a detailed list of what every prophet from Joseph Smith to Thomas Monson has stated and then the candidate would have to comment on each teaching? What about the teachings of other apostles and general authorities? Is this a worthwhile use of time? Unless they believe that they are called by God to start a nuclear armageddon, who really cares that much about candidates’ metaphysical beliefs?

    You also said “As much as itd be nice to think that religious beliefs and policy decisions dont overlap, they do.”

    Prove this. How did Richard Nixon’s Quakerism inform his policies? How did Thomas Jefferson’s deism inform his? Religious beliefs may inform a particular worldview, but belonging to a certain religion does not necessarily lead to one particular corresponding worldview.

    A lot of what the government does has absolutely nothing to do with social policy. It’s a minor piece of a massive puzzle. And the President has even less power to define that social policy. Barack Obama was all for the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” but it didn’t happen until Congress voted for it. Was President Obama’s desire to repeal DADT linked to his religious beliefs or to his overall worldview?

  7. Chino Blanco says:

    You could replace all those word Mormon with Catholic, Jew or Muslim…

    Uh, yeah, you could. And, as a country, we’ve actually had those conversations from time to time. If this headline doesn’t ring a bell, you either haven’t been following along or you’re still in high school… “Cardinal Ratzinger Orders Kerry Communion Ban”

    Would this mean that a candidate would have to list out in inordinate detail what they do or do not believe?

    Why not? Harry Reid took the time to mention his view that Prop 8 was an inordinate use of LDS resources.

    …belonging to a certain religion does not necessarily lead to one particular corresponding worldview.

    Well, we can either accept your naked assertion here or take a few minutes to look at Utah voting patterns. For those of us blessed with the free time to look into Utah’s track record, the revelation is that Mormons are by-and-large bloc-voters.

  8. chanson says:

    I think Badger @4 makes some good points (kind of along same lines that I was thinking).

    If a candidate is a Republican, yet is firmly on the same side as I am on the issues I care about, then the fact that that person is a Republican wouldn’t matter much to me — I’d vote for the candidate anyway. However, if the candidate is a Republican, then that means s/he is very unlikely to be on my side on the issues I care about.

    I can imagine a (faithful or not) Mormon who is on my side on the issues I care about — and whom, consequently, I’d vote for. Yet, I think that it’s less likely, if the person is a faithful Mormon, that we’d share political views.

    OTOH, as JJL9, and Bill Maher in the sidebar (and many others) have pointed out, there are a lot of Christians who don’t have a problem with Romney’s politics, but who won’t vote for him simply because they believe that his church is a “cult.”

    I think the original Pew Research poll elides this difference in a very unhelpful way — so that preferences based on the candidates’ actual qualifications (eg. “been a business executive” vs. “been an elected official in Washington for many years”) are thrown in the same bucket with things that may be real predictors of the candidate’s likely positions (eg. “Mormon” vs. “atheist”) and with items that are essentially nothing more than identity politics (eg. “Black” or “Woman”).

  9. dpc says:

    Chino – In response to your first point, if we took someone who knew nothing about John Kerry except we told them that John Kerry was a Catholic, would it be a reasonable for that person to assume that he was opposed to abortion? Would it be reasonable for that person to say that John Kerry believes that the bread blessed by the priest in mass literally becomes the Body of Christ? Would it be reasonable for that person to assume that John Kerry believes that the Pope is infalliable? I think the answer is no to all the above because I’ve met a lot of Catholics and they all hold varying degrees of belief, even those who regularly attend mass twice a week.

    This leads me to the next point: do any of John Kerry’s religious beliefs really have any impact on what his policies would be?

    The example of Harry Reid you used for your second point is inapposite. Harry Reid didn’t disclose any kind of religious belief by his statement. I think that the millions of dollars spent by both sides on marriage equality in California to this point has been a colossal waste of resources. The current debate is over the definition of a single word. There are no substantive ‘rights’ involved at all, at least as far as the state is concerned. It’s my heartfelt belief that even if same sex marriage was legally recognized, the number of people involved in it would be tiny. In Canada, same sex marriage was recognized in 2003 and by the census in 2006, only 10,000 married homosexual couples were counted in the census. This was out of a population of 31,000,000 people. And Canada is a lot more liberal with regard to homosexuality in general, so while there may be some who feel like they can’t go public with their relationship and get married, that number is pretty small. On the last census in California, they counted 28,000 homosexual couples. We are talking about a really small population group. And yet it gets so much attention. I feel that that all this attention is unwarranted and a waste of time, money and resources. That money could be better spent elsewhere. Just legalize it and move on, I say. So you could say that I agree with Harry Reid. And my position has nothing to do with any of my religious beliefs.

    As for point three, Alabama has election numbers that are pretty close to Utah, but 46% of the population in Alabama is evangelical and 60% of the population in Utah is Mormon. Even though both could be classified as conservative, Evangelical beliefs and Mormon beliefs are different. Why would these two states have similar voting records at the state and federal level, yet have vastly different demographics? What percentage can we assign to religion? Wouldn’t it be better to say that culture (of which religion is but a part) is a greater predictor of election results rather than just religion alone. Even if Mormons in Utah are reliably Republican, that is not necessarily true for all Mormons everywhere in the world. Are Mexican Mormons reliably PAN? Are Canadian Mormons reliably Conservative Party? Are those parties comparable to the Republican party to begin with?

  10. dpc says:

    chanson – True story regarding atheist versus Mormon. Back home, I know two brothers who both belong to the same political party (the Wild Rose Alliance), which is very conservative. One brother is stalwart LDS and a member of the provincial legislature. The other brother is a stalwart ex-LDS atheist (who will gladly teach anyone willing to listen exactly why the LDS church is wrong) and is running on a identical platform as his brother to join the legislature. Both are great guys (even if I disagree with them politically) with wonderful families.

    My take from all this is that religion is not a predictor for political positions. It’s only a predictor of what we, the hopelessly prejudiced, may have regarding what we think will be their likely positions.

  11. Alan says:


    There are so many different things that a Mormon could believe and still be considered a Mormon. What beliefs are common to all Mormons everywhere? Would this mean that a candidate would have to list out in inordinate detail what they do or do not believe?

    Well, I’m not just going to assume every candidate is a blank slate who has to list out all their beliefs in inordinate detail, despite their labels. “Mormon” and “Republican” are shortcuts. Like I said, a good candidate will know when to distance themselves from their church or their party on a given issue to prevent he or she from being “stereotyped” based on the pattern of beliefs of their church or party.

    Take gender complementarity, for example. If a candidate says they’re Mormon, I’m going to assume they are anti-gay marriage unless they tell me otherwise. I would not say I stereotyped them, especially since I’m open to them breaking the mold, for various reasons (such as the reason of being against the expense of fighting the inevitable, which isn’t exactly a pro-gay marriage position, mind you).

    Not all faiths have similar patterns. It’s easy to find a very progressive Catholic in politics (Dennis Kucinich comes to mind); it is more difficult to find a very progressive Mormon in politics (IMO). I suppose I’m open to this being my “prejudice,” but I also think there’s a connection to reality.

  12. Alan says:


    What percentage can we assign to religion? Wouldnt it be better to say that culture (of which religion is but a part) is a greater predictor of election results rather than just religion alone?

    Yes, and I would say that the culture of Mormonism is great predictor of election results. 😀 (Edit: Seriously, though, you don’t think Mormons are reliably conservative?)

  13. visitor says:

    I think the oath to the Law of Consecration is good enough reason to be apprehensive about voting for someone who promises in advance to give away the power of his office. So far as I know, the LDS is the only church that requires such a promise.

    It’s unfortunate that Perry’s surrogates and Huckabee before them went to such ugly stereotypes of the LDS. They have rendered any discussion of the Mormon religion vis a vis a candiate a hot button such that there is no discussion of the above oath.

    What’s more, I doubt more than a handful of American voters are even aware of the Law of Consecration. They should be.

  14. JJL9 says:


    What a bigotted and ignorant thing to say. You really have to stretch to make an ass out of yourself like that.

  15. dpc says:

    Alan – The two Mormon candidates for the Republican nomination strike me as quite moderate. I would argue that Harry Reid is a moderate as well. I think that western American Mormon voters are reliably “socially” conservative. I’m not sure if they are “fiscally” conservative though. In the South, the expats from out west seem very conservative, while the born-and-bred Southern Mormons seem to be a little more moderate. I think this has more to do with culture than any particular religious belief. But I do think you’re on to something with the culture of Mormonism…

  16. dpc says:

    @13 Absolutely. Everyone knows that every single Mormon everywhere is completely and 100% living the law of consecration. And when a Mormon is elected president, they will ‘own’ America and will consequently consecrate it to the church, depsite swearing a legally-binding oath to uphold and support the U.S. Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. And we the people will be powerless to stop it because Congress and the Supreme Court will be so beholden to the President that they wouldn’t, not for one second, think of invoking their powers to stop any kind of power grab by the President on behalf of a small church out in the middle of the desert.

  17. Daniel says:

    That’s right, dpc. And as we all know, once someone is president, there’s nothing anyone can do to block them or obstruct what they’re trying to do, or anything.

  18. kuri says:

    Mormons live up to the Law of Consecration about as well as other Christians live up to the Golden Rule. IOW, it’s completely irrelevant to the way anyone but a tiny minority of Mormons actually lives.

  19. chanson says:

    What a bigotted and ignorant thing to say. You really have to stretch to make an ass out of yourself like that.

    JJL9, this is not constructive criticism. Either respond to other commenters’ arguments, or — if you think their points don’t merit mention — at least come up with a clever (yet civil) retort or something.

  20. chanson says:

    One brother is stalwart LDS and a member of the provincial legislature. The other brother is a stalwart ex-LDS atheist (who will gladly teach anyone willing to listen exactly why the LDS church is wrong) and is running on a identical platform as his brother to join the legislature.

    Even if some religious preferences can be a reasonable predictor of a candidate’s politics, that doesn’t mean the predictions will be 100% accurate — they’re simply probabilities. For example, if the only thing I know about a candidate is “s/he’s an atheist,” I can tell you that that fact increases the likelihood that I’ll want to vote for the candidate — not out of identity politics (“Boo-yeah! Go team atheist!”), but because it’s correlated with being scientifically literate, hence the person is more likely to agree with me on important issues like energy and the environment. (OTOH, if the only facts I’m given are “S/he’s an atheist and his/her favorite author is Ayn Rand,” then the probability that I’ll vote for that candidate suddenly drops into the negatives.)

    However, before stepping into the voting booth, I would hope I’d know more about the candidates than their religion (or lack thereof). And once I know the candidates’ positions on the issues, then using shorthand to predict the candidates’ political views becomes totally irrelevant.

    That’s essentially my problem with the poll. It’s not clear whether they’re asking “Given a candidate you completely agree with, would these points influence your decision of voting for that candidate?” or whether they’re asking “If all I tell you about the candidate is that s/he’s in category X, do you think it’s likely that you’d vote for that candidate?”

  21. visitor says:

    So, what you’re saying is I should be reassured that an oath to the Constitution that expires in 4 years supersedes the one that determines whether or not one becomes a god and that I can assume a Mormon President can be relied upon to ignore the oath to the Law of Consecration? Does that indicate that the oath to the Constitution would be more binding?

    Sorry, not relieved at all by either of these prospects. Certainly not when such a politically aggressive church concerned. Not even if that means people will take me to be a bigot.

  22. chanson says:

    Note: the precise wording of the covenant to accept the law of consecration can be found here for those who aren’t familiar with it.

    This covenant — which is regularly renewed by all endowed temple-going Mormons — can be reasonably interpreted as an oath to use any power and position you have for the benefit of the CoJCoL-dS, if called upon to do so.

    Since (as Kuri points out @18) modern Mormons typically don’t live the Law of Consecration, one can argue that the oath is irrelevant because Mormons typically don’t take it seriously. Either way, it’s potentially a problem. If the candidate does take the oath seriously, then it’s obviously a potential conflict of interest for becoming PotUS, whereas if the candidate doesn’t take the oath seriously, it’s perhaps a bit questionable that he’d be regularly giving his word on something without meaning it.

  23. kuri says:

    …its perhaps a bit questionable that hed be regularly giving his word on something without meaning it.

    Well, that’s Romney in a nutshell, isn’t it? (And most other politicians as well, although many of them are less obvious about it.)

    And every president since FDR (except Carter) has sent US troops into battle, so it’s safe to say that we can expect a Christian president to ignore that whole Golden Rule cheek turning thing. I don’t see why anyone would have higher expectations from Mormons.

    I mean, Romney is a venture capitalist and a politician, FFS. Why in the world anyone would worry about him “consecrating” anything to anyone but himself is beyond me.

  24. chanson says:

    Well, thats Romney in a nutshell, isnt it? (And most other politicians as well, although many of them are less obvious about it.)

    Right — I don’t think the LoC covenant is an insurmountable problem or impossible to explain away. OTOH, I don’t think it’s crazy or bigoted to point it out as a potential problem that the candidate should be willing to answer for.

    And, BTW, this isn’t just a question of picking on Mormons. Michelle Bachmann has faced some very similar criticism based on her belief that she has to obey and submit to her husband in all things. Naturally, this leads to questions about who will really be in charge if she’s elected: see here and here.

  25. profxm says:

    RE dpc’s #10:
    “My take from all this is that religion is not a predictor for political positions. Its only a predictor of what we, the hopelessly prejudiced, may have regarding what we think will be their likely positions.”

    dpc, you have, unfortunately, just incurred the wrath of the statistics gods. If you want to argue that religion is not predictive of political positions, you’re going to have to back that up with statistics since you’re now talking about empirical questions.

    A quick perusal of the General Social Survey (using my stats program) shows that how fundamentalist someone is (ranging from fundamentalist to moderate to liberal) is as strong of a predictor of attitudes toward abortion and homosexual sex as is political party affiliation – each explain about 4% of the variation in views toward abortion and about 6.5% of the variation in attitudes toward homosexual sex. And the relationship is statistically significant.

    In case r-square stats aren’t meaningful to you, let’s try this – 75.7% of Protestants and 62.4% of Catholics say that homosexual sex is “always wrong.” Just 28.2% of Jews and 34.3% of Nones say homosexual sex is “always wrong.” What about abortion for any reason? 36% of Protestants and 35.6% of Catholics say a woman should be able to get an abortion for any reason. 77.8% of Jews and 66% of Nones say women should be able to get an abortion for any reason. All of those differences are ridiculously statistically significant (p<.0000001). You really want to tell me that religion is not predictive of political views? In what absurdist world is that the case? 'Cause in the real world where we use data, religion is one of the strongest predictors of political views. Maybe what you meant to say was something like, "It is not possible to predict with 100% accuracy what the views of a member of religion X will be on political issue Y." That, of course, is true. But I can say with a great deal of confidence (99.9999% roughly) that your typical Jew is going to be more pro-choice than your typical Catholic. And that means I can "predict" someone's political views with a pretty good degree of accuracy if I know their religious views. Will I occasionally be wrong? Of course I will. But not very often. Care to rephrase your comment?

  26. Alan says:

    I think at different historical moments the data will differ, though. For example, in the early 20th century, evangelicals were largely isolationists, and now they seem largely pro-military. The geographical nuance that dpc mentions @15 is also important. Surveys would have to be administered to determine correlation because the correlations don’t exist a priori. Thus, I can see why dpc wants to say it’s more about “culture” than “faith.”

    Personally, though, I don’t think the distinction is necessary. A good sociologist will take into account historical and geographic nuance within a given faith community. “The Mormon community votes X, Y, Z” means the same thing as the “Mormon cultural community votes X, Y, Z.” Nobody wants their community described as a hegomonic (read: “unthinking”) bloc, but I don’t think correlation (statistical correlation, not the LDS kind :p) has to read that way.

  27. Smorg says:

    Interesting topic & comment session!

    I probably don’t know as much about Mormons as most people here do, but from all I’ve seen so far with my missionaries and Mormon churchgoers I’d think more than twice before voting any active Mormon for president. And not only active Mormons, but anyone active in any religion that exhibits as much willingness and ability to interfere with the thinking process and daily lives of its membership as the LDS church does… so that would also include a lot of the fundamental religious groups.

    I’m liking my missionary sisters a lot, but they are so affected by the church’s ‘end justifies the means’ way of doing things I wouldn’t trust them to know what my best interest is. They seem stuck on wanting to baptize me into the church regardless of whether they have convinced me of its truth or not. They’ve brought around a less-active (I guess) normal Mormon gal with them twice already. Apparently the lady has gone non-active a few times but always got corralled back… Guess they’re doing that to her again. She always tried to follow their line and just ended up sounding like a parrot. I’ve been an evangelical Christian in my late teens and early 20’s and never seen anything like that (of course, it could also be happening in some fundie Christian cults… but most of the Christian denominations aren’t cultish and won’t endlessly harass you from leaving their church). So… to me, the LDS church has too much power over its regular active members for me to trust their active members to be able to recognize that doing the right thing isn’t always the same as doing what the prophet/church leaders say.

  28. Karen says:

    Here’s where I come from: I’m an ex-Catholic and an atheist. I figure whoever I’ll be voting for in November 2012 will have some religious affiliation. So what. I care a whole lot more about their stance on my trigger issues (which happen to be health care for all, strengthening the social safety net, abortion rights, gay marriage rights, and doing something USEFUL about the #$%&* economy…with the last stated being the first priority). I try to ignore labels like “Democrat” and “Republican”; my stated political party where I’m registered to vote is “Decline to state”. I tend to vote liberal but I have on occasion voted for Republicans who were socially moderate and economically savvy. So I’m not worried about whatever religion the candidates practice.

    I’m not a Romney nor a Huntsman supporter, and I’m certainly not a Mormon. But I would say to Christians who view them as being members of cults, remember a cult started by an itinerant Jewish preacher named Jesus… that was evangelized like crazy by his followers, including a Roman named Paul. Amazing cult. Drove the poor Roman government crazy. Emperors couldn’t figure out whether to tolerate it or not until Constantine! So “cult” is an observation in a particular time and place, nothing else. Some religious groups fade, and some grow.

    But to label a religion a “cult”, at least in the U.S., brings on memories of The People’s Temple and the Branch Davidians, small groups who were bent on, or set themselves up for, destruction based on the commands of single individuals. That’s a horribly tainted brush to paint Mormons with!

  29. dpc says:


    Allow me to quibble with you a bit with two caveats: 1) I don’t have access to the altar of the statistics gods as you do and 2)this is your area of expertise (sociology, right?) so if I sound way out in left field, be nice when you expose and destroy any bogus ideas. 🙂

    I think you let the statistics say too much. First, to hold a prejudice does not necessarily mean that a given prejudice is wholly unjustified. If past experience shows that some X’s are Y’s, then (I believe) it is folly to believe that this particular X is a Y unless X states otherwise, even if, on the aggregate, this X is more likely to be a Y compared to non-X’s. Let’s use an innocuous example. One could assume that because a candidate is Mormon, that person would support an indoor clean air act (like they have in Florida) because the Word of Wisdom prohibits tobacco use. But the candidate could be a libertarian. Or maybe a restaurant owner who understands that smokers tend to stay longer and eat/drink more. Which would be a better predictor of his political stance (and I think chanson hit on this), his belief in Mormonism, his belief in liberatarianism or his business self-interest? Would it be reasonable to assume that he prefers one outcome over another on the basis of religious affiliation alone?

    I think religion may be a predictor of person’s views on issues that have a social/moral implication, like abortion and homosexual marriage. But the fact that one may belief homosexual relations to be “always wrong” or that women should be able to have abortions whenever this wish is not a predictor of what political solution they may advance. I myself personally believe that abortions should be legally available, although I also believe that certain reasonable restrictions should apply (e.g. no “abortions of convenience” after the first trimester where the mother’s or the baby’s life is not at risk) and that the government may make certain policy decisions that may impact whether a mother decides to abort or not (such as possibly requiring a mother to receive a no-pressure counseling before undergoing an abortion). And I could believe and support all these things, while at the same time believing that abortion in some instances is a morally reprehensible action and a sin if I was to encourage another to participate in it. But how much of that nuance would you be able to tell just from the fact that I self-identify as Mormon?

  30. JJL9 says:

    dpc, you got that right (#29).

    I have always contested that stereotypes represent assumptions that are “usually” true. In other words, they represent the statistical majority.

    For instance, I believe that over 70% of black babies are born out of wedlock. So the stereotype existst that black men are out there impregnating black women, and not marrying them. It turns out that this stereotype exists because it is more often the case than not.

    If the above statistic is true, then it is true. It has nothing to do with prejudice or bigotry. It’s just the way it is. The issue becomes an issue when I meet a black mother, and without knowing anything else about her, I simply assume that her baby was born without a dad. What I can assume is that given the information I have it is more likely, but I can’t assume that it is the case.

    Of course when it comes to “voting for a Mormon”, the issues become much more complicated. People tend to think in binary when it comes to politics. A person must either be a Democrat or a Republican, and everything else just falls in line after that. If they are a Democract, they must be liberal, pro-abortion, pro-welfare, pro-big-government, anti-capitalist, pro-affirmative-action, anti-rich, pro-tax, pro-regulation, environmentalist, anti-religion, anti-God, etc… A Republican must be the opposite of all of that. Of course, in all reality, you could find Ds & Rs that fit any combination of the above labels.

    And again, the most obvious refutation of all regarding making assumptions about Mormons in politics would be to compare the voting records of Harry Reid and Jason Chaffetz. It becomes beyond obvious that you can’t assume anything about one’s politics based on their membership in the LDS Church.

  31. Alan says:

    Of course, in all reality, you could find Ds & Rs that fit any combination of the above labels.

    Doubtful. A person is a “Republican” because they agree with the party’s platform more than they agree with the other side’s, or else they wouldn’t identify with either party. Bringing up Harry Reid doesn’t negate the existence of the Republican super-majority in the Utah State Legislature. Perhaps you can’t assume much about a particular Mormon’s politics, but you sure can assume about Mormons generally.

    How much of that nuance would you be able to tell just from the fact that I self-identify as Mormon?

    Even if the nuance is lost, one can statistically tie the faith to the political party. I think this means something, given that other faiths (like Presbyterians or Catholics) don’t have the same voting pattern. Of course one can choose to ignore this something and concentrate on differences, which is fine, but I can safely assume that Utah will go red this election cycle (as it has for the last 40+ years).

  32. profxm says:

    Statistics should never be assumed, as JJL9 does, to apply to a specific individual. That is called the ecological fallacy.

    Statistics are about groups of people. I’m sure there is some Republican out there who is socially progressive, in favor of government programs, etc. but considers him/herself a Republican despite actually agreeing with the politics of Democrats. But such individuals are, of course, rare. Statistically, they are.

    When it comes to religion… dpc and JJL9, I still don’t think you understand what statistics can tell you. We know a number of things about Mormons: more likely to be Republican, opposed to abortion, opposed to same sex marriage, opposed to illegal drugs, etc. Does that mean I should immediately assume that any Mormon I meet will agree with all of those positions? No. Of course not. There are exceptions. But, if I had to guess, upon meeting a random Mormon, what they believe, you know what I would guess? That they believe what the majority of Mormons believe. However, I wouldn’t insist that they must believe what the majority of Mormons believe once they inform that they do not.

    And where this moves beyond stereotypes is if I approach each Mormon as an individual and recognize that Mormons DO NOT have to believe these things. Knowing that Mormons generally believe X, Y, and Z does not mean that every Mormon believes that. Generalizing means you take data and say things like, “The majority of Mormons oppose same sex marriage.” Stereotyping is an unfair characterization of people that you retain even when presented with evidence to the contrary, like, “All Mormons are racists.”

    dpc, it’s great that you think carefully about your politics. But it doesn’t change my ability to generalize about Mormons. It’s the power of statistics.

  33. Alan says:

    ecological fallacy

    Cool. In case anyone wants to learn some new terms:

    Ecological fallacy (AKA fallacy of division): When you assume an individual possesses the aggregate qualities of the group in which they belong (stereotyping is an example of this fallacy).

    OPPOSITE: fallacy of composition: When you assume an individual’s qualities are representative of the group’s.

    RELATED: hasty generalization: When you come to a conclusion from insufficient evidence or without taking into consideration enough variables.

    OPPOSITE: slothful induction: When despite enough evidence, you still chalk it up to coincidence.

  34. wayne says:

    Chino #7
    As a Former Utahn—and former Mormon voter I must say that I never once voted for anything that I felt went against my deepest “spiritual beliefs.”
    I also never voted Republican, but that is another story.

    Frankly, candidates should absolutely be checking their votes against their religious beliefs, if there is friction between deeply held beliefs and the way they vote they end up looking bad and hopefully feeling bad. Of course the question of whether ones religious beliefs are right or wrong and in sync with the rest of society is another discussion.
    As for voting for a Mormon, well that depends on the Mormon. Mormons are a known quantity and imho not any worse than an evangelical.
    Vote Buddhist….lol

  35. Chino Blanco says:

    Hey, I’d like to ask a favor: Terryl Givens, Laurie Maffly-Kipp, and Grant Hardy were called upon to rebut something Fred Karger said to a UK paper. Could you take a sec and check what they wrote? Here’s the link:


    Is Terryl right that “No member has been disciplined for his or her political conduct”?

    I seem to remember Mormon profs losing jobs at BYU for expressing “wrong” viewpoints.

    Is Laurie right that “Members are always reminded that the dictates of their own conscience are paramount.”

    Paramount? Really? What was Oaks’ advice about priesthood authority/revelation? I seem to remember it was top-down.

    Is Grant right in this: “But the word sustain does not mean obey or even agree with in every particular. There is a long tradition in Mormonism of valuing agency and individual conscience. Similarly, in the temple ceremony itself, Latter-day Saints make a covenant of obedience, but it is obedience to God rather than obedience to the prophet or to the church.”

    Thanks for any help judging whether any of these three have made a demonstrably false statement.

  36. dpc says:

    For all those who worry about temple covenants and its impact on Mormon politicians, could you please provide me some evidence to back up your worries? All I see is a link to some verbiage and hand-wringing about what “could” happen. Your feelings are all well and good, but like an atheist, I require more than your feelings and prejudices to be convinced. Please share with me your evidence that Mormon politicians have in the past consecrated their political positions to the Mormon church.

  37. Parker says:

    I don’t think there is any argument that memebers of the Church are clearly instructed to follow their priesthood leaders, and “sustain” has taken on a unique meaning in the LDS Church implying “follow,” in spite of Professor Hardy’s comment. On the other hand, as far as I can determine the First Presidency and the Quorum of Twelve seem to have no opinion (perhaps even awareness) of any issues that are facing the U. S., or the world, econocially, or enviornmentally. So it would really suprise me if they offered an opinion to an LDS elected official.

  38. JJL9 says:


    Political conduct has nothing to do with being in a paid position to teach and teaching contrary to what you are paid to teach. If you were a math teacher and you taught that 1 + 1 = 3, but your school’s adminstration asked you to please teach that 1 + 1 = 2, then you might lose your job, but it has nothing to do with “political conduct”. Even outside of the classroom, if you used your position to promote the opposite of what you were being paid to teach, that would not be “political conduct”.

    “Top-down” revelation, as you call it has to do with authority. For instance, only the President of the Church, the Prophet, has the authority to receive revelation for the whole Church. It wouldn’t make sense for the Lord to call a leader and then ask someone else in the organization to effect changes in policy or to reveal new doctrine to the Church. A bishop is given the mantle of authority for his ward, etc…. As a father, I am entitled to receive guidance regarding my own family. It would be strange if I knocked on your door and said that the Spirit had whispered to me that you should quit your job and go do something different. It wouldn’t make any sense that the Lord would tell me. He would tell you. On the other hand, every one of us should seek inspiration for ourselves, regarding our own lives. We are all commanded to follow the dictates of our own conscience.

    To sustain a leader is to support them and recognize that they have been called by God and that it is their responsibility to fulfill the duties of that calling. I may disagree with my Bishop. That’s fine. But I recognize that it’s not my place to make the decisions that he has to make. He is not perfect. None of us are. But he needs my support and the support of everyone in the ward. Maybe he was called to that position because he needs to go through certain experiences and learn certain things. Maybe he’ll make mistakes along the way. Sustaining him has nothing to do with suggesting he is infallible.

  39. profxm says:

    RE #35:
    Sonia Johnson was excommunicated for her political activities against the ERA:

    I know a lot of Mormons will say it is because she is lesbian, but she was ex’d before she came out as lesbian. So, the evidence suggests she was ex’d for opposing the church on political issues. That means Teryl Givens is wrong on that point.

    David Knowlton, now at UVSU, was denied tenure for some political leanings, but he wasn’t ex’d. There were others in that environment who were also denied tenure for political views:

    Jeffrey Nielsen lost his job more recently over his criticism of LDS Inc. on Prop. 8:

    But I don’t think it led to excommunications. As far as I know, at least in modern times, Sonia Johnson may be the only person who was actually ex’d for political activities.

    I’d say Laurie is wrong as well. In all of the political activity surrounding Proposition 8 in California I highly doubt the Utah-based leadership ever included a letter to be read over the pulpit that said something to the effect of, “You can disagree with us on the issue of same-sex marriage and still be a member in good standing.” When it comes to voting for candidates, LDS Inc. is more non-partisan, because it legally has to be. But on specific issues, like same-sex marriage, I doubt LDS Inc. has ever, ever said, “Oh, whatever you think is fine.” It’s very top-down on those issues.

    Grant is fudging the words here. While it’s true that “sustain” could mean a variety of things, we all pretty much know what it means in practice, if not in specific definition. It means support, follow, and agree to obey. Also, the temple ceremony is more sinister than he is making it out to be. Women agree to obey their husbands as their husbands obey god. And the law of consecration is a required component of the ceremony. While I’ll agree with dpc (#36) that it’s clear that does not mean politicians must sign over their political views to the church, the language is in there. Harry Reid is a good example of someone being a Mormon and politician whose views don’t perfectly align with the church’s. And, unlike the Catholic church with Kerry in 2004, I don’t know of any instances when LDS Inc. disfellowshipped a politician for their political views. They did ex. Sonia Johnson, but she was a political activist. They have fired professors, but they were not politicians. So, while sustain means more than Grant is suggesting, this is an area where LDS Inc. allows a great deal of leeway. That said, if Romney was elected and then led a charge to pass a constitutional amendment legalizing same-sex marriage, the only thing that would keep him from getting ex’d would be the incredible amount of terrible press that would result for LDS Inc.

  40. kuri says:

    Is Terryl right that No member has been disciplined for his or her political conduct?
    I seem to remember Mormon profs losing jobs at BYU for expressing wrong viewpoints.

    I suppose she’s technically correct. People don’t get disciplined for their “political conduct” as long as they don’t mention the church. They get disciplined when they criticize or explicitly disagree with the church by name as part of their political conduct. So, technically, they get disciplined for opposing the church rather than for politics.

    Is Laurie right that Members are always reminded that the dictates of their own conscience are paramount.

    Members are told that they must decide for themselves, I suppose. But it’s quite a stretch to claim that personal conscience is paramount in a church that preaches obedience as the “first law of heaven.”

    Is Grant right in this: But the word sustain does not mean obey or even agree with in every particular. There is a long tradition in Mormonism of valuing agency and individual conscience.

    A bishop once told me basically the same thing about the meaning of “sustain.” That suggests two things: 1) some Mormons agree with Grant and 2) enough of them disagree that the point needs to be argued. As for the “long tradition,” WTF? I don’t know what he could possibly have in mind. It seems to me that there’s a long tradition of valuing obedience over those things.

    “Similarly, in the temple ceremony itself, Latter-day Saints make a covenant of obedience, but it is obedience to God rather than obedience to the prophet or to the church.

    Well, they also consecrate their everything to “build the kingdom,” i.e., the church. But I guess technically he’s right.

    So on the whole, I’d say that what they said is probably “technically” correct in at least some sense. It’s all in the apologetic tradition, a lawyer’s quibble, an argument over what the meaning of “is” is, but “demonstrably false”? I’d have to say no, not really. What they said is true, “from a certain point of view,” as a great man once put it.

  41. dpc says:


    I think the reason Sonia Johnson was ex’d was not so much that she was for the ERA, but that she was railing against the Church for being against the ERA. She was a fighter, not a lover. I don’t mean this as a smear, but her views on feminism and patriarchy (Mormon or otherwise) seem to be rather extreme. I wonder if that combativeness helped do her in. In the legal world, I’ve seen people become combative and lose out where had they have been less aggressive, they would have been given a slap on the wrist and released. But I digress…

  42. JJL9 says:

    Actually, Sonia Johnson was NOT excommunicated for her support of ERA.

    A few quotes from her bishop, Bishop Jeffrey H. Willis of the Sterling Park Ward:

    For the benefit of all concerned in Church courts, the proceedings are usually private and confidential, Bishop Willis wrote. However, since you have raised the issue to the [news] media, it has become necessary that I make a public statement on the reasons for this action.

    Bishop Willis said that discussions had been held with Mrs. Johnson over the past eighteen months. As you know, I have at no time tried to dissuade you from seeking the ratification of the [Equal Rights] amendment. I have counseled with you relative to your support of Church leaders and doctrine.

    He pointed out further that there are other members of the Church who support ERA, and to the best of my knowledge no Church action has been taken, nor is their membership in question.

    And Jerry P. Cahill, director of press relations for the Church Public Communications, issued the following statement:

    The excommunication of Mrs. Sonia Johnson from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been widely reported in the news media, Brother Cahill said. The real reasons for the excommunication, however, have often been overlooked or ignored by the media, although we provided a detailed explanation after announcing the decision to Mrs. Johnson.

    That Mrs. Johnson had taken public issue with the Churchs opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment was not among the grounds for the ecclesiastical action leading to her excommunication.”

    The other examples are simply not relevant. Not re-hiring someone at the expiration of their employment contract is not “punishment”. A private institution should hire the people that they believe will best fulfill the role they are being hired to fill. I don’t think a person that publicly states that the teachings of the University and its parent company, the CJCLdS are immoral (which is what Nielson did) would likely be the best fit for the position. No other private company would retain the employment of a person stating publicly that they are immoral. That is not punishment. It is just logic. And by the way, it in no way affected his church membership.

    Knowlton’s case was very similar. And by the way, he never reached the point in the review process to be “denied tenure.” That simply isn’t true. He was not at BYU long enough to reach the point where he might have been denied tenure. Instead, at the routine preliminary third-year review he was not advanced for candidacy for continuing faculty status, which is quite different from being denied continuing faculty status (tenure).

    And again, how can you expect to work for a corporation and publicly denounce that corporation at the same time? It makes no sense. He was not “punished” any more than anyone that is let go from their position because they are not the best person for the position.

    And no, “sustain” does not mean to follow and obey. When we raise our hands to sustain a leader of the church, we don’t suddenly start taking orders from them.

  43. profxm says:


    I’m sure the truth lies in there somewhere. I don’t know enough about the details to be able to say what, exactly, got her ex’d. But even in your take on it the excommunication was over her stance on political issues running against the church’s stance and her fighting the church’s efforts to crush the ERA. Her fighting the church over a political issue got her ex’d. Ergo, how I see it is that she was ex’d over a political issue. But, like I said, I don’t know the details to be able to extrapolate beyond this.

    We clearly agree more than we disagree on this.

  44. JJL9 says:

    “Bishop Willis stated that the three basic issues in the hearing, mutually agreed upon between himself and Mrs. Johnson, were as follows:

    1. Have your [Mrs. Johnsons] actions influenced members and nonmembers to oppose Church programsi.e. the missionary program?

    2. Have your actions and statements advocated diminished support of Church leaders?

    3. Have you presented false doctrine which would damage others spiritually?”

  45. profxm says:

    JJL9. If, as your quotes suggest, it wasn’t over ERA issues, what was it? Your quotes don’t say. This sounds like PR cover for ex’ing someone over political issues. And, as noted, her excommunication occurred before she came out as lesbian, got divorced, and found a female partner. So, do fill us in.

    I’m actually pretty firmly convinced those are PR quotes as Sonia Johnson says she was ex’d for her participation in the ERA issue and the media at the time knew it was well:
    And Linda Sillitoe says as much:

    As far as the BYU stuff goes, BYU is under AAUP censure for what it did. You can quibble over “denied tenure” but saying that someone who is tenure-track wasn’t renewed after three years is different from them being denied tenure is quibbling over details. It is basically the equivalent. They were denied the opportunity to go up for tenure not on the grounds of their scholarship but on their particular perspectives (e.g., feminism, the source of attacks on LDS church’s in Latin America, etc.).

    Also, to claim that Knowlton was “publicly denouncing” the church is far from accurate. David Knowlton, whom I know personally, is still an active member of the religion. He published some stuff that was a tad controversial, but he never was openly critical of the LDS Church in any significant way. And if you read the report, the real reason for the AAUP censure is because people were not allowed academic freedom despite the university claiming as much. Higher ups in the religion were interfering in the tenure review process. And several people were let go (fired, denied tenure, not advanced for candidacy, whatever you want to call it) over perspectives like feminism. It was a messy issue. But, fundamentally, it was an issue of academic freedom. Let’s be clear – according to the AAUP, professors at BYU do not have academic freedom. The censure is still in effect. Not that I would want to, but I would never apply to work at BYU for that one reason alone (not to mention the many, many other reasons).

  46. profxm says:

    RE #44. The church “programs” being referred to here are not the “missionary” program but the actively organized programs to oppose the ERA. Read Linda Sillitoe’s article. She explains it quite well. It was a political excommunication.

  47. kuri says:

    IIRC, Johnson said something like people shouldn’t talk to the missionaries until the church stops fighting the ERA, so she did “oppose the missionary program” in that sense. That’s exactly the sort of “technicality” I was talking about in #40. Many reasonable people will see it as a political excommunication, but the church can still argue semi-plausibly that it wasn’t.

  48. dpc says:


    So if I read you correctly, it was actually a benefit to Professor Knowlton to be denied tenure at BYU. 🙂

    Reading about Sonia Johnson after all these years seems kind of quaint in a way. When I was at law school, we had an older lady come and advocate for passing the ERA. Most of my female classmates were of the opinion that they were already equal and didn’t need an amendment to say so. My take on the Sillitoe article is that it sugarcoated Ms. Johnson’s rhetoric and painted her as a conflicted, wounded woman rather than a fiery critic.

  49. Alan says:

    I wonder if that combativeness helped do her in.

    The Church released an anti-ERA pamphlet that was widely distributed in Mormon spaces. Imagine a politics on display every Sunday that you find to be hurtful, and when you ask if you can advertize the other side, the answer is a definite no. Combativeness, and speaking ill of those higher up the ladder who make the decisions, seems like a natural response to me.

    With Prop 8, the Church took a different route. Instead of a written material, a letter was read to every ward (less paper trail that way).

  50. chanson says:

    For all those who worry about temple covenants and its impact on Mormon politicians, could you please provide me some evidence to back up your worries? All I see is a link to some verbiage and hand-wringing about what could happen. Your feelings are all well and good, but like an atheist, I require more than your feelings and prejudices to be convinced. Please share with me your evidence that Mormon politicians have in the past consecrated their political positions to the Mormon church.

    dpc, please re-read my comment @24:

    I dont think the LoC covenant is an insurmountable problem or impossible to explain away. OTOH, I dont think its crazy or bigoted to point it out as a potential problem that the candidate should be willing to answer for.

    In other words, it’s not that big a deal, but it’s not unreasonable for the press and the public to ask the candidate what that covenant means to him.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.