I Can See The Mountaintop: It’s in Provo

Today, Jon Huntsman has said he will formally withdraw from the presidential race after finishing third in the New Hampshire primary behind Mitt Romney and Ron Paul. CNN reported that Huntsman will endorse Romney, his distant cousin and fellow Mormon. Throughout his campaign, Huntsman tended to distance himself from his Mormon faith, saying in an interview with Fortune that he wasn’t “overly religious.” By contrast, Romney has and continues to be an active member of the LDS. He served as a bishop in the Belmont, Massachusetts ward and as President of the Boston stake. In LDS-speak, this means he was a volunteer lay minister in Belmont and leader of several wards around Boston. Today, he regularly attends church services. This may help explain why Mormon voters tended to favor Romney over Huntsman.

The upcoming primary in South Carolina may very well determine the Republican candidate for President. As a state with a conservative reputation, (I’m thinking John C. Calhoun conservative, who looks eerily like a muppet) many have speculated that Romney’s Mormon faith is likely to affect voters’ decisions. Indeed, the recent decision by a coalition of Christian leaders to support Santorum could sway some evangelical voters. However, despite its reputation, South Carolina is experiencing increasing religious diversity which could better the odds for Romney. At any rate, a win for Romney in South Carolina puts him one step closer to being the first Mormon President of the United States. On this Martin Luther King Day, I hope that we can celebrate diversity and not judge a candidate whose church before 1978 would not let our current President hold the priesthood(3:05).

The Resemblance is Striking


Newsreel 01/14

In the news this week…

  • NPR published a story of two Mormon missionaries in New Hampshire and reported that the two young men were repeatedly asked one question, “Huntsman or Romney?” Which I found strange, because I was under the impression that most encounters with Mormon missionaries went like this. All shameless Broadway references aside, whether Huntsman and Romney’s participation in the Republican primary will bring understanding and positive attention to the historically ridiculed Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints remains to be seen. Perhaps, as the musical The Book of Mormon claims, “tomorrow is a doper, phatter latter day” for religious tolerance, at least.
  • In a federal appeals court this past Tuesday, an Oklahoma measure banning the consideration of Sharia law in state judge’s decisions has been blocked. Muneer Awad, the leader of the Council of American-Islamic Relations who brought the suit said, “This is an important reminder that the Constitution is the last line of defense against a rising tide of anti-Muslim bigotry in our society, and we are pleased that the appeals court recognized that fact.” Read the full story here.
  • This week, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published a massive report entitled Mormons In America which included numerous polls of Mormons about theology, values, and their thoughts on the perception of their religion by non-Mormons. One result that may help clarify some of the misconceptions is this: only 2% of Mormons polled said that polygamy was morally acceptable. Keep in mind that a recent poll found that 2% of Americans think that Mitt Romney’s real first name is “Mittens.” Another 2% think his real name is “Gromit.” Should we really judge all Americans for the shortcomings of this unrepresentative minority? If not, then let’s drop the whole polygamy thing.
  • The New York Times reported that Evangelical leaders in the U.S. still seem hesitant to support current Republican primary front-runner Mitt Romney and instead hope that the upcoming primary results will provide a viable alternative to rally around. Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Rick Perry are each courting this constituency by attempting to out-Christian each other.
  • Stephen Colbert has purchased airtime for a campaign ad to be run in South Carolina supporting his bid for the presidency. In response I must say that I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m an atheist, but you don’t have to watch the Colbert Report every night to know that there’s something wrong in our country when a comedian can openly be the most qualified candidate for president, IMHO (and that of Jesus Christ). Read the humorous coverage here.

Mormons, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying about Polygamy Because it’s Seriously not an Issue

Why should I, a lifelong atheist, care so much about Mormons? Perhaps it’s because we’re both on the spectrum of being unelectable, though we atheists face a bit more bias, statistically speaking, in the political realm. Indeed, 25% of Americans would be less likely to support a Mormon presidential candidate than a non-Mormon whereas a whopping 61% would be less likely to support an atheist candidate than a candidate who believes in God.[1] Further, atheists and Mormons are both greatly misrepresented in the media. Mormons are often accused of being polygamous (which the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, henceforth LDS because that’s a mouthful, hasn’t officially been since 1890)[2], of not being Christian (one third of Americans and half of white evangelical Protestants believe that the LDS is not a Christian religion), and of being generally different (two thirds of Americans believe that Mormonism is “very different” from their own beliefs)[3]. We atheists are typically demonized for all sorts of reasons, but thank Satan we aren’t accused of being polygamous! That would be too much for my monogamous, albeit godless, heart to bear.

This misunderstanding and subsequent bias against Mormons comes to fruition in the discourses surrounding Mormon candidates for President, specifically Mitt Romney. As my fellow blogger Chelsea posted in the newsreel on Saturday, Georgia state representative Judy Manning said that, “I think Mitt Romney is a nice man, but I’m afraid of his Mormon faith …If the Mormon faith adhered to a past philosophy of pluralism, multi-wives, that doesn’t follow the Christian faith of one man and one woman, and that concerns me.”[4] Now, this quotation may seem awful, bigoted, misguided, and repugnant to an interfaith agenda, but we must remember that Representative Manning generously noted that Romney is indeed, “better than a Muslim.” So, on the spectrum of unelectability, we have (in order of rising ungodliness): Mormons, atheists, Muslims. Excellent! Full disclosure: I’m not exactly sure how these groups stack up next to each other, because Muslims haven’t made it on to the surveys I’ve looked at yet. Apparently, they’re such a lost cause they can’t even be thought of as Presidential contenders. Hence, I place them last.

This past Tuesday in Iowa, there was a media frenzy about which candidate would successfully court the evangelical vote, as if they all spoke to each other and voted en masse, like the Catholics were purported to do with Kennedy’s election (who, it was later confirmed, was in fact taking direct orders from the Pope via Twitter throughout his Presidency). However, in general voters who identified themselves as Evangelicals or born again Christians were more likely to support Santorum (a self-proclaimed “Jesus candidate”)[5] than Romney. Even though Romney narrowly won the Caucus with 25% of the vote, he only garnered 14% of the coveted evangelical vote where Santorum received 32%. Even though Romney narrowly won the Caucus with 25% of the vote, he only garnered 14% of the coveted evangelical vote where Santorum received 32%.[6]

Santorum seems to understand this anti-Mormon bias and, purposely or not, has been comparing same-sex marriage to polygamy.[7] This comparison in political discourse is not only offensive but also can only serve to hurt Romney, who 60% of Evangelical Republicans  know is of the Mormon faith[8] which is consistently and erroneously associated with polygamous marriages. It is my sincere hope that through this election cycle, Mormons will gain more acceptance and above all understanding in the public sphere. Everyone must call for tolerance and judgment based on policy and character, not faith, lest we risk perpetuating the hateful discrimination against all religious minorities in an age where the alleged dominant ideology is diversity and acceptance.

Chelsey Faloona is a junior at The George Washington University in D.C. majoring in American Studies. This summer, she received a grant to do archival research at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, where she was consistently asked where her husband and children were, to which she had to respond with the sad news that she hadn’t any. Her current research interests include the intersections of race and gender in the United States as well as the Prison Industrial Complex. When asked about her political views, Chelsey claims to be a Marxist Feminist. When people who haven’t at that point run away screaming ask what she will do with her life, Chelsey explains that she wants to hide in academia forever. In her free time, Chelsey enjoys waiting for the Revolution, arguing about proper nomenclature with her fellow blogger Chelsea (sp?) Link, and (poorly) playing basketball with her younger brother.

[2] Arrington, L.J., & Bitton, D. The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-day Saints. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1979, 199.