Newsweek reports that America is “having a Mormon moment.” Followers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are all over the news, but still, it seems, a long shot for the White House:
No question the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is “having a moment.” Not only is Romney running again—this time, he’s likely to be competing against his distant Mormon cousin Jon Huntsman Jr. The Senate, meanwhile, is led by Mormon Harry Reid. Beyond the Beltway, the Twilight vampire novels of Mormon Stephenie Meyer sell tens of millions of copies, Mormon convert Glenn Beck inspires daily devotion and outrage with his radio show, and HBO generated lots of attention with the Big Love finale. Even Broadway has gotten in on the act, giving us The Book of Mormon, a big-budget musical about Mormon missionaries by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone and Avenue Q writer Robert Lopez that, with 14 nominations, is expected to clean up at the Tony Awards on June 12.
But despite the sudden proliferation of Mormons in the mainstream, Mormonism itself isn’t any closer to gaining mainstream acceptance. And nowhere is the gap between increased exposure and actual progress more pronounced than in politics. In recent weeks NEWSWEEK called every one of the 15 Mormons currently serving in the U.S. Congress to ask if they would be willing to discuss their faith; the only politicians who agreed to speak on the record were the four who represent districts with substantial Mormon populations. The rest were “private about their faith,” or “politicians first and Mormons second,” according to their spokespeople.
The evasiveness extends even to presidential candidates. In late 2007 Romney traveled to Texas A&M to soothe evangelicals with a speech that downplayed the distinctiveness of Mormonism. “It’s important to recognize that while differences in theology exist between the churches in America,” he said, “we share a common creed of moral convictions.” Since then, Romney has rarely commented on the subject.
Here at Patheos, Warren Cole Smith, explains why he’ll never, ever, EVER vote for a Mormon. “The Christian worldview,” he writes, “teaches that there is a short tether binding beliefs to the values and behaviors that flow from them. If the beliefs are false, then the behavior will eventually—but inevitably—be warped.”
Well, I, for one, happen to have a soft spot for Mormons. By my lights, they’ve got more than enough to recommend themselves — as people, and as contributors to the general culture of this great nation — that I’d be proud to cast a vote for one. Among their more endearing accomplishments:
10. Their Church is not a democracy, yet it’s strikingly egalitarian. Anyone can become president of the Church or Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Really. Ezra Taft Benson, who held the office from 1985 through 1994, earned his degree from BYU. Spencer W. Kimball, who preceded him, earned his from — it tastes like ashes in my mouth — the University of Arizona. Thomas S. Monson, the guy they’ve got now, graduated the University of Utah, and made his fortune in publishing. If this is elitism, it’s my kind of elitism.
9. They do aggiornamento. The word, familiar to most Catholics but gibberish the rest of the world (outside Italy, of course), means, roughly, “updating.” We tried it once, during the Second Vatican Council. The updates represented dozens of years of study by hundreds of theologians, plus three years of conciliar wrangling. When the LDS leadership decided to abolish plural marriage (1890) and admit blacks to the priesthood (1978), the orders came down fast and easy, probably preceded by: “NOW HEAR THIS.” Hey, gang at National Catholic Reporter — are you guys feeling jealous?
8. They’ve been the subject of Chick Tracts. Speaking as a connoissieur, I’d put The Visitors up against The Death Cookie any day. And The Enchanter, Chick Publications’ full-length graphic novel on the life of LDS prophet Joseph Smith, looks a match for any of the titles on Jesuit conspiracies.
7. For a bunch of red-staters, they’ve got amazingly good taste in art. To spruce up Temple Square, Mormons selected a copy of Bertel Thorvaldsen’s Christus, showing Jesus resurrected. Yeah, that’s right — turns out Jesus cuts as fine a figure alive as he does dead. Who knew?
6. They’ve inspired some impressive works of art. The Book of Mormon, Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez’ backhanded tribute to LDS missionaries, won Best Musical at the 2011 Tony Awards. Each half of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, which draws heavily on Mormon themes and imagery, won a Tony for Best Play. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle made Mormonism the backdrop for “A Study in Scarlet,” the first story in the Sherlock Holmes series. Beat that, Baptists.
5. They’ve created some impressive works of art. Two words: Napoleon Dynamite.
4. They seem to have a very generous cosmology. I’m no expert, but the way I understand it, you have to be a complete jerk to end up in Outer Darkness. The Telestial Kingdom,, where most garden-variety sinners go to dwell, has always sounded to me like south Scottsdale. It’s a little on the dingy side, but more than bearable.
3. Wilford Brimley. When I was fourteen, the man got me eating my oatmeal, and I haven’t stopped since.
2. Allie, the office manager of the mortgage company where I used to work. Though ten years my junior (and in looks, a first cousin to Christina Applegate), she took a mother’s care of me. For my birthday, she got me a caramel-covered cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory. When I broke my front tooth on a frozen Twizzler, she arranged for a cousin of hers, a dentist, to bridge me up at a discount. A fundie would have tossed me Graham Crackers and Scripture — on both occasions.
1. Their faith was tested in the fire of persecution, and the persecution had absolutely nothing to do with us. Whew.