The exaltation of Mitt Romney

Mormon CHoirStephen A., I think you’re missing a critical distinction. The Mormons are not Trinitarian, to put it mildly; their 19th century Scientology-like theology is in contradiction to every other Christian group, and certainly to doctrinally focused traditions such as fundamentalism. The fundamentalists think that the Catholics are wrong, to be sure, but the scope of error is entirely different. Listen to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” sometime and notice how they’ve changed the words. Indeed, that is part of the discomfort about the Mormons. Externally, they are relentlessly normal; their theological innards are, well, weird. . . .

Posted by C. Wingate at 9:30 am on September 8, 2005

I’d like to jump back to an earlier thread for a moment, for the simple reason that I think this is going to turn into a major news story sooner rather than later.

If you don’t believe me, just Google “Mitt Romney” and “Mormon” and look at the common themes. Click here for a recent Boston Globe look at this issue. More and more journalists are starting to smell the smoke from this fire. It also helps that the existing pool of GOP White House wannabes is seriously challenged in the sizzle category.

So, from a journalism point of view, what is the story here?

If I may, let me flash back to the Rocky Mountain News in the mid-1980s, when I had a chance to interview two of the 12 members of the top rank of Latter-day Saints apostles. I brought lots of marked-up reading materials with me to Salt Lake City and asked some very specific questions with the audiotape running.

On the record, they confirmed that — if taken to its logical conclusions (as man is, God once was) — Mormon theology would, in essence, be polytheistic. Yes, there are many worlds with their own gods (and the gods have wives) who are humans who have evolved to divinity. In LDS. doctrine, this is called “exaltation.” (Click here for a Protestant take on this doctrine.)

I went back to Denver to transcribe my interview tapes. Overnight, the Mormon press office rushed a transcript that included everything in the interview, except for the smoking-gun quote about polytheism. I wrote them back and let them know that my tape included that quotation and that I would be using it. Was there a problem with that? There was no word back from Utah. They knew that I knew that they knew what I knew.

So, yes, this is the ticking time bomb of a subject facing a Mormon political leader who wants to run in a GOP primary, especially below the Bible Belt. The irony, of course, is that many of these same conservative folks are very anxious, right now, to nail Democrats (and journalists) for using a “traditional Catholic” religious test to undercut conservative nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court. What goes around comes around.

Anyway, I promise you that press-relations folks inside the GOP big tent are working on the Romney question right now.

P.S. I have searched and searched for the words to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s take on “Holy, Holy, Holy.” It would, in fact, be very interesting to look them over. Is anyone out there better than me with a search engine or two?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Darrell Grizzle

    I couldn’t find the lyrics but I did find a site where you can download an mp3 of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing “Holy Holy Holy”:

    Unfortunately you have to register and “create an account” in order to download the mp3, which is more than I’m willing to do to satisfy my curiosity.

  • C. Wingate

    According to the recollection of my wife, they change the phrase

    “God in three persons, blessed trinity”


    “God in his glory, blessed be his name”

    I add as a footnote that a unitarian hymnal I came across a few years back had a similar alteration at the same point.

  • C. Wingate

    Got it!

    Amazon is going to hate me for this: Look up the recording Rock of Ages by the MTC and select the sample for “Nearer My God to Thee” (the samples are all scrambled). You will hear the end of the first verse, sung exactly as I reported above.

  • C. Wingate

    I notice a more recent album changes the last little bit to “blessed deity”.

  • ECJ

    OK, what is the theory here? Why would an Evangelical not vote for a culturally conservative Mormon simply because we disagree on doctrine? You think there is a story. Why? Should we vote for a nomimal Methodist like Hillary instead?


  • Will

    While we awful Swedenborgians have “Father and Savior, glory be to Thee”. (But I can’t say we are “unitarians”, or my audience will conclude that we believe in nothing in particular.)

    The LDS, on the other hand, are also outright tritheists, teaching that our Father in Heaven, his Son and the Holy Spirit are three seperate “personages”, who are “one” only as Cheney is “one” with Bush.

    While poking around LDS music sites, you might enjoy listening to “If You Could Hie to Kolob”, which at least in some versions refers to traveling “at the speed of light”. Did you know that there was decided Mormon influence in the original BATTLESTAR GALACTICA?

    And let me conclude with unsolicited plugs for the Catholic Mormon Podcast ( and Latter Day Slant (

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  • Dave

    This is incredible. Evangelicals, whose candidates are generally portrayed as “too religious” and therefore marginalized by mainstream journalists who find serious religious commitment bizarre, are now playing the same game themselves. They seem to think Romney is “too Mormon” and they find that commitment bizarre (by their mainstream Christian measure). If Evangelicals are dumb enough to deep-six Romney because of abstract theology, they deserve President Hillary.

    Look, Mormons and Evangelicals do all the same things: build churches with big parking lots, sing hymns on Sunday, have Saturday barbeques, sponsor youth missions, publish an endless stream of rah-rah religous books, push family values, oppose abortion and gay marriage, build impressive broadcasting networks … Ignoring the theological differences (and precious few Americans really give a hoot about theology compared to the social and economic issues that elections can decide) Mormons and Evangelicals are almost indistiguishable! Evangelicals should be thrilled that Romney is a strong candidate — and an electable candidate, unlike say Pat Robertson or Alan Keyes.

  • C. Wingate

    Well, I am neither an evangelical nor for that matter even a Republican. And really, all we are doing at the moment is speculating. Perhaps it is true that the “bedfellows” rule applies, and that evangelicals would vote for, oh, an avowed satanist if he were to oppose abortion.

    The other issue with the Mormons, though (and I’m a bit surprised we’ve done no more than brushed against it) is trying to read the meaning of the entanglement of the church in various Utah institutions. Again, it could amount to nothing, but then again, when it comes to presidential huelections the hunger for scandal may bring the press to go after these potential issues.

  • Woody

    Tut, tut. We built most of those Utah “institutions,” as you put it. Of course there’s a Mormon flavor to local politics. Numerous politicos happen to be members of the Church, and we are constantly admonished to be involved with civic, state, and federal issues. If there is “influence” with those politicians or “institutions,” it is only insofar as the Church may influence the moral compass of any individual. Not a few Mormon politicians have espoused legislation with which the Church was unhappy, but that happens and the Church moves on. Big deal.

    That’s not to say, by the way, that the Church won’t occasionally try to sway local issues one way or another. Hey, one can only try, right? And, really, does that make us any different from, say, the Baptists?

  • Mark D.

    This is a fascinating inside look at Mormonism from a superb writer/editor who was formally excommunicated by the LDS. I would note that it’s 25 years old – she has come a long way in both writing and religious experience since. But it is well worth the time, especially for the Book of Mormon “reduced to a pureed caricature of itself for your easy consumption,” and for the narrative of the encounter of a first-rate intellect with this institution. And, you get an explanation of special underwear. Enjoy!

  • tmatt

    A random comment to add to the thread…

    I made no judgment on whether evangelicals — especially those in the priesthood of all believers, doctrine is what we decided in a committee meeting Wednesday night camp — should be politically prejudiced against Gov. Romney. I just said that some of them WOULD hold exhaltation and other issues against him. And I said that this WOULD turn into a story that MSM reporters are going to have to handle.

    And it will be hard to handle, in large part because LDS officials do not like to talk about doctrine in front of microphones (with good reason).

    So the MSM is going to be torn… Do they (a) cover this as another example of rampaging religious right fundies who take everything too seriously or (b) do they jump on and help take down the sexy Republican?

  • holmegm

    >So the MSM is going to be torn… Do they (a) cover
    >this as another example of rampaging religious
    >right fundies who take everything too seriously or
    >(b) do they jump on and help take down the sexy

    Oh, definitely B … but they will also milk the “they’re all loonies” angle for all it’s worth (especially in the late night shows).

  • Michael

    Let’s not forget how Joe Lieberman was endlessly quizzed about his approach to an observant Jew. He and his wife were quite prepared to discuss the cultural and religious implications of the faith. And the Democratic party was ready.

    Do you see Romney and his wife prepared to open their lives to this kind of examination of Mormonism? Do you see top officials in the Republican Party–who view Mormonism as something akin to a cult–defending Mormonism?

  • ECJ

    “I just said that some of them WOULD hold exhaltation and other issues against him. And I said that this WOULD turn into a story that MSM reporters are going to have to handle.”

    But doesn’t some threshold of discontent have to be reached before it becomes a story? Somebody should at least identify those who constitute the ‘some’, and why they would make such a judgment. (Or are we simply implying religious predjudice as their motivation?) Otherwise this just transforms into yet one more example of “Let’s you and him fight so I can get a good headline.” This whole story reminds me of reporters throwing matches into tinder just so they can cover a forrest fire. And the attitude which drives this desire is truly base. Whatever they say in public, journalists really do think that evangelicals are shallow, ignorant, and easily lead.

    Mitt Romney was elected Governor of Massachusetts – which makes me suspect that he is in truth a Potemkin Conservative. Really now. Can anything good come out of Massachusetts? Evangelicals are going to have plenty of possible reasons to reject this candidate other than the doctrine of Eternal Progression. If there is a PR effort to be done on Romney’s behalf by the Republican party, it would be more wisely spent shoring up his credentials as a conservative.


    BTW, as I remember, Orrin Hatch didn’t have this problem when he ran for President. But then, Orrin Hatch really is a conservative. Does anybody out there actually think that Evangelicals would have deserted Senator Hatch because he is

  • tmatt


    I would be stunned if the entire SBC leadership doesn’t freak out. If not, THAT would be a major story in and of itself.

    Hatch was never a serious candidate. And, yes, there were evangelicals who would not have supported him.

    There is no PR effort that can make the exaltation issue go away. The issue is real and sincere. It’s hard for people who actually believe things to compromise on issues like that.

  • AlyD

    Romney only has a problem if a Republican (perceived) all-star (McCain, Jeb Bush, takes a swings. Then the buzzards will circle.
    The question that will be raised will be the same one raised about JFK: will he take his orders from Rome (or in this case, Salt Lake City)? That question is only relevant because of this:

    Several stories are available on this story, that of the dean of Harvard’s business school leaving his post to head up BYU-Idaho, after a call from the president of the Mormons, who he compares to Moses.

  • Joel

    With regards to Kim Clark leaving Harvard Business School, there’s less here than meets the eye.

    Deans at business schools only last so long and then they either jump to other challenges or get pushed. Clark’s a smart guy so I’m sure he could see (ala Logan’s Run) that his time would eventually be up.

    Also, HBS has a heavy LDS influence. So if you’re surrounded by a buncha fellow churchmen (emphasis on men) and the propmphet gives you a call, you’re primed to link career and church.

    To get laws passed, Romney has had to deal with one of the most secular legislatures in the country. It’s not like he would believe that what Hinkley says would matter outside the governor’s suite.

    I’m with tmatt — best case Romney has to pull a JFK-like (not Cuomo-like) “the prophet doesn’t tell me what to do” moment.

    My question is, what is the base of a Northeastern Mormon? The GOP will carry Utah either way, and it’s hard to see how he can pull NY or Massachusetts into the blue (er, red) camp. And unhappiness by the SBC wouldn’t play well in key Southern states.

  • John K

    I’m confused. Would Romney be running for President of the United States or religion czar??

  • Diamonddille

    I don’t think the little bit of difference between a protestant and and a Mormon or a Catholic is worth squabling about. Which one is more ChristLike? Well?
    The more able one is the more you know they have grown. A group is just a bunch of people at your same level as you. Which group is more able is all you should be looking at. On the path way of one becoming them selves or becoming more spiritual, one automatically starts recalling past lives. That is an ability for example. It has to happen if your really growing. Your memory of you extends way past this mere life. After all we are eternal Spiritual Beings. What Does that really mean?
    So for instance that has to be an obvious truth. So the group that is more aware for instance would have that in there concept,as the more you grow the more you have in your concept or mind. If it isn’t, that group hasn’t grown very spiritual. You are a spiritual being as your getting back your own memory of you, then you will be able to really confess of your sins and really be able to grow especially if you have an e-meter to help you, if that is not occuring, I don’t see much growth taking place. With an E-meter and memory technology, man could really grow up and all groups would become Christlike. It’s like squabbling over which size bullet to use when your competitor has an atom Bomb. Does it really matter? I mean come on?
    You all have to realize you better get more competitive, if you want to stay in business. Who is more able the child or the parent? Well we are suppose to be Gods Children, That means if we really grow up we would be like our heavenly father. That’s a lot of growing, that is alot of awareness or counsciousness, That is a lot of abilities, so cut with the squables and get Growing. Scientology is already producing Spiritual beings, We all have too before christ will come back to this Rock, I assure you, Man has to grow up, before he is coming back and it’s time for man to grow up, so realize you don’t really know how to grow and find out how, so we don’t destroy this society again. Before man has always destroyed himself when his technology out grew his humanities. This time we have auditing technology, It works 1000 times better than a confessional,lets use there technology and prepare this place so Christ can rule us all, This planet needs, it. NOW…

  • ECJ

    Mr Mattingly

    I am one of those people who actually believe things. I understand Mormon doctrine. I have read their scriptures. I think it is a damnable lie from beginning to end. But that isn’t the point. You said:

    “I would be stunned if the entire SBC leadership doesn’t freak out.”

    So here is my question:

    The SBC Leadership would never support a Mormon who believes in exaltation to godhood because ______.

    Please fill in the blank. The only answer I have heard so far is tautology: “because he is a mormon who believes in exaltation to godhood.” But what would a conservative Mormon do that an Evangelical would find unacceptable? Legitimize the Mormon faith? Move the Capital to Utah? What do you think the SBC is afraid of?


  • Darel in Mass.

    Q: “what is the base of a Northeastern Mormon?”

    A: He won based on the votes of suburban Bostonians who elected him primarily because he is not a Democrat and thus can act as a counterweight to a Democratic legislature in what may be the most Democratic state in the country. Plus he was perceived as a far more competent politician than the previous Republican Acting Governor whom he forced out of the primaries.

    Beyond this rather unique situation, the man basically has no electoral appeal. His attempt to get more Republicans elected to the Mass. legislature in 2004 was an enormous flop. Even if he by some miracle won the Republican nomination, he could not carry Mass. in 2008 — guaranteed.

  • Tom R

    Citing Battlestar Galactica and Logan’s Run… What is it about Mormonism that brings up these comparisons?

  • John Donne

    Romney is a Mormon. Hatch is a Mormon. Rove is a Mormon. Harry Reid is a Mormon. There seems to be a pattern here.

    Brandishing Mormonism a cult was easier to do when Mormons were invisible: they were the faceless Other that defined the boundary of our piety. But the ascendance of Mormons and our continued demonizing of them has exposed our own bigotry just as it did with our denunciation of those seditious, Romish, traitorous, superstitious, authoritarian Catholics. A small, faceless minority can easily be derided, but the lesson of history is that people with whom we mingle and work and share our most cherished political institutions must eventually be treated as coequals. The a priori category of fanatic does not have a place in this scheme.

    Why is has this lesson continually eluded evangelicals?

  • Jed

    In theory, the SBC could reject the candidacy of any person whose belief or non-belief does not match the SBC. That doesn’t sound very American. Why should a misguided do-gooder stir more ire than a hypocrite or an infidel?

    What makes an exclusivist Mormon claim more indecorous than an exclusivist Catholic claim?

  • Tom R

    > “Brandishing Mormonism a cult was easier to do when Mormons were invisible”

    Wasn’t it Tom Wolfe who said “A ‘cult’ is a religion with no political power”? I think it’s against the law to call some religion a “cult” once its membership reaches one million (or two Senators, whichever happens first).

    I agree, the word “cult” is unhelpful: whereas to Ev Prots it means “a religion that seems a form of Biblical Christianity but is not, by our definition”, to the average person it means “a religion that attracts and keeps adherents using force or fraud” (Kool-Aid, anyone?)

    It is perfectly defensible for SoBapts to say, eg, “Paedobaptist Calvinism is within the same theological ballpark as we are, and Catholicism is in the adjoining ballpark, but Mormonism, despite its superficial similarities, is really a very different religion.” If they said that, rather than “LDS = a cult”, no one could really fault them.

  • Stephen A.

    If Karl Rove is a Mormon (again, something of which I had no idea) and the leader of the Democrats in the House is Mormon (presumably one who believes in exaltation) and it turns out that the nominee of the party winds up being a Mormon, it’s clear to me that it would be IMPOSSIBLE for Democrats to make this an issue in the general election.

    It’s possible for Republicans to do so in the primaries, However. But again, I don’t see anyone but the most extreme, fundie primary voters making an issue of this. And no, that’s not the entire base of the party, especially in Iowa and New Hampshire, where candidates get their traction.

    By the time of the southern primaries, if some candidates are REALLY desperate, they may attack Romney in the churches. But I believe they would face a huge backlash in the press and in the party.

    This issue of politicians being “controlled” by their religion was settled with JFK.

  • Michael

    But will FotF and the rest of the Colorado Springs/Virginia Beach axis of religious conservative groups be doing get-out-the-vote efforts for Romney? This isn’t about voters, this is about political machines and PACS.

  • ECJ

    “But will FotF and the rest of the Colorado Springs/Virginia Beach axis of religious conservative groups be doing get-out-the-vote efforts for Romney? This isn’t about voters, this is about political machines and PACS.”

    Actually it is about Supreme Court appointments – the Supreme Court having become the 50 megaton thermonuclear weapon of the culture war (and not uncoincidentally the proximate cause of the red/blue political polarization in America.) So you can bet your life they will turn out to prevent appointments by Hillary or whatever Hillary-clone the Democrats nominate in 2008.


  • matt

    This is such a non-issue. Americans have had non-Christian Presidents before. We have had plenty of what seem to have been nominal-Christian presidents, too.

    Also, being an Orthodox (who has two Orthodox Senators who do not vote anything close to the Canons of the Church), I say, Give me a mormon president who is pro-life over a an Orthodox senator who only votes pro-abort any day.

  • R. M. Sivulka

    I’m a missionary to LDS, and I recall walking through Temple Square in Salt Lake City one day and hearing “Holy, Holy, Holy”. There was nothing that sounded changed to me. Whether it was or not isn’t the issue. What is the issue is that many times LDS will claim that they accept the Trinity, but of course it is simply redefined like other major doctrines. For more on this, see the chart differences I’ve laid out on my home page for

  • Gilgamesh

    Just to clarify,

    Karl Rove is not Mormon. He was raised in Utah but was not a member of the LDS church.

    See the following to read about his Utah history.

  • Stephen A.

    Tom asks: “Citing Battlestar Galactica and Logan’s Run… What is it about Mormonism that brings up these comparisons?”

    The movie Logan’s Run (1976) portrayed a future world in which no person was allowed to live past 30. Logan disagreed, and ran. I think the analogy here was to the professor whose “time was up” at that particular university.

    As for Battlestar Galactica, there are references to “the gods” and the mystical planet from which their society arose was called “Kobol” which is close in spelling to the Mormon Creator’s home star of “Kolob.”

    In addition, the LDS Church is run by a Quorum of the Twelve, headed by a president. In Battlestar Galactica, the colonies are ruled by a Council of Twelve which is also headed by a president.

    The idea that these wandering, persecuted people are looking for a 13th “lost tribe” brings to mind the wandering, persecuted Mormons and the belief that the 12 tribes of Israel sent out a 13th “tribe” to the New World.

    Google “Galactica Mormon” for a few Websites exploring this connection. It sure sounds like the creators of the series were Mormon. If so, they are likely rather upset with the over-sexed 2005 remake of the show, in which everyone seems to drink either alcohol or coffee.

  • Tom R

    Thanks, Stephen, I’d seen other comments on the BSG/ Mormonism links before. One almost wonders whether the “rag-tag” fleet, instead of finding Earth, will end up taking sanctuary on the planet “Utapau”

    You’re right about the alcohol/ caffeine consumption in “Galactica 2003″, but to be fair, the original 1978 series had the characters chugging “ambrosia”, which was depicted as an intoxicant; moreover, Starbuck not only puffed more cigars than “X-Men’s” Wolverine, he also practised polygamy without benefit of clergy (whether Aaronic or Melchizedaic)….

  • Jeff R.

    It is easy to see that many people are willing to base their political vote for president against Mitt Romney based on the answers he would give to 3 or 4 questions. What if the questions were different and no religious but more in line with the title he would be running for? Try these two basic points of traditional Mormon faith: See

    Mormon Articles of Faith #11 and #12:

    11 We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may. (See Politics: Political Teachings; Tolerance)

    12 We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law. (See Teachings About Law home page)

    (Links are included in the publishing website’s description).

  • Carl Loeber

    This is great. You evangelicals (who believe that Jesus is the same person as God the Father in Heaven)are going to say that Mitt is not a Christian because he believes that Jesus is in fact the Son of God?

    As to polytheism, have you not read John chapter ten?

    33 The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.

    34 Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?

    35 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;

    36 Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?