Closet Mormon in Idaho? No

idahoOver the past few days, anyone interested in American politics has read more than a few stories about U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, a Republican stalwart from Idaho, and his adventures in a men’s bathroom in Minnesota. It will be some time before people in this town are able to talk about a politician taking a unique “stance” on a tricky issue without thinking about him.

Most of these stories have included references to Craig stepping down as leader of the Mitt Romney campaign in Idaho. And most of these stories have included language similar to the following, drawn from a Fox News story based on Associated Press reporting. The point is that this senator is a key Republican conservative, popular with cultural conservatives and that, of course, he is from Idaho:

The negative reaction from other sectors of the party contrasted sharply with the local GOP response. … (The) Idaho Republican Party took a measured, wait-and-see stance on Craig’s future while Democrats remained mum, content to let Republicans sort through the fallout. …

The fallout, however, may be too much for Craig to withstand. Public attention is laser-focused on the topic in Idaho, and some social and religious conservatives and talk show hosts are calling on Craig to give up his seat. Political analysts say Craig will have trouble convincing Gem State voters that his 27-year political career is worth prolonging. …

Idaho Republicans possess a fiercely independent streak, characterized by a healthy dose of libertarian values and distrust of the federal government and the media. They generally hold deep religious beliefs and conservative social values.

Now what else does the typical politically active and/or informed American know about Idaho and conservatives in Idaho? Or, perhaps, I should say this is something people think they know about Idaho.

Well, they probably think that Idaho is a majority Mormon state or close to it. It is not. There are quite a few Mormons in the state and they are powerful, but the percentage of the population seems to be around 20-plus.

Today, I went out of my way to ask people here in Washington, D.C., if they knew the religious affiliation of the besieged senator from Idaho. I picked on people who were reading newspapers, mainly.

Every single one of them said these words or words to this effect: “Isn’t he Mormon?”

No, he is not. He is listed in several locations as a “Methodist.” One would assume, out in the West, that this means he is a United Methodist — one of the “seven sisters” of liberal mainline Protestantism. The home page of the annual conference in that part of the world doesn’t give us much evidence as to its political leanings, but, as a rule, the West tends to be a pretty progressive region.

So, how many of you thought Craig was a Mormon? How many of you had read news reports that identified him as a Methodist? Does that detail matter, in an era when politicians of his GOP ilk are usually going to be linked to the Religious Right in media reports? Does it change your perception of this man to know that he is not Mormon?

Just asking.

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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.

  • TJones

    If he was a Mormon, he clearly would be a bad one and the good Mormons would be embarrassed. I’m not absolutely sure, but I think the Mormon church looks down on homosexual behavior. They accept the people, but condemn the acts.

  • Curtis

    I read one blog comment stating that Craig actually is Mormon, but he just pretends to be Methodist – since all Mormons will somehow know he really is Mormon and vote for him and all others will think he is not Mormon and vote for him. I know that sounds like an extreme conspiracy theory, but it underscores why most of my Mormon friends are sensitive about the way that they are portrayed and discussed by people who only know about them from second-hand sources. It is quite representative of many stories they have told me concerning their own experiences. (My favorite is from a source I trust completely. He was asked if he would mind showing someone the spot where his horns had been before they were ritually removed.) I think they are justified in their sensitivity when I hear of accounts like these.

  • James

    Nothing I’d read or seen gave any indication of any religious belief on his part at all, and I’d been wondering. I’d have never assumed he, nor most of Idaho, was mostly Mormon, though.

  • Jerry

    I’ve not read anything identifying the denomination he’s a member of. The stories I read simply discuss the political impact, allude to hypocrisy or discuss how being ‘stridently’ anti-gay can often be a marker for psychological repression of such tendencies.

  • http://www.captainsacrament.com/ Kyle

    I’ve not seen his religious affiliation mentioned before, but I assumed he didn’t have one. Is that a silly assumption when we’re talking about the West, at least in Mormon country? But then, I guess it would have been a better assumption than Methodist…!

  • Chris Bolinger

    Terry, I think that you’re expecting too much of the people in the D.C. area. Most of them know next to nothing about Idaho, because it’s an unimportant state that is very, very far from the belly button of the world, Washington, D.C. There are lots and lots of Mormons in Utah, and Idaho is pretty darn close to Utah; therefore…

  • Chris

    If Sen. Craig had been a Mormon, you would have seen that in the headlines “Mormon Senator Craig …”. The fact that his religion was not reported tells you that he was not a Mormon.

  • Diana

    I guarantee you he is a Mormon! And yes, the Mormons were practicing polygamists until the late 1800s, when the President of the church has a revelation that it was no longer acceptable (about the time the government decided to start prosecuting!)

    Research Mormon history, but be careful of the sources.

  • http://www.asoftanswer.com David H. Sundwall

    Thanks Diana, but you should do your own research some more.

    Senator Craig is indeed not a Mormon. As a lowly Senate staffer who is Mormon, I would have known when I worked on his subcommittee.

    His Idaho Senate colleague, Mike Crapo, however is Mormon and could lend to some of the confusion. But not the conspiracy theories.

  • Eric G.

    As a Mormon, I didn’t think Craig was LDS, because I’ve seen the names before of all the LDS senators and I didn’t remember his name. But I had to check anyway, and finding out he was Methodist wasn’t too difficult.

    I don’t recall seeing mention of his religious affiliation in any news article, nor, for that matter, anything that identified him specifically as a supporter of the religious right. (Many articles identified him as a social conservative, though.)

    As to the Mormonness of Idaho, parts of the state are as strongly LDS as Utah (that is, Utah outside Salt Lake City, where Mormons are a minority), with LDS chapels only a few blocks apart. And you’ll have a hard time finding a tavern or an R-rated movie in a town such as Rexburg. But most of Idaho is, in terms of religious affiliation, more typical of the U.S. West.

    But it is still a politically conservative state. Like Utah and Wyoming, Idaho gave more than two-thirds of its 2004 votes to Bush.

  • Jon

    I’ll admit – after I read the story I wondered if he were LDS and actually went and looked. I had a feeling he wasn’t though. Usually, if someone is a Mormon in a news story like this, the LDS religion will be mentioned.

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com Mattk

    I only read one stoty about Craig and it didn’t mention religion at all. And yes, I thought he was a Mormon.

  • http://www.msu.edu/~chasech5 Christopher W. Chase

    I did not know whether Sen. Craig was or is LDS, nor do I think it matters much. What matters is his cultural role in Idaho politics and Romney’s campaign. Gov. Romney’s campaign has attracted some very diverse people helping on the campaign trail, and there isn’t any reason to think that LDS people are proportionately overrepresented on his staff. In fact, I’m sure that media fixation on Romney would have uncovered this before now, had it been true.

    While you are quite correct that Idaho is not a majority LDS state, that obscures the larger cultural issue in the national POTUS campaign. West of the 100th meridian in the United States, the religious dividing line (regardless of which state being discussed) is between Mormon and Gentile. The relative populations of each in all these states are large enough to bring large-scale cultural factors into play. Moreover, the LDS influence is not demarcated by state, but rather exhibits a regional influence in the inner Mountain West.

    Regardless of Sen. Craig’s personal religious affiliation, it is likely that, being from Idaho, his involvement with the Romney campaign brings him closer to locally powerful LDS communities and culture brokers. In fact, given his own position, Gov. Romney may have been hoping that Sen. Craig could function as a “cultural broker” for his campaign.

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  • http://www.lutheranzephyr.com Chris Duckworth

    I read alot of politics and I never go the impression that he is Mormon. Seems to me that if a politician is Mormon or Catholic – rather than garden variety main line protestant – it usually gets mentioned in coverage of scandals such as this.

    Also, although he is Methodist and (probably) a member of the United Methodist Church (though there are several different Methodist denoms out there), being a member of the UMC is not necessarily any indicator of his politics. Aren’t Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush, Bob Dole and George McGovern all members of the United Methodist Church?

  • Adam Greenwood

    I assumed he wasn’t Mormon (or Catholic) since the press didn’t go out its way to highlight his religion, but I still worried enough to do a little googling. I’m Mormon myself, you see.

  • http://abev.wordpress.com john f.

    From the first moment I was sure he was not LDS precisely because the word Mormon was not in every headline announcing the story. No matter how irrelevant LDS religious affiliation might be to any story surrounding a Latter-day Saint in the public eye, the religion will always be mentioned in the headline if the story is reporting something scandalous. (Although in this story, if he had been LDS, I believe that would have actually been relevant to the story and worthy of being in the headlines.)

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  • http://tjic.com TJIC

    It never occurred to me that he might be Mormon. Not because I’m so wonderfully studious about never leaping to conclusions…but just because it didn’t occur to me.

    Unless someone is from Salt Lake City, or I see them in the parking lot of the Mormon cathedral one town over in Belmont, I’m no more likely to consider that someone might be Mormon than I might be to consider that they might be Bhai.

  • http://heartissuesforlds.wordpress.com Todd Wood

    I am a preacher for Berean Baptist Church in Idaho Falls.

    Southeastern Idaho is where mainly all the politicians are LDS.

    But in voting for a good, conservative politician that represents family values, I don’t care if they are Methodist or Mormon.

    I am saddened about all the mess surrounding Senator Craig. But I would be just as burdened and prayerful if it was Senator Crapo.

  • Karen Vaughan

    Why would anyone think that he or Idaho was Mormon? Just because he supports Romney? It would never occur to me.

    If I think of Idaho and religion I think of the religious Aryan Nation fringe, but it is just a fringe in Idaho. (Larger than in other places though.)

  • Richard

    It’s obvious he isn’t Mormon because the press doesn’t mention it.

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  • Rathje

    I suppose I could get bent out of shape about how sometimes it seems you don’t even need a good reason for it to be a good day to kick my religion.

    But for some reason I can’t muster the indignation today. This is just funny.

  • joan

    First off Chris Bollinger by saying that “Idaho is an unimportant state that is very, very far from the belly button of the world, Washington, D.C.” is very arrogant and ignorant. We still have a say who will lead our country. I think any state that has the opportunity to vote for our leader is an important state. The fact, too, that you state D.C. being the belly button of the world is another arrogant opinion. We do not control what goes on around the world in D.C. I’m sure there are other countries around the world that think they’re the “bellybutton” of the world. Let’s not be ignorant in our claims and accusations of which state is and isn’t important in the UNITED states of America. They’re all important.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Rathje:

    I was trying to straighten out the facts on this and, while we are at it, I think that this was a case where the press needed to mention a politico’s mainline link so that people would not misunderstand what is going on.

    What part of the post was an attack on Mormonism? If anything, you could argue that it is an attack on Methodism….

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  • http://jeffhollomon.com Jeff

    The easiest way to tell if Craig is or isn’t a Mormon is simple. If you read the transcript of the interview with the policeman, he says, your gold ring with the cross in it. Mormons do not use crosses in their worship. Furthuremore, I was Methodist prior to becoming LDS and it is very common for Methodists to wear rings with crosses in them. My Methodist dad wears one every day. I think it is possible to say that if the police officer saw a gold ring with a cross in it, the ring was NOT on the senators left hand like he contests. Methdodists generally wear the cross ring on the right hand. In no way am I defending the Senator, nor do I believe him; but it is highly possible the cop has some facts wrong.

  • Steve

    TMatt:

    Agreed with your response to Rathje. Your article is as well-written and fair as you could get concerning the discussion of whether he is Mormon. I am mormon and actually was wondering myself if he was, so I googled it tonight and came across this website. Your fair and informational presentation of the facts is so refreshing compared to the other media out there regarding mormonism, that I will continue to visit this website going forward.

    You are right to say that it would be more of a slam in this case against methodists than mormons.

    Thanks for asking around town what the people thought. I think there’s your answer for what the majority may be thinking. Good article.

  • Andrew

    Diana wrote: “I guarantee you he is a Mormon! And yes, the Mormons were practicing polygamists until the late 1800s, when the President of the church has a revelation that it was no longer acceptable (about the time the government decided to start prosecuting!)”

    I’m not sure what polygamy has to do with Larry Craig’s leisure interests, but since you mentioned it, there’s no big secret about ending polygamy. The statement issued by the LDS church at the time states openly that it was being terminated as a result of political pressure.

    Diana: “Research Mormon history, but be careful of the sources.”

    I do, and I am.

  • http://jettboy.blogspot.com Jettboy

    I think there is one thing that we are missing, and have never seen it mentioned, if he were Mormon. Although to be gay is not a religious offense that could lead to excommunication, what he is reported to have done possibly would have been. In other words, you would have heard news that the LDS Church was investigating him. And, just to be clear, the possibility of LDS Church sanctions would be just as clear had it been a heterosexual asking of favors.

  • BB

    To Diane and whomever else:

    Go to

    http://scriptures.lds.org/en/od/1

    and read the official dispatch ending plural marriage. Up until the date the Supreme Court declared the Edmonds-Tucker Act (the law against plural marriage) Constitutional, ANYBODY in the United States could practice it. It was not against the law anywhere. The only reason it became illegal, was to grandfather the LDS Church into the law so the government could jail it’s leader and take it’s property. The church fought it in the courts and when they reached the final appeal and it was turned down, they adhered to the law.

    As an aside, the LDS people gave women the right to vote immediately after settling the area, unlike the rest of the continent. They retained this right to vote until they were admitted as a state in 1896, when they had to give it up. The LDS women voluntarily gave up their suffrage rights to attain statehood. That Wyoming was the “first state” to enable women’s suffrage is a bit misleading. It was actually a state, but women in the territory never voted.

  • http://www.millennialstar.org/ Sarah

    I’m Mormon, and though I didn’t find out Idaho had a lot of Mormons there till I was in college (in Ohio, where there aren’t very many of us around, 20% is “a lot,”) the very first thing I thought was, “Heh! Idaho! I wonder if he’s LDS…” But before I’d even thought to check on Google, one of my co-bloggers had already posted to say that he’d checked and the answer was “no.”

    I’d be rather surprised to find anyone from outside the area (Colorado, Arizona, Idaho, Utah, maybe Nevada,) and especially non-Mormons from outside of the area, who had really thought of that first. Especially since any unusual or “haha!” items like that get mentioned early and often (see, also, how often party affiliation is mentioned in this kind of story.) No story like this starts with “Openly gay California Democrat with vague Protestant leanings” for a reason.

  • Gwen

    RE: Todd Wood
    Family Values? Seriously, how did you even type that without doubling over in laughter. That can’t be mentioned in ANY way when talking about this subject. If you were voting for him then you were probably voting for the wrong guy for years. Because if you think at 62 years of age this was his first time then you are wrong. But I guess that’s an okay if you like the type that say “Do as I say but not as I do” LOL
    Also…is Minnesota the most direct route to commute from Idaho to Washington D.C. Things that make you go hmmm

  • http://hiveperfect.blogspot.com/ HiveRadical

    I’m in Utah, feel I’m well informed, but I thought that the number was at least 40%, to hear it’s 20% shatters one of my misconceptions.

  • Chris Bolinger

    Joan (#25), if you read post #6 again, you may find that I was poking fun at the fine folks in our nation’s capital. I’m out here in the forgotten Flyover Country with you, but in another state. Peace.

  • Derek

    Frankly I wish the headline would have said “METHODIST SENATOR SOLICITS SEX IN BATHROOM!” But no, these types of sensational religion-based headlines only apply to Mormons. Whenever a Mormon is convicted of a crime, his or her religion is always part of the headline and the story. Double-standard? Yeah–one of the biggest and most common double-standards in journalism today.

  • Dennis Colby

    Like a lot of folks here, I assumed Craig belonged to some well-known Protestant denomination (if he had any denominational affiliation at all), because none of the coverage mentioned his religion. Protestant is kind of the default setting.

    If he had been Mormon, I think that would have been prominent in the coverage, although I disagree that this would only apply were he a member of the LDS church. Sen. David Vitter’s Catholicism got plenty of attention during his recent sex scandal.

    I’m guessing this would be the case if a devout Muslim politician were involved in a sex scandal, also. Some religions seem exotic enough to people to merit special attention in stories like this.

  • Eric G.

    In fairness to the media about whether a candidate’s religious affiliation is mentioned, it should be pointed out that the LDS church is one of many that takes a clear and unequivocal stand against homosexual behavior to the point where it can becomed a matter of church discipline. While the UMC does officially take the position that homosexual behavior is “incompatible with Christian teaching,” the issue remains a matter of intense debate in the church, and in practice much of the denomination is fairly accepting of homosexual behavior.

    So if a Mormon (or, for example, a member of almost any church that is part of the National Association of Evangelicals) were to engage in the kind of behavior that Craig has been accused of, that immediately suggests hypocrisy. Not necessarily so with someone who is a member of one of the mainly Protestant denominations.

    I think it’s a bit simplistic to think that a person’s church affiliation has much to do with what may be compulsive behavior rather than hypocrisy per se, but I can understand why some church affiliations may be mentioned while others are not.

    Fair? Maybe not. But when a church stands for a certain standard of behavior, members shouldn’t be surprised if the media want to hold them to it.

  • rbar

    When did religious affiliation become part of this story? More importantly, why is religious affiliation part of this story? Larry Craig is a conservative republican that continuously voted against gay issues. From a hypocritical stance, that’s the only real story here. Until now, his religious affiliation was irrelevant. To Derek (#37), I think the same could be said about Catholics, too (see Vitter and Kennedy). Dennis Kucinich will be labeled a “Catholic (fill in the blank)” if he gets caught in an inappropriate situation.


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