Helpful talk on that ‘cult’ word

Presidential primary season is approaching, of course, which means that it’s time for reporters to start dancing around the Mormon issues that will be swirling around Mitt Romney.


At some point, a Romney critic or two will use the “cult” word or, just as likely, someone on the Religious Right will ask questions about Romney and then will be accused by the press of flirting with the “cult” word. At that point, the “cult” word will be in play, which was the whole point in the first place.

Some of the verbal warfare will be totally hollow. Some of it will be easy to trace back to real doctrinal differences — the word “exaltation” is sure to show up — between Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic Christians (the nature of God is at the top of the list) and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The odds are very good that, at some point, journalists will be quoting apologists from the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board. They will say highly nuanced things that will be hard for reporters to paraphrase, including statements that may or may not contain the word “cult.” Some reporters will oversimplify and ink will be slung around.

Now, before all of this starts, it’s important for reporters to find some serious, accurate, representative voices in three or four crucial camps — even if they disagree with one another.

The “On Faith” team at the Washington Post ran an essay the other day that represents an excellent start for a research file. Find the corresponding Southern Baptist materials and you’re about 2 percent down a long, interesting road.

The piece was written by Michael Otterson, head of the public affairs office for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is not a news piece, of course, but it should be of interest to those who follow the Godbeat closely. Here is an important slice, near the top of the essay, which ran under the headline, “The Mormon church and the media’s ‘cult’ box.”

Where to start?

The Economist’s Los Angeles-based reporter wrote this in the print edition of May 3 this year: “Mainstream Protestants, and especially evangelicals, have traditionally considered Mormons a devious cult.”

The point was repeated on June 9: “Many Americans see Mormonism as a cult: in polls over the years a steady one in four say they would be less likely to vote for a Mormon as president.”

I’m not a professional statistician, but I do know that because one in four people say they are less likely to vote for a Mormon, it doesn’t follow that one in four see Mormons as a cult, “devious” or otherwise. Unless the reporter has data that the rest of us have not seen (in which case he should have cited it) the indiscriminate use of the word “cult” is unjustified.

Wikipedia correctly labels “cult” as a pejorative term, and adds: “The popular, derogatory sense of the word has no currency in academic studies of religions, where “cults” are subsumed under the neutral label of the “new religious movement.” …

Lest anyone think I am unduly thin-skinned, it’s the insult implicit in the word “cult” that I am objecting to, not the reasonable point that some Christians are indeed uncomfortable with aspects of Latter-day Saint theology. Of course they are. I am equally uncomfortable with some aspects of traditional, orthodox Christianity, which was the very issue that gave rise to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the first place. Such differences, however, should be examined thoughtfully, reasonably and respectfully in any national conversation about a particular faith. And they should be examined alongside the enormous doctrinal and practical similarities between these different branches of Christendom. For my part, I plan to keep politics and pejoratives out of it.

The key here is that many journalists struggle to distinguish between people who are using the slur “cult” in a sociological sense from those who are using the term “cult” in the context of debates about radical differences in doctrine. There are Mormon critics who will do both, but I have found that their numbers are shrinking rapidly.

Most evangelicals (Southern Baptist leaders for sure) will, if they use the word “cult” at all, go out of their way to try to explain to reporters that they are using the word in a narrow and highly academic, doctrinal sense. The differences are real, and important. But I have found that talks between Mormon leaders and evangelical leaders operate on a pretty refined and dignified level, these days.

If reporters listen carefully, and respectfully, to leaders on both sides it’s possible to negotiate this minefield without explosions. What will be discussed? Here is a sample of how Otterson describes this terrain:

* Why Latter-day Saints consider themselves New Testament Christians, rather than creedal Christians whose doctrines were formalized in the centuries following the foundation of Christianity. It is perfectly true that Mormons do not embrace many of the orthodoxies of mainstream Christianity, including the nature of the Trinity. It is not true that Mormons do not draw their beliefs from the same Bible.

Otterson will be covering that topic, and others, in the near future at “On Faith.” I assume that an equally candid and appropriate voice or two will speak for Protestants, Catholics, etc. This would be very helpful for reporters.

Clip and file!

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How not to report on religion

A GetReligion reader submitted an interesting link to “Fox & Friends” co-host Ainsley Earhardt making a statement that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is “obviously” not a Christian.

It’s a brief comment as part of a larger conversation about how Romney might have trouble with evangelical voters. And it’s the type of statement that inappropriately takes sides in a fierce theological debate. Traditional Christian church bodies and Mormons do not recognize each others’ baptisms or sacraments as valid. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints concede that they oppose traditional Christian beliefs and the ecumenical creeds but they say that they follow Jesus and are Christian.

“Obviously” Fox & Friends hosts should not weigh in on this debate about whether to call Mormons Christian.

I wasn’t sure if it was enough to build a post around, figuring I’d save it for the inevitable series of Mormon posts we’ll be writing as Harry Reid, Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman and other famous Mormons continue to be in the news.

However, the reader also sent along the online video clip that is embedded here. And it is utterly amazing.

In it, reporter Ben Ferguson mocks Mormons beliefs with all the nuance of a brick through a plate glass window. He makes fun of Mormon beliefs on the afterlife and then mocks teachings about where they believe the Garden of Eden is located. And why? It’s really hard to tell. The reporter makes some point about how his “reporting” shows that Romney will want to keep discussion away from his religion.

Come on. This is not reporting. This is shockingly inappropriate for broadcast by a supposedly objective local media outlet. The report apparently ran a couple of weeks ago but I didn’t catch it until this week. At the time it ran, Joanna Brooks at Religion Dispatches unloaded on the piece. Here’s how she explained what happened:

“Can you name the candidate who is running for president who believes that if he is a good person, he will get his own planet?” Ferguson goaded.

Five or six Memphis citizens shake their heads, chuckling, rolling their eyes. One woman darts from the camera.

“It’s not Mitt Romney is it?” asks a man in a blue shirt with a ponytail.

“It is Mitt Romney,” intones Ferguson, aping and goofing, “it is.”

“Would you vote for someone for president who believes that if they are a good person, you will get their own planet?” Ferguson continues, “You want your own planet, don’t you?”

Sure, it’s a distorting and sensationalistic caricature of Mormon beliefs to say that all of us believe we’re going to get our own planets. You could sit in your local Mormon Church for a month of Sundays and hear no reference to it. Even among orthodox Mormons, talk of planets (and the American location of the Garden of Eden—another matter ridiculed by Ferguson) is the subject of gentle insider humor, a nod to older strains of Mormon belief and folklore.

But even more objectionable is holding a televised street-corner referendum with the sole aim of making a minority religion look foolish.

Exactly. While Brooks might be understating the Mormon position on these doctrines, it’s not like the reporter — or the anchor who chats with him after the bit or any producer involved in it — was aiming to inform or tie these beliefs into actual policy discussions. I’m all for people discussing the role religion might play in a candidate’s perspective. But this was not done for that purpose.

I hope that Ferguson and his bosses reconsider whether such religious mocking should ever be allowed on the air again.

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About that non-existent slippery slope

In a recent conversation discussing the New York Times‘ glowing hagiography of Dan Savage and his views in favor of adultery, we discussed how former Sen. Rick Santorum had said something years ago to infuriate Savage. The crime that resulted in naming the fecal slime that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex after Santorum? He argued that the legal reasoning being used in the Lawrence v. Texas (a huge gay rights case) could be used in favor of polygamy and various other private sexual acts.

I’ve long wondered — and frequently asked about — what arguments being used in favor of same-sex marriage couldn’t also be used in favor of plural marriage. I’ve not seen this discussion engaged in the press so much as dismissed.

It turns out that we’ll get to see the early contours of the argument with a new lawsuit challenging polygamy law.

An article on the lawsuit appears in the New York Times and is a bit of a mess. We’re told that Kody Brown, his four wives and 16 children are filing the suit and that they’ve been made famous from a reality TV show called “Sister Wives.”

But we don’t know which court they’re filing suit in. I’m even confused as to whether it’s state or federal court.

There’s also some confusion as to whether the suit is a natural extension of Lawrence rights or not. Here’s the first claim:

The lawsuit is not demanding that states recognize polygamous marriage. Instead, the lawsuit builds on a 2003 United States Supreme Court decision, Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down state sodomy laws as unconstitutional intrusions on the “intimate conduct” of consenting adults. It will ask the federal courts to tell states that they cannot punish polygamists for their own “intimate conduct” so long as they are not breaking other laws, like those regarding child abuse, incest or seeking multiple marriage licenses.

But then we hear from a number of people claiming that legally speaking polygamy couldn’t be more different from same-sex marriage. But we never quite learn why. I honestly don’t know if that’s because the reporter didn’t accurately characterize the arguments of the people claiming “this is so totally different” or if they never articulated what the actual difference is.

We don’t learn much of the religion angle, just that the Browns are members of the Apostolic United Brethren Church and that it’s an offshoot of the Mormon Church and that the Mormon Church gave up polygamy over 100 years ago.

“We only wish to live our private lives according to our beliefs,” Mr. Brown said in a statement provided by his lead attorney, Jonathan Turley, who is a law professor at George Washington University.

Again, though, we don’t learn anything about what those beliefs are.

Much of the story is spent worrying about how the case bolsters the arguments of traditional marriage law defenders. They’ve been claiming that redefining marriage to include same-sex unions may have unintended consequences in marriage law and beyond.

Such arguments, often referred to as the “parade of horribles,” are logically flawed, said Jennifer C. Pizer, a professor at the law school at the University of California, Los Angeles, and legal director for the school’s Williams Institute, which focuses on sexual orientation law.

The questions surrounding whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry are significantly different from those involved in criminal prosecution of multiple marriages, Ms. Pizer noted. Same-sex couples are seeking merely to participate in the existing system of family law for married couples, she said, while “you’d have to restructure the family law system in a pretty fundamental way” to recognize polygamy.

Not only are none of the many people who would disagree with the first contention quoted, neither do we learn anything about how the family law system would have to be restructured, much less fundamentally, if polygamy were legalized.

Heck, I’m just even curious why supporters of “marriage equality” would oppose “marriage equality” for the polygamous. It’s not even discussed in the piece.

There is a bit of interesting history given:

The Supreme Court supported the power of states to restrict polygamy in an 1879 case, Reynolds v. United States. Professor Turley suggests that the fundamental reasoning of Reynolds, which said polygamy “fetters the people in stationary despotism,” is outdated and has been swept away by cases like Lawrence.

Again, I’d like to know more about how Reynolds argued that polygamy was despotic, why it’s outdated and how it’s been swept away by Lawrence.

The story would have been improved a great deal by speaking with anyone who supports traditional marriage law. Heck, the story would have been improved by letting the parade of “marriage equality” attorneys who oppose polygamy simply make their case.

As it stands, the piece doesn’t quite satisfy the need for more information about the role religion plays in this looming lawsuit. Also, for a piece focused on how this polygamy lawsuit in no way justifies the “slippery slope” arguments of traditional marriage defenders, it would be nice to have seen more discussion with them in light of this lawsuit.

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Those other kind of lies

Before we jump headfirst into this post, let’s pause for a moment and pay tribute to that famous saying popularized by Mark Twain:

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.

OK, does everyone feel better now? I know I do.

Speaking of statistics, Fox News reports on a Gallup Poll concerning potential support for Mormon presidential candidates:

Much has been made about whether evangelical Christians could support a Mormon presidential candidate like Mitt Romney in the GOP primary. But a recent Gallup poll shows Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to oppose a Mormon for president.

The survey suggests a candidate like Romney would have at least as tough a time overcoming voter anxiety in a general election as he would in the race for his party’s nomination. And, analysts say, the numbers underscore the lingering trouble Mormons are having gaining national and bipartisan acceptance as a product of their concentration in just a handful of states.

Here’s a key chunk of the first version of the Fox story that I read:

According to Census data, America has more Mormons than either Jews, Muslims or evangelical Christians. They have congregations across the country, even though they’re concentrated in Utah and other western states. While it follows that most of the 15 Mormons in Congress are from those states, their tight concentration could be making it harder to appeal to voters beyond the Rockies — particularly Democrats.

The poll showed that 27 percent of Democrats would not be willing to vote for a presidential candidate of their party who happened to be Mormon. Among Republicans, that number was 18 percent.

See any problems with that initial attribution? My first thought was that I didn’t realize the Census Bureau collected that kind of data on religious affiliation. Apparently, they don’t, as Census reports I Googled attribute that kind of information to other sources. I am no expert on this subject, so there is every possibility I’m missing something. Please feel free to educate me. But I notice that the latest version of the Fox report has edited the attribution to “data from the American Religious Identification Survey.”

Still, in such a blanket statement as more Mormons than either Jews, Muslims or evangelical Christians, does anything else strike you? For anyone who grew up watching “Sesame Street,” which one of these things is not like the other?

A Mormon is a Mormon. A Jew is a Jew. A Muslim is a Muslim. But who is an evangelical Christian? According to the American Religious Identification Survey, there were 3.2 million adult Mormons, 2.7 million adult Jews, 1.3 million adult Muslims and 2.2 million adult Evangelical/Born Again Christians in 2008. Someone give Fox News a math prize!

Except …

There’s a note by the evangelical stat with this warning:

Because of the subjective nature of replies to open-ended questions, these categories are the most unstable as they do not refer to clearly identifiable denominations as much as underlying feelings about religion.

Oh, there are a few other stats on the same report: 36.1 million Baptist adults, 16.8 million Christians with no denomination, 5.4 million Pentecostal/Charismatic adults, etc. Just for the sake of playing devil’s advocate, any chance any of those folks might also consider themselves evangelicals? As opposed to Fox’s 2.2 million figure on evangelicals, other sources put the number as high as 100 million. But hey, let’s not quibble over such a small difference …

According to the 2011 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches by the National Council of Churches, Mormons rank fourth in size behind the Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention and the United Methodist Church with 6.1 million members. Now, as I understand it, those stats are mainly self-reported by denominations and up for questioning, but (psssssssst, Fox) such a figure might give a more concrete idea of the Mormon population in America.

Fox spends the rest of the story mainly trying to analyze why Democrats might be more adverse to Mormons than Republicans. Reasons explored range from concern about Mormons being socially conservative to “intolerance.” But Fox totally ignores a key possible explanation given by Gallup itself:

The largest differences in opposition to voting for a Mormon for president are by educational level, with adults who have not attended college more resistant than those with some college experience or college graduates. This educational pattern is seen in attitudes about voting for someone from almost all of the specific religious or demographic groups tested in the poll.

Could it be that significantly more self-identified Republicans have four-year degrees than Democrats, thus explaining the difference in the poll? Sorry, I hate to ask because I really don’t want to ruin Fox’s perfectly compelling storyline.

Anyway, what was it that Mark Twain said?

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Pod people: the extended cut

For this week’s Crossroads, host Todd Wilken and I talked about media coverage of changes in New York’s marriage laws and why the media isn’t more interested in exploring how those changes might affect religious adherents and their institutions.

It’s been over a week since the legislature voted and I’m a bit surprised we still haven’t seen any stories looking at what the change means. We’ve seen a lot of stories about the affect this might have on large scale political battles and individuals seeking to be married under the new law. We’ve seen far less, and far less quality coverage, when it comes to potential conflicts or how the law might affect the public lives of people who oppose homosexuality or same-sex marriage. Although the New York Times Sunday magazine did include a lengthy piece reported by religion writer Mark Oppenheimer questioning the marital norm of monogamy, which we will get to shortly.

We hit quite a few other topics at well in this special extended podcast.

There was that Associated Press story where Francis Beckwith was described not as the Catholic that he is but as a Mormon. Since the podcast was recorded, that story was finally corrected.

And we got a bit back into the Religion News Service story about Delta Airlines and the Jews that ultimately was pulled. Likewise, we talked about the story that spread like wildfire about the untrue account of a Jewish court sentencing a dog to death by stoning.

And we hit on the story of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, the only church that was destroyed in the September 11 terror attacks. Readers had some excellent thoughts both on angles to explore in that story and explanations as to why it’s been undercovered.

We wrapped up with a look at the Yonathan Melaku story and my confusion over why local reporters aren’t more interested in his ties to Islamic terror as well as his non-Muslim name.

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Pro Tip: Use Google to avoid embarrassing mistakes

The Associated Press ran a religion story about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ restatement and clarification on political neutrality toward candidates and parties. Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, is Mormon. So are former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, both candidates for the Republican nomination for president.

The write-up seems pretty good at the beginning:

In a letter sent June 16, church president Thomas S. Monson and his senior counselors said lay leaders with full-time church responsibilities and their spouses should not participate in political campaigns, including “promoting candidates, fundraising, speaking on behalf of or otherwise endorsing candidates and making financial contributions.”

The letter was sent to the highest officers of the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including general authorities, general auxiliary leaders, mission presidents and temple presidents — those whose positions are visible highly visible both in and out of the church and who could be seen as acting on behalf of the church.

Full-time church employees and part-time leaders, such as those who hold local or regional congregational duties are exempt from the policy.

The article mentions that the church does get involved in political activism on moral issues:

That would include the faith’s involvement in the 2006 ballot initiative Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in California and its efforts to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s.

This is your first clue that attention to detail may not be this reporter or her editor’s strong suit. Prop. 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California, passed in 2008, not 2006.

Which brings us to the concluding paragraphs:

But some political experts say no one should read too much into the church statement — although it may not have previously publicly stated in this way.

“I do not think there is anything new about this statement in terms of its substance. It is consistent with an LDS understanding of politics and the common good as well as the limitations of engaging in partisan politics placed on religious organizations by (Internal Revenue Service) regulations,” said Francis J. Beckwith, a Mormon who is also a professor of philosophy and church-state studies at Baylor University. “What I think the LDS church is doing here is articulating in greater specificity what it’s always held in more general terms.”

What? Francis Beckwith became a Mormon? Talk about burying the lede!

Beckwith, author of Politics for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft; Return to Rome: Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic and To Every One An Answer: A Case for the Christian Worldview, became Mormon? After all of those books he also wrote critical of Mormon teachings and how they differ from traditional Christianity?

The same Beckwith who made national news when, as president of the Evangelical Theological Society, he converted to Catholicism?

This is certainly news.

Oh wait, nope. Not at all.

Beckwith is not “a Mormon.” He’s still Catholic.

It’s one thing for a religion reporter to not know who Beckwith is or what his claims to fame are. But this reporter, Jennifer Dobner, is on the Mormon beat (On that note, I should mention that this story is significantly better than some of the other ones we’ve looked at in years past). Beyond all that, though, this has to be one of the most easily Googlable facts about Beckwith out there.

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Closet therapy

The latest cover of the New York Times Magazine looks at religion, gay orientation/identity, and therapy, and the reporting from Mimi Swartz is pretty straight forward.

However, there were a few strange elements in the piece, especially the headline, “Living the Good Lie.” The piece looks at how therapists are trying to deal with how to affirm a client’s sexual identity while acknowledging religious beliefs that might condemn homosexual behavior. There’s nothing that explores that people are “living a good lie” since as far as I can tell, the therapists are encouraging their clients to acknowledge and even tell their significant others about their orientation/identities.

Also, let’s look at this strange paragraph LeBlanc style for a minute.

Christians of the kind who earnestly believed that the Bible deplored homosexuality were particularly troubled as they tried to reconcile their faith with their sexual orientation. The more Flanigan studied this conundrum, the more he came to see it as intractable. Some gay evangelicals truly believe that to follow their sexual orientation means abandonment by a church that provides them with emotional and social sustenance — not to mention eternal damnation. Keeping their sexual orientation a secret, however, means giving up any opportunity to have fulfilling relationships as gay men and women.

There’s something weird about the clause “Christians of the kind who earnestly believed …” as though they are a species in the zoo to be examined. Further, do gay evangelicals believe that churches would particularly pinpoint sex as the specific key for “eternal damnation” or is that just an expression?

The reporter doesn’t dive too far into the whole “conversion therapy,” when some tend to simplify, but the following paragraph could be confusing to those who don’t know much about it.

As Katz wrote in “Gay American History,” gay men and lesbians “were long subjected to a varied, often horrifying list of ‘cures’ at the hands of psychiatric-psychological professionals.” These included lobotomies, castration, hysterectomy, clitoridectomy, hormone therapy, LSD, sexual stimulants, sexual depressants, shock treatment, aversion therapy, electroshock and so on. That changed, of course, as mainstream attitudes about sexual orientation changed. But even as Flanigan was beginning his professional life as a counselor in the late 1990s, groups on the religious right, like Narth (then called the National Association of Research and Treatment of Homosexuality) and Exodus International were advertising that they could cure homosexuality.

We’re back to the “cure” word again.

If you don’t know much about Narth or Exodus, you might conclude that they engage in the more drastic therapies mentioned right before the references to the actual organizations. Perhaps the piece could have used a sentence or two explaining how they try to “cure homosexuality” and then explain the American Psychological Association has outlined. Then again, the story could also mention that these groups reject the “cure” label and insist that this word is too simplistic.

Obviously, I realize you can’t include everything. Nevertheless, in a 6,000 news piece, this crucial subject might deserve a little more explanation.

As a whole, the piece did a nice job for what the writer set out to do, as she focuses mostly on the interviewees’ experiences and words. The basic gist is that therapists in the piece seek to embrace the client’s sexual orientation without necessarily forcing him or her to identify as being gay.

The American Psychological Association has said, “Acceptance of same-sex sexual attractions and sexual orientation may not mean the formation of an L.G.B. sexual-orientation identity; alternate identities may develop instead.” For example, a therapist might accept a client’s sexual orientation as gay, while acknowledging their sexual identity as being straight. Overall, the story does a pretty nice job of dealing with the complexities of the potentially explosive topics of religion, sexuality and therapy.

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A Mormon ticket

I love it when reporters look for religion angles in political stories, I really do. Sometimes, though, a reporter tries too hard to see a faith angle. Consider Joshua Green’s post for The Atlantic on Jon Huntsman’s new website,, and whether it has any biblical implications, referring to the New Testament passage John 20:12.

Okay, so it’s the resurrection. But I was at loss to see any deeper meaning in it.

Serendipitously, my father is a theologian. I put in a call to him. “I’m assuming that’s intentional, because otherwise it’s an odd thing to call your website,” he said. “The passage is the part of the description of the empty tomb. I believe the two angels only appear in the Book of John.” And?

He didn’t have an and. “A politician would want to associate himself with Jesus Christ, I suppose,” he said. “But the passage isn’t theologically weighted.”

Or maybe it’s because is already taken, I don’t know. To be fair, Green doesn’t take his theory terribly seriously.

So unlike my dad, I doubt the biblical allusion is intentional. Rather, I think it reflects his big gripe about religion in politics–and also about religion in the media–which is that political consultants, like reporters, are so ignorant of religion that the allusion probably would not even have occurred to them.

Again, I think it simply comes down to someone named Jon (not John) is running for president in 2012. It is interesting that the only mention of his faith on his site is in the timeline referring to his Mormon mission in 1979. But I haven’t looked at the other candidates’ site thoroughly to know whether a dearth of personal faith mention is actually terribly unusual. It certainly isn’t highlighted on Mitt Romney’s website.

We’ve talked before about stories that look at the differences between Huntsman and Romney’s faith, and I think they are helpful. CNN’s Dan Gilgoff has another one that helps remind readers that all Mormons are not alike.

It will be interesting how their respective faith communities receive them, which this Washington Post story examines in an interesting piece on fundraising within the Mormon community.

In Utah, Romney is trying to lure back his old donors. But he is also competing against Huntsman to sign up bundlers — supporters who help bring in donations from their friends and colleagues.

Several knowledgeable Utah Republicans said Romney has won over many of the community’s biggest donors. But at least half a dozen prominent business leaders who gave to Romney in 2008, including Zions Bank Chairman A. Scott Anderson, will hold a breakfast fundraiser on Friday for Huntsman. Each is giving his campaign $2,500, according to an invitation obtained by The Post.

University of Notre Dame political scientist David Campbell, who is Mormon, said many in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints consider a donation to Romney or Huntsman a sort of down payment on the prospect that they could help bring the faith into the cultural mainstream.

“I think that 2012 will be remembered as a pretty important year for Mormons,” Campbell said, adding that Romney or Huntsman could “become the JFK of Mormons and put the religion question to rest.”

Several stories, like this other Washington Post piece, that focus on Huntsman and Romney’s faith are quick to point that a Mormon candidate could have trouble among evangelical voters. However, if you look closely at some recent polls, you’ll see that Democrats also report reluctance to vote for a Mormon candidate.

Pew, for instance, finds that while 34 percent of evangelicals said they would be less likely to vote for a Mormon candidate, 41 percent of liberal Democrats said the same thing. Similarly, a Los Angeles Times poll showed that 27 percent of Democrats said they would oppose a Mormon candidate, compared to 18 percent of Republicans who said the same thing. Perhaps reporters could explore why that might be the case. Is it simply because they believe the only Mormon candidates they know who might run for president are Republican? Would Sen. Harry Reid’s faith be a key issue for his own party if he ran? Yes, the Iowa primary comes first, but the Democratic reluctance could be an interesting story to explore down the road.

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