A Mormon as an American President? What are the implications for the New Zealand church?

IMG_2222As Romney takes his increasingly bright nomination campaign on the road, the eyes of the world have invariably turned to questions of his faith.  Mormonism has heralded some wonderfully idiosyncratic teachings and naturally the public are asking how much faith can we have in the ability of someone to lead a nation, who fervently holds to a faith tradition which has frankly taught some pretty odd things over the years.  So much so that the PR cogs have been spinning lately to disabuse the laity of some common mythologies about what Mormons  believe.  For those who enjoy the more quirky aspects of Mormonism it might be somewhat of a disappointment to know that you can’t build a successful mainline religion on religious oddities or the hasty ejaculations of the odd few from the pulpit at Temple Square.  To reiterate the back stepping that HQ are doing from Mormon weirdnesss this was republished recently by the church on the LDS Church Newsroom:

Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church.

This being said the quirks of  Romney’s religion shouldn’t be an issue, after all it didn’t interfere with his successful business career.  He didn’t evangelize at work, he didn’t call upon his employees to observe the tenants of Mormonism as a condition of employment, he hasn’t taken on more than one wife, and despite having some rude things to say about Obama he probably has some black friends.  So why the constant public scrutiny?

Its been very hard for the church to shuck off the ‘weird’ factor.  Parker, Lopez and Stone are making a killing on Broadway at the moment exploiting that very thing.  That’s because weird sells. If you search the New Zealand historical papers archive (http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz)  for ‘Mormon’ you will find 10,281 articles (some duplicates of course) written between 1839 and 1945 about some aspect of Mormonism, most of which addresses some aspect of the church’s ‘oddness’.

The media have long been crazy for the crazy,  and Mormonism in the past has ranked right up there as a fruitful source.  Romney’s and Huntsman’s high-profile bids for the Republican nomination has simply turned the wattage up on a light that has long been shining on Mormonism. But the spotlight isn’t revealing anything like the ‘weird’ that they used to find.  The most crazy they get is from vitriolic evangelicals leaping up and down spitting fire and damnation on the Mormons for not being Christian.

So if Romney becomes the President of the United States will there be religious crazy on the political menu?   I think not.  Unless you think that the kind of conservative that Romney stands for is crazy.  The world will see a Presidential term as predictable as Romney’s hairdo.  If Mormonism has taught him anything it will be to; ask no questions; reply to no questions;  politely acknowledge the periphery while maintaining the centre; speak to the margins not with the margins; smile broadly; laugh self-consciously; never provide a historical context; always wear a good suit and a nice shirt and  eschew transparency.   That’s the beauty of a religion that seems to have replicated the cultural habits of its host nation.  He’ll be competent but not inspirational.  He’ll be agonizingly squeaky clean and everyone will hate him for it – especially the media –  who have nothing on him.  So the rest of the world can sleep easy.

Its us Mormons who will suffer from a Mormon US President.  The PR machine will be working overtime to sail in on the coat tails of such a high-profile public figure.  The already over inflated  middle church managers and bureaucracy will be literally drooling at the possibility of  this kind of proximity to the upper echelons of power.  It will make an already stultifying corporate religion even more arrogant.  People will momentarily forget about Jesus and think about the church, and this conflation of Republicanism and Mormonism will be even more pronounced.  And of course there will be those whose solace in Mormonism is the graciousness and kindness shown to the least of us, who will feel sad that so much attention is now going to the ‘biggest of us’.

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