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

As 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’.

  • Ganesh Cherian

    The question of a Mormon President is fascinating. Despite my (and most everyone I have talked to) cynicism at the political system in America. American Presidents are given demi-god status. There is a religious savior context given to every elected President. Of Obama; Oprah Winfrey said: “I believe he is the One”. Many past Presidents (like Washington & Lincoln) share Prophet-General status with the likes of Moses and King David. And many religions have found respect with the mainstream by having one of their number as commander and chief.

    Most Americans accept that their country is in grave trouble, and while they disagree about the causes they are united in their belief that the President makes the difference. So the prospect of a Mormon president may well deliver the hope that a black president did not. For members of the church there is a hope that finally a ‘truly inspired’ man may make all the difference in the oval office and fulfill that out-standing prophecy to save the constitution of the United States which is hanging on by a thread. Then hopefully we might get on with the millennium!

    I don’t know if the status of everyday members will change with Romney, as I don’t think that the status of blacks has changed under Obama. But I must admit that it does make you feel a little like you are on the winning team.

  • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

    Really Ganesh? Do they really think that Romney will fulfill prophecy? Frankly I thought Huntsman was great but I don’t think Romney is going to unseat Obama. Romney can’t shine a candle to Obama. Obama inherited a huge mess and was perhaps a bit too aspirational for cross party accords. The problem is the system. Romney won’t fix that. He too much of a toady and he’s dodgy.

    • Ganesh Cherian

      I like Huntsman too. But Romney is getting great support. Obama is hurting, he went in with Prophet like status and hasn’t delivered (hospital pass aside), I think he wont get a second term.

      The system is fixed. I think the Gaddianton robbers have it all sewn up, so it matters not whos President except to placate the masses.

      • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

        What do you think about Romney’s tax return problems? Do you think he lost NC because of it?

  • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

    Reblogged this on kiwimormon.

  • Ed

    It does pose an interesting question, some people I work/socialise with have already asked me for my opinion on the Romney etc. because we share the same religion. My fear is that people will get the two (politics & religion) mixed and if Romney makes a decision that people don’t agree with, will the media etc. try and spin it so it looks like the decision was made based on his ‘quirky’ religion and not other factors?

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      Agreed! I think the general population want clarity on therelationship between the church and Romney. I had a colleague ask if Romney was being endorsed or financially backed by the church. When I explained that it was unlikely, she wasn’t convinced. It would be quite nice if the church could come out and explain that they don’t back any one and members are free to vote either democrat or republican. Or they could reiterate their ‘political neutrality’ but that might go down like a lead balloon considering their involvement with prop 8…. who knows!

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      I have the same experience. Actually I’ve been asked on several occasions who I would vote for – as if being Mormon made me American! There has been some surprise that if I were American I would probably note for Obama. Many people think the church is putting up or backing Romney and I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that the church has been busily advertising itself alongside Romney. But yes, it will be quite interesting to see what happens should he secure the nomination. But frankly I doubt he will unseat Obama – not after Obama’s latest gig at the House of Blues!! He has too much cool.

  • AnnieB

    My personal perspective is that all politicians are corrupt, bought out whether it be with $$$ supported by votes, wheeling and dealing relationships and commitments. I have not only determined this by watching and reading but by personal experience. Their decisions and loyalties are based on who has the biggest wallet and power play and flavor of the month. Its not a modern political environment. Its been that way ever since the words of the “Kings/Queens Court” was established. It comes part and parcel, if you are a successful politician that you are very skilled with such an environment. I don’t exclude any politician from this law of mine. I even include mormon’s. Therefore I don’t believe in a righteous politician. I also think we tend to view prophesy so black and white and from a restricted mortal mind when in fact Gods plan is much bigger and much better than what us mere mortals could ever come up with. Even if Romney were to be president I don’t think thats an automatic call for him to fulfill any prophesy. I loath the thought of a mormon politician and even more a mormon president. God help us!

  • Heather

    Huntsman was the only legitimate Republican candidate. The fact that he was eliminated immediately from candidacy is an indication that the Republican Party, of which I used to consider myself a member, has completely abandoned me. (I still consider myself an Eisenhower-Nixon-Ford, etc. Republican, but this current party is not it.) Since they began taking money from the right-wing evangelicals…I have no idea what happened. These people are not Christian, nor are they moral. While I do not consider myself a member of the Democratic Party, I cannot consort with these individuals.

    Mitt Romney is a Mormon. The Mormon Church dictates that single women cannot achieve heaven. Joseph Smith essentially made up the religion to allow him to sleep with a variety of women. I do think that Mitt Romney would be able to divide church and state. He has effectively shown his skill at compartmentalization from his incredible skill at lying, claiming one thing despite being caught at stating the exact opposite on video tape. Even one of his staff members has analogized this skill as being “like an Etcha-Sketch.”
    If this man is elected president, it is what we deserve. It is also part of the amoral contemporary life that I experience daily as a professor teaching at a state college. It is really an unfortunate sign of the times.

    From Los Angeles, California.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      I too liked Huntsman. Not that I’d be a Republican if I were American. But I thought he was pretty solid. My feeling however is that he is lining himself up for the next GOP nomination in four years time. Romney will be dumped if he doesn’t win this time so the field will be open for Huntsman. But I agree that nobody is a winner in the current political context. Thanks for your comments.