Why Romney’s Loss is Good for Mormonism

The Mormon Moment died at approximately 11:00pm on Tuesday night.  Mormonism, however, will be just fine.  In fact, it may even come out of this week in a better situation than had its most famous son won the presidency.

Romney’s candidacy brought out the worst in many Mormons.  To be sure, the vast majority of Mormons (and others) were simply conscientious citizens choosing the person who they thought was best qualified to lead the country, and they engaged in civil and respectful discourse, even disagreement, with people on the other side of the political spectrum.  But far too many Mormons got wrapped up in the politics of parochialism, the hubris of hype, and the narcissism of the news cycle.  Republican-voting Mormons questioned the faithfulness and integrity of their fellow church members who committed the cardinal sin of voicing support for the socialist anti-Christ Muslim intent on eradicating all their freedoms and leaving the Constitution hanging by a thread.  Not to be outdone, Democratic-voting Mormons smugly disdained the unenlightened rubes they deigned to go to church with every week.  Just showing up on Sunday to worship alongside the insufferable conservative masses was an act of heroic, self-congratulatory charity.  If Ohio was a battleground, Facebook became Armageddon, and church hallways became sites of snipers’ nests and low-level skirmishes.  Thankfully, mercifully, it is over.  Perhaps now we can all go back to simply being members of the same church, brothers and sisters in Christ.

Beyond the daily walk of individual Latter-day Saints, Romney’s loss also has salutary effects for the institutional church.  Because Romney is not in the White House, the LDS Church will be able to continue to weigh in on public issues of vital importance to it.  Had Mitt Romney occupied the Oval Office, the White House and the Church Office Building would have cut off virtually all contact, for fear that either the president or the prophet would be accused of theocratic ambitions.  As it is, however, the church can maintain its legal and appropriate lobbying efforts in Washington just like every other church and special interest in America does.  Ironically, a Romney administration would have had the effect of decreasing the political influence of the LDS Church.

Secularist and fundamentalist fears (and Mormon millennialist hopes) to the contrary, a Romney presidency would not have brought about a commingling of church and state.  Mitt Romney would not have become a latter-day Constantine; Salt Lake City would not be the new Rome.  Nevertheless, Romney’s narrow loss means that Mormonism has narrowly escaped the devil’s ultimate temptation of “all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them” (Matt. 4:8).  Christians have rarely fared well, as Christians, in the seat of sovereign power.  Though his followers sought to make him a king, Jesus repeatedly rejected the throne, preferring instead the path of humble servanthood and prophetic distance from the trappings of temporal power.

Many Christians through the centuries have strictly followed Jesus’s lead in scrupulously avoiding the corrupting realm of secular politics.  On the contrary, most Mormons side with the majority of Christians who believe that God ordains the political order, and that participation in government can be a means of doing real and lasting good in the world.  Thus, the problem with a Romney presidency would not have been that a Latter-day Saint sat in the Oval Office.  The problem with a Romney presidency would have been that most of his fellow Latter-day Saints would have been loathe to criticize the decisions and actions emanating from the Oval Office.  There is nothing particularly complicated or sinister about this—as members of a historically besieged minority community, Mormons would have rightly been proud of having one of their own in the highest office of the land, and would naturally want to be protective of his reputation.  This was largely true of Catholics when Kennedy was president, and has largely been true of African Americans during the Obama administration.

But by surrendering (or at least swallowing) their critique of the president, Mormons would have been defaulting not only on their duty as watchful citizens but on their responsibility as faithful Christians.  “My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus told Pilate (John 18:36).  Religion is historically at its best when it resides on the prophetic margins.  Old Testament prophets were typically irritating gadflies more than they were trusted insiders in the throne room.

Most Mormons have not yet shown the capability of mustering truly righteous indignation toward one of their own.  Yes, there is always Harry Reid, but the first strategy of his Mormon critics is to claim that he is not really one of us.  The attraction of Mitt Romney for the Mormon faithful was that he was always, indisputably, impeccably, one of us.  It would have been nigh on impossible for those caught up in the myth that he would be riding in on the white horse and saving the Constitution from impending peril to brook the blasphemous suggestion that he may, in fact, be just another politician.

And so Mormonism, however much social and cultural capital it may have gained in recent months, will remain on the margins…exactly where it belongs, and where it has always done real and lasting good in the world.

  • Robert Couch

    Well put, Patrick — thanks.

  • Jecia

    This article largely particularizes how Romney’s loss is good for the Mormon people, not for the Mormon church ergo Mormonism. How does his loss effect Mormonism? How will it effect the world’s perception of Mormonism?

    • Alece

      It may not have been good for Mormonism and Mormons, but it definitely would have been better for the country!

  • Delbert H. Hall, Sr.

    I long for the day when Jesus Christ, as King of Kings and Lord of Lords appoints a King for each nation. How great it will be when all nations, kindreds, tongues, and peoples obey the laws of God and live together in love, peace, and harmony! Common consent will be the rule. Each nation’s citizens will have the right to sustain their leaders or to register complaints against them. Whatever little conflict there is , if any, shall be resolved in loving kindness by the Gracious, Almighty King of Kings.

  • nnmns

    Mitt Romney has some dramatic character defects which, had he been elected, would have impressed themselves on a lot more of us over four years, and in the public mind Mormonism would have been unfairly but surely associated with them. Mormonism as well as the nation is far better off.

    • myzamba

      I disagree totally. I think he had some dramatic character strengths that are very admirable. The deep character defects I see are in the one actually re-elected. I have an enormous amount of respect for the whole Romney family. I think Obama has some extremely deep character flaws that I think scare many people that someone like this has the power he has.

  • http://realclearpolitics jonny

    Quietly and lovingly going about living the teachings of the The Living Christ will bless our nation so much more than tax cuts or increases, Socialism or Capitalism at there best, no comparison.

  • John Dawson

    I for one am eagerly awaiting to see where the “mormon moment,” or at least Mormonism in the public eye, goes from here.

  • Robert

    Hi Patrick. Let me offer a counterpoint — as I think your take is very cynical.

    For one, I think you are mistaken about the Church’s concerns and ease of influence with a non-Mormon presidency. Isn’t this more a question about society at large? I am not particularly concerned with WHO the president is (Mormon or not), I am far more concerned with how a nation thinks and acts on religious exercise and liberty. (Opinion: we’re on a precipice, and it’s going to be hard to turn back no matter what…I won’t debate who the better candidate or option would have been in that case.)

    Mormonism has not “narrowly escaped the devil’s ultimate temptation.” (is this the ultimate temptation?) Unless you mean that a presidency ultimately really isn’t that consequential in the grand scheme of things. Most Mormons have not held back on their opinion of politics; rather, I would say more have been outspoken about what they truly think and feel — and it divides. The mistake people made about Jesus in his day was not that he wasn’t a King – he IS! – but rather not understanding to what end. I don’t think Christ ever tried to deny his kingship, rather tried to help people understand just what that meant — and all its political ramifications. People of his day didn’t understand; most people today don’t quite understand either. Political power is not a bad thing.

    I do think you intimate at one thing that I sort of circumspectly agree with, and that is that many of us will start talking about doctrinal things again (which is a plus in some ways), and reference Mitt and the political world in that context (“what ifs,” and so forth). There’s nothing wrong with this. But there wouldn’t have been anything wrong with it either if Mitt had been president.

    The “Mormon Moment” hasn’t ended. There’s far too much to say about this, but our inferiority complex runs deep, so that we can’t speak of Mitt without making caveats to the end of why/how Mormonism matters. The mistake is thinking Mormonism is “on the margins…exactly where it belongs.”

    “Mark my words, and write them down…God expects Zion to become the praise and glory of the whole earth, so that kings hearing of her fame will come and gaze upon her glory.” — John Taylor