Could You Vote for Someone Who Wears Sacred Undergarments?

Back in 2007 — the last time that Mitt Romney ran for president, I wrote this for the God’s Politics blog. A friend emailed and asked me to repost it:

OK, I’ll be honest. I’m ambivalent about Mormonism, and, be it Mitt Romney or any other Mormon, I’m ambivalent about the idea of voting for a Mormon. And I’ll bet that a lot of Christians, if they’re honest too, agree with me.

My ambivalence stems, I suppose, from my ignorance. I’m skeptical of a religion that admonishes its adherents to wear sacred undergarments (Andrew Sullivan caused quite a dust-up when he blogged about this last December), that didn’t allow non-whites to be clergy until 1978, and that follows the teachings of Joseph Smith, whose scriptures I find highly dubious. I don’t agree with the Mormon teaching that Father, Son, and Spirit are three distinct gods and that the Father and Son currently have bodies, nor with the teaching that only those who achieve the “Celestial Kingdom” will be united with their families in eternity. There’s a lot to be dubious about.

But listen, I get it. I know that much of orthodox Christianity is irrational, too: I eat flesh and drink blood every Sunday. As Andrew Sullivan has written compellingly in his recent debates with atheist Sam Harris, orthodox Christianity does require faith, but it does not necessitate an abandonment of reason. So I’m walking a fine line between what I consider reasonable (orthodox Christianity) and what I consider unreasonable (orthodox Mormonism).

What does require an abandonment of reason is biblical literalism, a.k.a., fundamentalism. And, as with any religion, there are literalist Mormons and non-literalist Mormons – I’ve met some of each. The non-literalist Mormons tend to roll their eyes and say, “No, of course I don’t believe that dark-skinned peoples are cursed by God, even though the Book of Mormon says that.” That’s pretty much how I respond when someone asks me if I think that homosexuals and adulterers should be put to death, as stated in my holy book.

So this is the question that Romney will have to answer: Are you a literalist in your reading of the Book of Mormon? Thus far, I haven’t heard him answer that question. People will ask about his underwear, his view of “dark-skinned people,” and his view of homosexuality. What they’re really wanting to know is, are you a fundamentalist? It’s basically the same question that JFK was asked about his relationship with the Vatican.

When Romney was heckled last week, he responded by saying, “We need a person of faith to lead the country.” For that, he received a standing ovation from his audience. But that statement is nearly meaningless, for even Sam Harris is a person of faith. Strident, angry, atheistic faith – a faith in human reason alone.

We all have faith; it’s part and parcel of the human condition. So, indeed, a person of faith will be our next president. But, what fashion of faith? Strident fundamentalism or thoughtful centrism?

P.S. I picked this interesting poll and commentary off of Moby’s blog:

a recent gallup poll asked americans how likely they would be to vote for a qualified
presidential candidate if they were black, latino, gay, female, etc. here are the results:

Black 94%
Jewish 92%
A woman 88%
Hispanic 87%
Mormon 72%
Married for third time 67%
72 years of age 57%
A homosexual 55%
An atheist 45%

so, basically, 94% of americans would happily vote for a black candidate for president, but only 45% of americans would vote for an atheist.
the reason this is kind of funny is that the 3 leading gop candidates are:
a-a mormon(mitt romney, 72% of americans would vote for a mormon)
b-72 years old(john mccain, 57% of americans would vote for someone 72 years old)
c-twice divorced(rudy giulianni, 67% of americans would vote for someone who was on their 3rd wife)


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  • Larry Barber

    I’m not ambivalent at all about voting for Romney, I would rather vote for Satan. But this doesn’t stem from his Mormonism but from his occupation as a vulture capitalist who is responsible for throwing untold numbers of people out of work, and his own self-righteousness about that occupation. Obama is bad enough when it comes to being overly close to Wall Street, we certainly don’t need a Wall Street banker in person in the White House, talk about setting the fox to guard the chickens!

  • tom c.

    “I’m ambivalent about Mormonism, and, be it Mitt Romney or any other Mormon, I’m ambivalent about the idea of voting for a Mormon. And I’ll bet that a lot of Christians, if they’re honest too, agree with me.”

    So, are you (or were you in 2007) implying that Mormons are not Christians? In any case, if a candidate makes their religion part of their campaign, I think it’s legitimate to ask them questions about it.

    In any case, I think the crucial issue with any candidate for higher office is what groups form the constituency of the candidate. It’s not some sort of fidelity to a theology that I’m concerned about so much as loyalty to a political coalition. So, I take it that the key question is, who is supporting Romney’s candidacy within the Republican party, what is their political agenda, and what will that agenda mean for the country?

    I live in Massachusetts and even though I didn’t vote for him, Romney was not a bad governor (in my opinion), but he was fairly liberal for a Republican at the time, serving a different constituency than he is now. So, while I didn’t exactly mind the Romney governorship, I don’t expect I’d be very fond of a Romney presidency because his political coalition would be much more conservative than the one he had here a decade ago.

  • ME

    Pretty interesting commentary, basing a choice not on a candidate’s faith but on whether or not their theology views scripture as literal. I guess you could apply the same principle to a Muslim candidate as well.

    I’ve come to the conclusion as a Christian I shouldn’t vote at all, unless it’s to vote against something, so I never even get to the point of worrying over Romney’s Mormonism. If I did, though, it probably wouldn’t bother me because I suspect Romney is about as much a Mormon as Obama and Clinton are Christians.

  • Why do Romney´s metaphysical assumptions matter that much? Of course it is based on another rationality than yours, he stems from another tradition!

    As a Swede with a atheistic/agnostic prime minister, I just don´t see the problem … (Though I do understand the relevance of the question off his stance on the issue on homosexuality etc).

    Romney should be judge on more political grounds than in my mind. Once you Americans got your first non-Christian president, issues like this will probably disappear…

  • I could vote for a Mormon. Just like I could vote for anyone who’s views are un-orthodox (in the truest sense of the word).
    But I’m glad I clicked through to your other article- you’re not ambivalent about Mormonism- you are correct. They may be super-nice folks, but the belief system is outside the realm of Christianity- truly another Gospel and another Jesus.

  • Pam Tartaglino

    I think it’s about time Americans stopped asking candidates what their beliefs are, and the candidates stopped answering. This country supposedly has a separation of church and state policy, not that I’ve seen that lately. I find this whole religion thing distasteful. In most of Europe it would not be a question asked, or answered of a candidate for political office! It is believed that a much larger segment of the American population is atheist than is generally counted, as people are afraid to say they don’t believe in fairy tales anymore. But America is far behind the Western World in this respect!!