Stephen Prothero is a Professor in the Department of Religion at Boston University and a very prominent voice in how religion is engaged in public life in the United States. He is the author of several formative books including American Jesus, Religious Literacy, and God is not One. Prothero was the keynote speaker at the 2011 Mormon Studies conference at Utah Valley University. Not a Mormon himself, he has written extensively about Mormons and his tone toward Latter-day Saints is generally positive. However, on the heels of the mosque at ground zero debate (Muslims desired to build a mosque about two blocks from the site of the now fallen Twin Towers) he was critical of politically powerful Mormons in America—specifically Senator Harry Reid and then presidential candidate Mitt Romney. They did not support the religious liberty of Muslims to build a house of worship in lower Manhattan. Rather, they fell in with the political majority in the United States to oppose Muslim freedom of religion. Orin Hatch, on the other hand, took a very public stand on behalf of Muslims and their right to build a mosque wherever they deemed fit.
In his lecture, Prothero argued that Mormons, first and foremost, should have supported the right of Muslims to build a mosque at a site of their choosing. This because Mormons are a religious minority that have had those very rights denied them. While religious persecution resulted in the flight of Mormons from the borders of America in the nineteenth century it did not end there. Prothero referenced the common opposition to Mormon efforts to construct temples including staunch opposition to the Boston Temple built in Belmont, Massachusetts which is the very community in which Romney lived at the time. Prothero, then, holds Mormons to a higher standard in such cases.
After Prothero’s lecture there was a Q&A. One person asked what he thought motivated Romney to take a stand against First Amendment rights of Muslims in New York City. Prothero’s response was striking. He explained that Romney acted first and foremost as a Republican and secondly as a Mormon. As an outsider he found it difficult to grasp how the most politically powerful figures of a persecuted religious minority could possibly justify the open denial of basic First Amendment rights to another religious minority. In other words, Republican first and Mormon second just didn’t make sense.
Pew Research indicates that Mormons in America are approximately 80-90% Republican in their political affiliation and leanings. However, to this point, Mormons have not supported Donald Trump in his bid for the Republican nomination. That makes sense since so many of Trumps statements and positions are antithetic to the baseline teachings of Mormonism as found in scripture and the teachings of ranking leaders of the Church.
However, what if Donald Trump does receive the Republican nomination? What if Hillary Clinton receives the Democratic nomination? In a head-to-head election, to which candidate will Mormon Republicans generally rally behind. As troubling as Clinton is to many Republicans, she has not expressed racist, misogynist, anti-immigrant, religiously bigoted positions. Again, so many declarations made by Trump in this election process are absolutely repugnant in the face of Mormon teachings. So if and when American Mormon Republicans are faced with such a choice, will they be Republicans first and Mormons second? With Prothero, I am interested in how this plays out.
Here is a link to Stephen Prothero’s lecture at Utah Valley University. It is excellent in its entirety. Of course, the Q&A is near the end. Enjoy. Let the discussion begin.