With former Utah governor Jon Huntsman and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney both believed to be gearing up for a run for the presidency, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has again found itself answering questions about what these two prominent members believe.
Post reporter Sandhya Somashekhar wrote in a story published Tuesday that Mormon leaders see the ascendancy of these and other Mormons (such as convert Glenn Beck) as a sign “that the community has finally ‘arrived,'” but added “researchers say there remains a deep mistrust of Mormons and that little has changed in public opinion to suggest that voters will be more open this year than they were in 2007.”
If conservative Christian and Mormons share a political agenda, why do suspicions still plague Mormon politicians? Do media personalities such as Glenn Beck help or hurt the cause?
Hardly ever can you get a right answer from a wrong question. In my opinion, the question for today is just that — the wrong question.
One of my earliest posts on the On Faith forum dealt with Mitt Romney, his Mormon faith and his views on religious freedom. Clearly not much has changed in the three years that have passed. It disappoints me that the media and the public continue to place such a strong emphasis on the faith of our candidates for public office. I have been a longtime advocate of reducing the disproportionate role that religion plays during the campaign season. It is an issue to which I pay particularly close attention, and from what I have seen when religion and politics are mixed, it is always for the benefit of the politicians and to the detriment of religion.
You ask: “Why do suspicions still plague Mormon politicians?” I ask why in our democracy, guided by a Constitution that clearly states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States,” we still question the validity of a candidate’s faith.
This is not just a philosophical question. The current occupant of the White House has felt it necessary to defend himself against accusations that he is a “secret Muslim” by making clear that he is a “committed Christian,” instead of just saying, “I am not a Muslim, but so what if I was?”
During the 2008 election cycle, Interfaith Alliance, the organization I lead, often found itself in the position of defending Mitt Romney against attacks based on his faith one day, only to turn around the next day to raise concerns about his using that same faith to ingratiate himself with religious conservatives.
Earlier this year, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life provided us with a striking example of the disproportionate role of religion in public life. Its report on the religious composition of Congress points out that despite 16 percent of the U.S. population identifying itself as unaffiliated, not a single member of Congress does. This point can only lead one to believe that a candidate for public office has already lost the election if he or she does not identify with a religious base.
The question that each and every one of us should ask about faith during an election season is: Does this candidate have a strong commitment to protecting religious freedom in this country? If the answer is yes, the faith or belief system of that candidate is not important. A Mormon president, or for that matter, a Muslim president, would be every bit as capable of protecting free exercise of religion in this country.
My question is whether or not we can enter the upcoming presidential campaign resolved to focus on a candidate’s capability to serve in the highest office in our democracy without the influence of a religious litmus test. And, if we cannot answer that question with a yes, we have much greater problems than who is available to serve as our president.