A Really Long Post about Mitt Romney, Damon Linker, and Pope Pius V

In 1570, Pope Pius V issued his bull Regnans in Exelcis, a pontifical act that seems to be creating problems for Mitt Romney and the Mormons. The bull excommunicated Elizabeth I of England. It was the last time that a pope would anathematize a sitting monarch, but as the Reformation historian Patrick Collison has pointed out Pius’s act played a decisive role in shaping the English view of “Popery.” Thereafter, Catholicism was branded in the English psyche as the religion of sinister priestly control of politics. This conviction was helped along by Jesuit theologians of the Counter Reformation who constructed elaborate natural law arguments justifying the murder of a heretical monarch. When Guy Fawkes, a zealous English Catholic, made an unsuccessful attempt to blow up both prince and parliament in 1605, the English image of “Popery” was set. The Gunpowder Plot, as it came to be known, proved that ultimately Catholics were dangerous antinomians willing to commit political murder at the papal command. It is worth recalling that “Remember, Remember the 5th of November,” the rhyme about Guy Fawkes repeated recently in the movie V for Vendetta, originally included these lyrics:

A penny loaf to feed the Pope.
A farthing o’ cheese to choke him.
A pint of beer to rinse it down.
A faggot of sticks to burn him.
Burn him in a tub of tar.
Burn him like a blazing star.
Burn his body from his head.
Then we’ll say ol’ Pope is dead.
Hip hip hoorah!
Hip hip hoorah hoorah!

Englishmen who crossed the Atlantic carried the fear and hatred of “Popery” with them. For example, Boston’s Sons of Liberty began their life as the rival north and south Boston gangs that engaged in annual brawls on Guy Fawkes’ night organized around the attempt to capture and destroy the opposing gang’s “pope,” an elaborate effigy of the hated religious tyrant. During the nineteenth century the fear of “Popery” gained new momentum as a flood of Catholic immigrants seemed to threaten WASP control of the nation. Mormons were swept up in this rhetorical surge. The Mormon Zion, with its priestly hierarchy and religious economic and political organizations, was nothing less than a home grown “Popery.” Of course anti-Mormon polemicists lingered over the foreigness of the Mormons with all of those immigrant converts from the degenerate slums of Europe. Still there was no denying the scandal that Mormonism had been born and flourished in the United States. Horror that good American Protestants could sink into such ignorance and tyranny was palpable.

During the Smoot Hearings in 1904, Joseph F. Smith repeatedly and emphatically denied the authority of Mormon prophets to direct the politics of Mormon voters or Mormon officials, in effect renouncing theo-political kingdom making. Regardless of the accuracy of President Smith’s statements at the time, they provided what has come to be a more or less binding settlement. To be sure, Mormon prophets have reserved the right to speak out on “moral” issues, a usefully ambigious term that has included more than one question that has roiled the political waters. Likewise, they have flexed their political muscle (such as it is) to protect what they see as the institutional interests of the Church, most recently in their support for the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. Yet in all of this they are, for better or for worse, acting much more like a Protestant denomination than like a religious state in embryo. It takes an enormous amount of historical obtuseness (or religious paranoia) to see the current political activity of the Mormon Church as covert theocracy building.

And yet Damon Linker is sounding the alarm in the pages of the New Republic that “under a President Romney, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would truly be in charge of the country.” To be sure, Damon raises a nice point of Mormon theology: Under what circumstances is a good Latter-day Saint entitled to ignore the words of a living prophet? Over the years, Mormons have given various answers. Joseph Smith insisted that a prophet was only a prophet when speaking as a prophet, although he didn’t provide a clear way of determining precisely when that is. Joseph F. Smith, James E. Talmage, and others who testified before the Smoot Hearings on behalf of the Church insisted that prophetic counsel was only binding when submitted to the Church for a vote. Joseph Fielding Smith taught that the (admittedly always expandable) canon provided guidance to the authority of prophetic statements. J. Reuben Clark insisted that prophetic statements only acquired prophetic authority for a believer when the Spirit bears witness to him or her of their truth. My own view, articulated in detail in a forthcoming article, is that Mormon doctrine and revelation is always in part an interpretive process where both history and the independent moral judgment of the interpreter play a decisive role. This is an important theological discussion, and to the extent that an accusation in one of America’s respected opinion journals that Mormons are unfit for public office forces us to think about this question, we are indebted to Damon.

That said, however, his political concerns are ultimately ridiculous. Politics is a practical arena in which questions of what might or might not be theoretically possible are subordinated to what is actually likely to happen. Once we move from the world of ideological speculation to the realm of practical politics, history and experience are much more reliable guides than theological logic-chopping. What history teaches us is that Mormon leaders today will not try to dictate to Romney, nor would they use a Mormon in the White House to create an LDS theocracy. To be sure if Romney is elected President and Gordon B. Hinckley calls the White House, Romney will take the call, but it will not contain his political marching orders. As for the Mormon hierarchy’s retained right to speak on “moral” issues, it has almost certainly already had whatever influence on Romney it is going to have. The Mormon prophets are socially conservative. They are hostile to liquor, gambling, most (but not all) kinds of abortion, and gay marriage. Romney, as an active Latter-day Saint, probably shares these basic instincts. His record, however, shows that he is willing to waffle and compromise on all of them. Furthermore, thus far his waffling and compromise haven’t resulted in any formal or informal ecclesiastical sanctions. This comes as no surprise to students of Mormonism. One might not realize it from reading Damon’s piece (or CES curriculum), but there actually is a history of good Mormons ignoring Church counsel on “moral” issues when it turns political. An good example of this is Utah’s vote to overturn prohibition despite the pleadings of then-church president Heber J. Grant.

Given the ultimate silliness of Damon’s concern as a practical, political matter, we’re left with the question of what is going on here. Why is this an issue? Perhaps Damon has an abstract interest in Mormon theology, and he thought the publicity around Romney’s run provided a nice opportunity to force a theological conversation that he was interested in. In this case, we ought to thank him for his interest and talk with him about the theological issues that he raises. I suspect, however, that there is more happening here than a theological symposium masquerading as political commentary. Perhaps Damon believes that the theological niceties actually drive politics and history. Ideas, of course, have consequences, but they are always complicated. Logic is no more the life of politics and religion than of the law. Certainly judging the actual political consequences of Mormon beliefs requires more historical nuance than Damon’s piece demonstrates. Perhaps Damon recognizes the necessity of embedding the understanding of ideas in history, but he is simply ignorant of Mormon history. In which case, he just needs a reading list.*

I suspect, however, that a large part of what we are seeing in Damon’s article is the half-submerged memory of “Popery.” Four hundred years of fear and loathing is not easily forgotten. The image of zealot subversives in our midst acting on orders from shadowy religious hierarchs has much older roots than 9/11. In the nightmares of some Americans, the echoes of almost forgotten political tropes can still be heard. In these dystopian dreams, Mitt Romney is cast as Guy Fawkes, and Gordon B. Hinckley is Pius V. The irony, of course, is that Damon is not an anti-Catholic. Far from it. He is at pains to laud the Catholic natural law tradition, and as far as I know he is an observant member of the Roman Church. Indeed, I suspect that the appeals to Catholic natural law are made precisely because Damon realizes that he is playing off of old fears about “Popery.” Or perhaps not. After all, Damon recently authored a book about a Catholic priest at the center of a vast conspiracy to undermine the foundations of the country. It is a story line that, whatever its substantive merits in the case of Damon’s Theocons, has deep roots in Anglo-American history. It is also, alas, a prefabricated plot line in which Mormonism seems destined to be crammed.

*For understanding the shift from the theo-political kingdom making of nineteenth-century Mormonism to the more denominational Mormonism of today, I would start with Edward Leo Lyman, Political Deliverance (1986), Thomas Alexander, Mormonism in Transition (1986), and, especially, Kathleen Flake, The Politics of American Religious Identity: The Seating of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle (2004).

71 comments for “A Really Long Post about Mitt Romney, Damon Linker, and Pope Pius V

  1. Look for Richard Bushman’s response to Damon in this month’s TNR. RIchard, I suspect, will focus precisely on what you correctly identified as Damon’s major weakness: his abject lack of a sense of actual Mormon history (did a more liberal statute on religious diversity and tolerance than Nauvoo’s exist anywhere in the world?). Damon is probably right in his concern over young LDS willing to commit murder if so instructed by the Church president, though his conspicuous silence regarding students who answered no to the query is frustrating if unsurprising. I recently had a conversation on this subject with David Knowlton, a Mormon anthropologist who teaches at Utah Valley State College. He said that a prominent religious-studies scholar visited UVSC a couple of years ago and presented his sizable audience the same prophet/murder scenario. According to David, the guy’s jaw dropped when about 2/3 of the students raised their hands, affirming that they would indeed kill someone under the command of the prophet.
    I don’t know if this story is true, but regardless of the actual percentage of Mormon college students who would do it, this presents us with some fascinating and perhaps uncomfortable questions to ask ourselves. Where is the line we are unwilling to cross when it comes to obedience to God’s prophet? I suspect that some musings on the topic are forthcoming from Nate, so I’ll leave the question open for now.
    As for why all these questions are arising now, I suspect that the larger concern is over religious authority per se, rather than specific, practical concerns over what might actually happen (pres. Hinckley will instruct pres. Romney to do such and such). Most people are willing to kill for what they are most loyal to, and even when that willingness is coupled with a degree of blind faith or unquestioned loyalty, it is usually not problematic when the loyalty in question is patriotic or nationalistic. One of the most venerated, respected segments of the population (the armed forces) is arguably comprised of those individuals who would kill a foreign national without hesitation if instructed to do so by the president of the United States. It’s when religion gets into the picture–when religious identity trumps loyalty to nation or political ideology as the object for which we are willing to kill–that people get really uncomfortable. Witness the correlation between American nationalism and disgust for Muslims who are willing to kill non-Muslims to protect what they understand to be in the interests is Islam. I suspect concerns over Mormon political power and Mormon obedience to religious authority spring from essentially the same source as the concerns of congressmen over one of their peers’ desire to take his oath of office using a Koran.

  2. Nate:

    You give Linker too much credit (or maybe not enough). His article seems to be specifically apealing to the idea of Popery. He’s too versed on the subject for it to be nothing more than a “half-submerged memory.” This is a political “hit-job” and nothing more. Six months ago I was one in the ranks of Romney nay-sayers thinking he didn’t stand an ice-cube’s chance of getting the Rep nomination. Today I’m convinced that if the Reps nominate a conservative then Romney will be the one and if he ever stood in a general election I have little doubt he’d wipe the floor with whoever the Dems put up against him and I think the Left knows this. Therefore, the Left has to start discrediting him early and the easiest target to go after right now is Romney’s religion.

  3. Damon’s article has its problems, to be sure.

    Those who subscribe to TNR will note that the accompanying pictures are worse, however — accompanied by snarky captions that veer off into inaccuracy.

    The article contains a picture of the Joseph Smith assassination and photos of the Tabernacle Choir and of Romney. These are captioned:

    “The ‘presidential assassination’ of Joseph Smith; The Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings Mitt Romney’s praises; Mitt Romney takes to the stump for God and Country.”

    That’s shamefully misleading captioning, far below TNR’s usual standards, and quite unfortunate as accompaniment to Damon’s more evenhanded (though still subject to critique) article.

  4. RE: It takes an enormous amount of historical obtuseness (or religious paranoia) to see the current political activity of the Mormon Church as covert theocracy building.

    Of course we have the last paragraph in the BoM’s Introduction that could indicate that anything leading to the Church’s growth is theocracy building:

    “Those who gain this divine witness from the Holy Spirit will also come to know by the same power that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, that Joseph Smith is his revelator and prophet in these last days, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s kingdom once again established on the earth, preparatory to the second coming of the Messiah.”

  5. ” Today I’m convinced that if the Reps nominate a conservative then Romney will be the one and if he ever stood in a general election I have little doubt he’d wipe the floor with whoever the Dems put up against him and I think the Left knows this. Therefore, the Left has to start discrediting him early and the easiest target to go after right now is Romney’s religion. ”
    Oh you’ll see discrediting all right, but the Democrats won’t be the first ones to try it. All the talk of Romney’s Theocracy, polygamy, and magic underwear are going to come from his opponents in the primaries. Not directly, but from a Rove-type figure. Then if he is their candidate, the Democrats will tak their cues from the primaries (if the attacks worked). Why would the Left start on him now? He’s not the candidate. I’m sure they’re more worried (perhaps wrongly) about McCain than a no-name Mormon governor.

  6. I have to second Kaimi’s comment in #4. I was truly apalled by the graphics as well.

  7. I’ll lay big bets that McCain does the first Mormon ripping via his operatives and not whomever the Democrats nominate. (It’s unclear who that would be: right now it seems like Clinton and Obama, but I doubt it’ll play out that way)

  8. Excellent thoughts, Nate. How about writing a letter to the editor of TNR? I’d like to see some of these articulate and thoughtful responses to Damon’s article in the journal.

    Also, where will your articles on prophetic authority and obedience appear? Just wanted to keep my eye out.

  9. I was once ordered to kill a particular dog by the assistant to my mission president. I was planning the murderous enterprise when the dog mysteriously died by someone else’s hand. I’m not sure if that’s quite the same thing. (True story.)

  10. I second Clark. McCain rips Romney via his operatives first. The Repub primaries are first.

  11. Regarding #4 and #8: for what it’s worth, Damon communicated to me, as soon as the galley proofs were available, his frustration with the illustrations and their captions. He had nothing to do with them, and found them pretty tawdry (Smith’s “presidential assassination” indeed).

  12. Sorry if this is straying off-topic, but someone did raise the question of following these kinds of ecclesiastical orders. I was a missionary in a South American country that rhymes with Benezuela. The dog had repeatedly bitten a few missionaries in my district. The owner, a member of the local stake presidency, refused to do anything about it. I explained the predicament to the assistant to the mission president, who silently listened to my problem, and issued the following order to me as though I were slow for not already taking the initiative: “Elder, kill the dog.” I looked at him for a moment, said, “Okay,” and withdrew.

    I contemplated the hit on the long bus ride back to my assigned backwater. I thought about how to best do it. I frankly don’t remember if I had decided to do it, or if I even questioned whether or not I should. I only remember that just when I decided that I could probably poison the dog effectively, a missionary in my district who had been bitten informed me that the dog had died, and foul play was suspect. I suppose that another party similarly aggrieved by the dog, perhaps a neighbor, poisoned it.

    The missionaries in the district asked me point blank if it was I who had done the deed, and I demurred, recognizing the value in being known as someone who would waste a dog for the good of the kingdom. In fact, I reported back to the assistant that the dog was no longer a problem without disclaiming or taking credit for the act.

    That month I had an interview with the mission president, who was present when the extermination order was given, but did not appear to be paying any attention to the proceeding. The interview went something like this:

    President: “I understand that you had a problem with a dog out in your district.”
    Me: “Indeed we did. This guy’s dog kept biting our missionaries.”
    President: “I heard. And then the dog died.” [Here he starts staring me down, apparently expecting an explanation.]
    Me: “Yes, it died.” [I steadily but not unpleasantly returned his gaze for several seconds in silence. He then changed the subject.]

    The following month I was asked to be a zone leader. I supposed the mission president would entrust me with more of his “wet work,” but it never happened.

  13. SJL,
    See my post #1. Richard Bushman has been invited by the TNR to respond to Linker’s article and has already submitted his piece. Look for it in the next few weeks. And look for him to downplay, drawing on LDS history, the extent to which LDS actually follow radical directives from the hierarchy and to which such directives are ever even given.

  14. Two things:

    1. When will American Mormon Republicans realise that the Right hates you. The Left does too, so you’re screwed really.
    2. To some extent we dig our own grave. It’s slightly disingenuous of a movement that has its children sing “Follow the Prophet” to then say that Romney is exempt. Especially when Romney has sworn an oath to give his whole life to the LDS church.

    Nate, I look forward to you solving these problems! The answer lies somewhere in the fact that a successful Romney presidency would do wonders for the LDS church, even if (or especially if) Romney took positions that didn’t jive with Salt Lake.

    I welcome the Mormon debate about “obedience to the Brethren.” It could do us a lot of good. But I suspect that PR will say one thing whilst Correlation continues to say something else…

  15. And whatever PR or Correlation says, Ronan, it will still be deeply silly to think that the leaders of the Mormon Church will try and run the country if a Mormon is elected President. I’m betting that, if anything, a President Romney will bend over backwards to be less receptive to church lobbying about things like the RLUIPA than another conservative President would be.

  16. Adam,
    Oh, I agree, it’s utterly silly, but it’s a silliness that has its genesis in something quite real. If you want to paint Romney as the Manchurian Candidate, Mormonism provides — if you look for it — the fuel for such conspiracies. Nate and Bushman provide sensible counterpoints. Question is, what does it mean theologically when we insist that Mormons are not under any obligation to follow SLC?

  17. the fact that a successful Romney presidency would do wonders for the LDS church

    Any thoughts about how this might translate into negative “wonders” for our overseas missionary program if the Church is even more closely linked to unpopular US foreign policy decisions?

  18. “Politics is a practical arena in which questions of what might or might not be theoretically possible are subordinated to what is actually likely to happen.”


    A more cynical view is that electoral politics is primarily about scaring non-rational people into believing that vaguely defined and poorly understood “bad things” could happen if they vote for your opponent (and that it’s therefore just safer to vote for you). This is the whole point of the attack ad, right?

    Damon’s article may be silly, but silly people outnumber Mormons in this country, don’t you think? If you want to make a difference, you’ll have to convince people outside of Mormon echo chambers like this one. You’ll have to publish in some national publications and appear on a few cable talk shows (“on my right, we have Mormon Law Professor Nathan Omen”) and make your case.

  19. Yes, I think that a big worry Rob. I think the ever increasing anti-Americanism would be transferred to the Church even more. This could be a crisis for the missionary program. Or a nice catalyst to moving us from a very centralized Church with a strong Americanizing correlation to one that allows more local control and culture.

    While I’m mixed on Romney as a candidate, his affect on the Church would probably be a net negative rather than positive. Which isn’t to neglect the positives: making us appear more normal in many places in the world (especially Europe) simply by having more balanced stories and seeing us in a position of power.

  20. Dear Damon,

    Your anxiety about a Mormon politician knuckling under to a Mormon Church president replays the debate in 1904 over the seating of Apostle Reed Smoot in the United States Senate. Senators kept questioning church president Joseph F. Smith about his control of Mormon politics. Over and over, he assured the committee that he had no intention of dictating Smoot’s votes in the Senate, but the questioning went on.

    Now, a century later, we can judge the actual dangers of the Mormon Church to national politics from the historical record. Have any of the church presidents tried to manage Smoot, Ezra Taft Benson, Harry Reid, or Gordon Smith? The record is innocuous to say the least. There is no evidence that the church has used its influence in Washington to set up a millennial kingdom where Mormons will govern the world or even to exercise much sway on lesser matters. It’s a long way from actual history to the conclusion that “under a President Romney, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints would truly be in charge of the country–with its leadership having final say on matters of right and wrong.”

    Mitt Romney’s insistence that he will follow his own conscience rather than church dictates is not only a personal view; it is church policy. The church website makes this explicit: Elected officials who are Latter-Day Saints make their own decisions and may not necessarily be in agreement with one another or even with a publicly stated church position. While the church may communicate its views to them, as it may to any other elected official, it recognizes that these officials still must make their own choices based on their best judgment and with consideration of the constituencies whom they were elected to represent. You are going against all the evidence of history and stated church policy in contriving the purely theoretical possibility of Mormon domination. Is that not the stuff from which all paranoid projections on world history have been manufactured?

    Liberals must be particularly cautious in speculating about the political intentions of religious groups because of their fascination with fanaticism. Fanaticism is one of the most firmly entrenched stereotypes in the liberal mind. The fanatic is the polar opposite of all that the liberal stands for and thus constitutes a particularly delicious enemy.

    Joseph Smith ran up against the fear of fanaticism almost from the beginning. It was the chief underlying cause of the recurrent expulsions the Mormons suffered. When non-Mormons could find no specific infractions to warrant prosecution in the courts, they resorted to vigilante action to drive the Mormons out. The Mormon presence was unbearable because they were so obviously fanatics. Quite typically, the fear of fanaticism led democrats into undemocratic extremes. Mormons were deprived of their property and the right to live and vote in a supposedly open society. In 1846, after a decade and a half of recurring attacks in Missouri and Illinois, a body of armed citizens forced out the pitiful remains of the Mormon population in Nauvoo by training six cannons on the town.

    The stereotype of fanaticism is essentially a logical construction. The seemingly airtight logic is that anyone who claims to speak for God must believe he possesses absolute truth with an implied commission to impose that truth on everyone else. Mohammed, to whom Joseph Smith was frequently compared, used violence. Joseph Smith, lacking the means, tyrannized his own followers and refused to acknowledge the truth of any other doctrines but his own. You assume that Mormon leaders, by the same token, will want to commandeer the United States government to advance their cause.

    Nothing Mormons can do will ever alleviate these fears. It did not help that the right of individual conscience in religious matters was made an article of faith, or that the Nauvoo city council passed a toleration act for every conceivable religious group including Catholics, Jews, and “Muhammadans.” Whatever they said, their neighbors could not believe that the Mormons’ ultimate goal was not to compel everyone to believe as they did.

    Your essay chooses not to look at the historical record, because specific facts are irrelevant in explicating fanaticism. It is the logic of revelation that counts. The Mormons have to be interested in world domination because their doctrine requires it of them. Furthermore, they are all dupes of the chief fanatic and will willingly do anything he requires. You cite as proof of this extravagant claim “more than one” undergraduate who said he would kill if commanded. No mention was made of students who said they would have refused. That method is in keeping with the management of the fanatic stereotype. There is no effort to give a balanced picture. Certain key facts or incidents are made archetypal. In unguarded moments or exceptional instances the true nature of the fanatic mind reveals itself.

    The unquestioned belief in the potency of fanaticism makes facts unnecessary. Readers know in advance what to expect just as they foresee the ending of a romantic movie far in advance. The art of writing in this mode is to mobilize all of the foreknown elements and arrange them to reach an expected conclusion.

    Damon, I thought you moved along judiciously through most of the essay, but you blew your cover in the paragraph of questions to Mitt Romney. There, you try to nail him on his beliefs about the church president being a prophet. It follows necessarily, you think, that, if Romney believes in current prophecy, the church will run the country under his presidency. That leap from assumption to conclusion in one bound is only possible if you are steeped in the logic of fanaticism. For Mormons themselves, it makes no sense.

    You are caught in the dilemma that ensnares everyone preoccupied with fanaticism. You describe Mormonism in a way that makes perfect sense to non-Mormons and no sense to Mormons themselves. This means, to me, that
    you are describing the inside of your own mind as much as the reality of Mormonism. Mormons will hear a lot of this so long as Romney is in the race, and it will baffle them every time.

    Richard Lyman Bushman

    Richard Lyman Bushman is Gouverneur Morris Professor
    of History Emeritus at Columbia University.

  21. How fun to have a preview of Richard’s response!
    The fact that we are such a young religion will work against Romney. The things Nate describes so beautifully in his post comprise a lot of anti-Catholic sentiment, but JFK was never taunted by the Guy Fawkes plot, and his campaign shamed America into greater tolerance (which will also have an impact on the Romney candidacy, of course–as it did when Romney challenged Ted Kennedy for his MA senate seat.)
    But on T&S, members of other faiths have pointed out how Mormons are perceived (in case we didn’t already know). Nobody outside BYU talks much about the Salt Sermon because it’s not in the American memory. Krakaur revived the Danites in _Under the Banner of Heaven_, so people are aware of that group. But far more important is the fact that living Americans my age (51) and even younger have a MEMORY of the LDS priesthood restriction. The problem is not just that the restriction existed, but that many missionaries were asked not to preach to those of African descent. That has not been forgotten–certainly not Blacks who were avoided by Mormon missionaries in the 1960’s. (Yes, I’ve heard missionaries report about potential investigators who had had very bad experiences with Mormons during those volitile years.) The internet makes past racialist statements immediately accessible, and anti-Mormon groups help guide people to them. This will hurt Romney. There has already been at least one rather silly editorial about the issue and Harry Reid (http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=41933 ), and it will certainly return to bite Romney.
    The other big issue, polygamy, would seem well-buried. It might have been, except that Warren Jeffs bears a rather striking resemblance to Joseph Smith Jr., and commentators on the story have consistently positioned themselves before a backdrop of the Salt Lake Temple.
    I think the question of whether or not Romney will follow his conscience or the Mormon Prophet will be no more important than the question of Kennedy’s loyalty to the Pope was in 1960. But these other issues will, I believe, prevent a Romney presidency. Still, it would be very interesting to have a McCain/Romney Republican ticket. How would it do against an Obama/Gore ticket? Well, I think Obama would become our next president, but the race would be fascinating–and would include some environmentalism alongside inevitable war rhetoric. I’d love to see that.

  22. If Mitt Romney can become the Republican nominee then conservatives evangelicals will have to choose between a Mormon and a pro-choice liberal democratic nominee, possibly Hillary Clinton. Does anyone really think that in that scenario they will vote against Mr. Romney just because he is Mormon? No way.

    There is a reason he is considered by the national press to be one of the front runners — its because he really is electable. People who hear him speak become converted (including many evangelical leaders). http://www.evangelicalsformitt.org/

    Members of ths church here in Utah get all teary eyed about how much it would help the Church and missionary work if he got elected, but I tend to disagree. I think internationally it would be harmful given the lightning rod that the US (and the presidency in particular) has become. I would be interested in the perspective of those living outside of the US.

  23. Ronan (27) “If Bush were a Mormon, it would be a disaster for the church in Europe.”

    Yes, I think you’re right. It would certainly be very embarrassing and oblige local leaders to strongly deny a relation between his religion and his political dealings.

    As to the impact of a president Romney on the Church in Europe? Hard to predict, but I would thoroughly enjoy the President of the U.S. arriving in Belgium and our Belgian politicians having to explain to him that he is on the parliamentary list of cults under investigation by State security.

  24. I think a Romney vice presidency would be much better for the Church than a Romney presidency. You get the positive benefit of having a Mormon doing important things in public without all the negative effects. There would still be negatives nationally and internationally, but I think they would be much less severe than if he were president.

  25. Wlifried, it would also be interesting to have a president (or, as Tom suggests, a vice-president) who actually can speak another language so that he asked for that explanation of our cult status in French.

  26. Indeed, a U.S.-President able to express himself in one or more foreign languages would be most impressive.
    I do agree with Tom: a vice-president would probably be “safer”. On the other hand, imagine the impact abroad if a Mormon U.S.-president succeeds in the international arena and changes America’s image for the best. Quite a challenge after what many people abroad have perceived these past years, but who can say it is not feasible?

  27. Interesting post, Nate. I happened on those articles before this thread, so this was a nice addendum of sorts.

    In some ways I dread the great Mormon-Romney question, but I’m also fascinated with the debate—like I want my cake so I can eat it? Like it or not, the national debate is at our doors, and it’s not going to go away anytime soon. Interestingly, for some compelling reason (perhaps somebody could articulate this better than I) this run with Mitt Romney has already received an awful lot of press with regards to his Mormonism. Part of this is obviously due to (as I’m sure you bloggers are well aware) the infiltrating effects of new media. There’s also the peculiarity-of-Mormonism thing, which, I think many of us who belong to the religion tend to take for granted. That is, when wearing rose-colored glasses, one doesn’t always see purple—that sort of thing. No, it takes somebody from outside to really point out the Church’s oddity. I’m sure there are all sorts of explanations. In any case, for whatever reason, the “Romney as a Mormon” issue has raised the dialogue about the peculiarity of the Mormon Church to a national level.

    I suppose I should be more surprised at some of the pessimism I’ve heard from some Mormons with regards to Mitt Romney and a possible presidential nomination, but I guess I’m ultimately not that surprised. After all, I don’t think of Romney primarily as the Mormon candidate, per se, even though he is literally. I want to be careful so that I’m not misunderstood. But there does seem to be a slight (if not more pervasive) sense of paranoia over having a Mormon president. I’m not just talking about some of the posts here. (Porter: “I think internationally it would be harmful given the lightning rod that the US (and the presidency in particular) has become.”) I’ve definitely encountered this kind of concern elsewhere.

    Of course, we’re still pretty far out from primaries and else, and (as we’ve seen) predictors such as polls can be so unreliable. I can’t imagine any reliable projections at this point. Rather, the landscape is littered with personal conjecture: Obama this, Clinton that, McCain therewithal, etc. But I have heard & read very compelling punditry that amounts to what seems a common denominator concerning Romney. I commonly hear & read from conservative (and sometimes liberal) pundits and the like who meet or become acquainted with Romney how they are nearly instantly won over by his manner, charm, clarity on issues, his politics, in essence his person.

    What I might be getting at is it does seem strange that this one man can draw this “lurking Mormon issue” out with such attention, and yet, everyone who meets him is drawn in by his winning tractor beams of political prowess. Essentially, he is a power house, and I think the Mormon thing—while it won’t go away really ever—will become something so much less to be paranoid about. I really think if anyone can handle the Mormon thing, it’s Mitt. He is a terribly effective communicator, extremely apt at being persuasive and transparent in conversation & debate without jeopardizing or isolating his audience. I’ve heard him disarm splendidly some of his worst opponents, and turn the ears of even some of the more speculative dissidents. To me, he’s not the Mormon candidate, even though I admire his faith and dedication to his religion.

    But I guess it’s best we get the skeletons out of the closet early since, for some reason, this appears to be the national obsession. We are, after all, a peculiar people, destined to come out of obscurity one way or another.

    Incidentally, liberal CNN Chris Matthew’s Hardball roundup with Gergen & Mitchell called the whole Linker article “below the belt.”

  28. In case you all didn’t know, the Linker/Bushman exchange is being published, one installment per day, at tnr.com (free registration required).

  29. You add an important thought, Rhapsidiomite, that, I think, will be especially true abroad. “The Mormon thing will become something so much less…” In most European countries at least, the religious background of a political candidate is seldom an aspect being considered. Perhaps also because religion has become pretty inocuous or purely private matter. And with even “Catholic” politicians adopting and defending laws the Vatican condemns, who cares whether they are Catholic, protestant or Mormon? It’s what they stand for and achieve in the public realm that counts. Still, it would surprise some in Europe that “Mormons” are not an obscure groupuscule of fanatics in the Rockies. Romney’s strong personality would do miracles to change that image.

  30. Per Ronan’s comment #19 – I’m surprised we haven’t heard more references to Kim Clark leaving his post as the Dean of Harvard Business School to become the president of BYU-Idaho. I’m sure Rexburg is a lovely place to live, but I’d wager that a personal call from President Hinckley significantly influenced Clark’s decision to move from Harvard to BYU-Idaho. Certainly elected office may be different from an administrative post at a university, but Clark’s example is at least some evidence that prominent Mormons “follow the prophet” in making professional decisions.

  31. There was an interesting interview with Damon Linker this morning on one of SLC’s NPR stations. Here is the link: http://www.kcpw.org/article/2564

    Looking at his prior publications such as “The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege” he clearly has an agenda to push. He fears religious people who hold positions of power because of their perceived hidden religious agendas.

  32. ECS,

    Your example would be much more compelling if Hinckley had told Clark to take some position or make some policy at the Harvard Business School. Your example of his accepting what is really a church calling doesn’t seem to support the argument.

  33. Chris, The last sentence in my comment is the main point – i.e., that Clark’s high profile example is of a prominent Mormon “follow[ing] the prophet” to do something that, at least to others, looks like a disadvantageous career move. How far and wide the prophet’s influence extends to Church members seems to be the concern expressed by Linker and others.

  34. “Like it or not, the national debate is at our doors, and it’s not going to go away anytime soon.”

    There has been a ton of polling about various permutations of the “mormon question,” ranging from whether folks think America is ready for a Mormon president, to whether the individual would vote for a Mormon candidate, to whether they would vote for a Mormon candidate IF that individual shared their beliefs on most issues. In the past few months, those questions have elicited negative responses ranging from 18% to over 60%.

    But I have never seen a poll address HOW people come up with their opinion about Mormons. Is it based on personal interaction, press reports, third-party stories, preaching from the pulpit of their own church or what?

    Has anyone seen any public opinion research that gets past the horserace to elucidate how people come up with an opinion about Mormons?

  35. Wlifried, it would also be interesting to have a president (or, as Tom suggests, a vice-president) who actually can speak another language so that he asked for that explanation of our cult status in French.

    Jim, the implication of that is that the current one can’t. But Bush is fluent in Spanish. (Well, at least not a whole lot worse than he is with English anyway)

    I do agree that having a President who is fluent in at least one other major language is a plus in many ways. And French is useful I think. Perhaps not as useful as Spanish, Russian, or Arabic. But useful. Of course I’m also convinced that having a President who has actually been in combat is helpful as well. It’s not a magic pill – since two figures I don’t care for, McCain and Kerry, both were – but I think it would make some decisions better.

  36. Listening to that KCPW with Linker, I agree, he sounds disingenuous. However, I’m also surprised to hear how much he actually just sounds—well—like a bit of an idiot. He reflects that pessimism I talked about in my previous post, except that it sounds like a forced pessimism, and I don’t believe he’s Mormon. (I don’t actually know his history with the Mormon Church, so that’s just an assumption. However, I understand he taught for two years at BYU?) But pessimism alone doesn’t make him sound stupid. I think Bushman articulates it fairly well. He assumes a type of fanaticism that doesn’t reflect standard Mormon thought, and again, as I stated before, is often just foreign to Mormons. We do believe in obeying the law of the land, especially constitutional jurisprudence.

    Either Linker really is stupid, or as Porter said, he’s just pushing an agenda and feigning ignorance.

  37. Damon definitely isn’t stupid (see his old guest posts here at Times and Seasons for examples). He also isn’t Mormon, though he has a longstanding fascination with the church, going back even before he was employed at BYU. He’s a convert to Catholicism, but really, his fundamental orientation towards the world is thoroughly secular; he is attracted by belief, but can’t really manage any himself. And yes, he definitely has an agenda to push, but I don’t think he pushes it dishonestly; his questions, even when somewhat misinformed or polemical (as his TNR article definitely is), are serious and require much thought to respond to. (My own attempt at responding to him can be found here.

  38. The LDS Church has just finished a term as monarch of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and then immediately seized control of the majority of the United States Senate. By the time the next presidential elections come along, we should have a pretty good idea whether we want the church to “truly be in charge of the country.”

  39. #43 Naismith: The poll I keep waiting for is the one that asks “Would you support a Mormon as senate majority leader?” and then after the numbers are in announces that America already has one.

    I can’t help but wonder how much of the hand wringing over Romney’s Mormonism is a byproduct of him running as a Republican in the wake of a Bush-wedded-to-the-religious-right presidency. If he were running as a Democrat would anyone care (ala Harry Reid)? And speaking of Reid, I think Romney needs to diffuse the Mormon issue by using Reid’s Mormonism to his advantage.

    And as for the effect Romney’s run has on the LDS Church, I can’t help but feel that the shake down will be good. In 1869, as the railroad was closing in on Utah, bringing a final end to Mormon isolation, Brigham Young said, “it’s a damned poor religion that can’t withstand one railroad.” The same holds true, in my estimation, for one presidential candidate.

  40. Clark, I may be wrong, but my understanding has been that Jeb Bush is fluent in Spanish and President Bush can “get by.” I don’t speak Spanish, but when I’ve heard him saying a few words in Spanish he hasn’t sounded like someone who is fluent. Obviously, though, since I don’t speak the language I could easily be mistaken.

  41. If Romney does not get the nomination, will Mormons blame the GOP?

    “The tragedy–or, depending on your point of view, the irony–is that Mitt Romney may just be the most appealing candidate Republicans can field in 2008, the one most likely to win the White House by shoring up social conservatives and rallying business interests without frightening swing voters. Yet the modern GOP’s reliance on evangelical voters and its elevation of personal religiosity–strategies which have served the party so well in recent years–may doom the chances of this most promising candidate. Or, to put it in evangelical terms, it might be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for Mitt Romney to win the Republican nomination.”

  42. “Damon definitely isn’t stupid…his fundamental orientation towards the world is thoroughly secular; he is attracted by belief, but can’t really manage any himself.”

    I knew this might sound semantically one way, which isn’t what I intended. It isn’t that I think he’s brainless in any regard. I think he’s quite intelligent in fact. But there are different kinds of intellegences, to borrow from a doctrinal idea. Perhaps “foolish” or “senseless” may have conveyed the idea better, and just a little foolish at that, since he at least soft-pedals, if not with pretense. (I’m still not convinced he intended something entirely innocuous.)

    In any case, I’m going to approach this from a different angle, since it may have been unfair of me to call him—well—a bit of an idiot (even though I’m still inclined to think that). I certainly believe he has foolish ideas.

    Still, it is a judgement call, for which you’ve taken up the defense. I suppose I could be called disingenuous for saying any person who can’t manage belief in true religion but is willing to criticize it from a secular point of view is a bit of an idiot. Doesn’t seem like a very kind thing to say. But it is true that I find a certain kind of (sometimes unfortunate) idiocy in that. Mind you, I’m not equating foolish with disingenuous. I suppose no one can really know his true intent except he and God.

  43. “If Bush were a Mormon, it would be a disaster for the church in Europe.”

    This isn’t true — the maxim that any publicity is good publicity applies here. Whatever Bush’s poll numbers are in Europe, they’re better than the church’s. If a pollster asked Europeans whether they view the LDS church favorably or unfavorably, 95% of them would say they’ve never heard of the LDS church. A high profile person, even a lightning rod like Bush, would be great for the church.

  44. Matt,

    You are probably wrong. Britney Spears is in the media a lot more but sells less fewer albums with every release. The populatiry of the name Hillary has plummetted. There is no reason to think that negative associations with a hypothetical Mormon Bush would translate into a net positive for the church.

  45. Matt: ” If a pollster asked Europeans whether they view the LDS church favorably or unfavorably, 95% of them would say they’ve never heard of the LDS church.”

    Certainly true. Even 99,99%. But ask the same question about the Mormon Church, and I’m pretty confident a vast majority has a ingrained impression of Mormons, fed by Big Love (on many European channels), Krakauer, anti-cult propaganda, articles in magazines warning against cults. “Any publicity good publicity?” Tell that to a divorcing mother whose children are given to the father’s custody because she is Mormon.

  46. Jim (#49), I did some Googling and while many (most?) media outlets, especially during the 2000 election, said Bush was fluent in Spanish it sounds like he’s at best adequate and probably only speaks halting Spanish. My mistake.

  47. If Romney were President and people didn\’t like him, it wouldn\’t be because he is LDS. It would be because of some policy. I don\’t know that Europe is rejected Christianity because Bush is so unpopular there.

  48. Re: Kim Clark. I attended a luncheon at which he spoke a month or so ago. I believe he said that, before Pres. Hinckley’s call, he and his wife were already thinking (premonitions?) about the BYU Idaho post, and wondering/hoping an invitation might be extended.

  49. Well, that episode of “beat down on Matt” was satisfying, but over far too quickly. I have to point out, though, that he’s probably on to something. A Mormon president would bring the Church a lot of good publicity simply by demonstrating that Mormons are not obscure, irrelevant, powerless, reality-denying cultists whose interests can be safely ignored or supressed. If a Romney presidency weren’t 4 or 8 years of relentless, unmitigated, world-alienating disaster, all the better. A Mormon president could, if so inclined, do nothing for the Church while in office and then help immensely as a fireside speaker in Church-skeptical countries for many years to come. Actually, a Mormon president with the thought always in mind that his words and actions have repercussions outside the US for people he cares about–that calling for the ouster of an irritating Latin American president means a certain number of LDS chapels will be firebombed, for example, or that insulting old allies means that missionaries will spend the next two weeks not holding Gospel conversations–would probably be a very good thing for American foreign relations.

  50. JG,

    Speaking only about a hypothetical Mormon GWB here…

    I know that Bush’s association with evangelical Christianity only makes Europeans more disdainful of the movement. In the European mind, fundamentalist Christian = neanderthal who doesn’t believe in neanderthals. Having Bush — whom they hate — as the poster-child for evangelicals only confirms their disdain. So, sure it might raise the profile of the Mormons, but only in a negative way. I personally know members who would struggle deeply if Bush were Mormon, the same people who had a crisis of faith when Pres. Hinckley spoke out in favour of the Iraq invasion.

    Interesting point about a President Romney though. Just don’t let the Mitt-bashers hear it or it will confirm their suspicion that Mitt would be hopelessly in thrall to his Mormonism!

    Again, mon ami, you are speaking the truth re: “Mormon.” I never tire of it.

  51. Ronan,

    You seem to be forgetting that when people actually get to know Mormons, non-Mormons always are endeared by them. Evangelicals, on the other hand, always manage to garner disdain from non-Evangelicals who get to know them.

    I hope you realize that my tongue is firmly planted in my cheek.

  52. I’m pretty firmly with Matt E. on the hypothetical Mormon GWB. The fact that 90% of Europeans hate GWB means he’s more popular than the Mormons! Plus, I think a lot of the bigotry that’s founded on sheer ignorance would find it harder to thrive if a Mormon got elected.

    But that really doesn’t play much into me supporting Romney or someone else.

  53. I don\’t have the article in hand, but my memory serves me that Kim Clark commented in the Church News about his appointment at BYU-I. He commented to the effect that his friends at Harvard asked why BYU-I. He said the decision made little sense to them, but receiving a call from the prophet makes sense to anyone who understands who president Hinckley is and what he represents. That said, accepting an appointed position does not equate with a political figure receiving \”marching orders\” from a Church president.

    As for Nate\’s unnecessary barb directed at CES curriculum, might I say that CES curriculum is no different from any other Church curriculum. All Church curriculum is subject to Priesthood Correlation Committee review. If there is some influence or doctrine that he thinks is inaccurate yet contained in CES curriculum he ought to consult with correlation. If the comment was intended as a joke, it really wasn\’t very funny. It placed CES in a category equally as idiotic as Damon\’s thinking. As such Nate, the comment seemed flippant and derogatory.

  54. Hey, mark, I didn’t read Nate’s reference to CES as a barb, and certainly not as condemning any CES material for false doctrine. Just as apostles have taught lately why they must teach and counsel the mainstream and not continuously deal with the exceptions in public forums, it’s CES’s job to organize materials that encourage unity, obedience to commandments, accepting counsel, and otherwise toeing the line. It would be out of character for CES to create a unit that said, in effect, “Brethren, follow the prophet if you feel like it, but if you occasionally have other allegiances, that’s okay too.” That would open the door to too many rationalizations. Highlighting the times, as perhaps when it might (I say *might*) be required that an elected official violate his personal desires in order to represent his constituency, would be dealing with the exceptions, not the rule. It’s not a jab at CES for noting that.

  55. Ardis, that is possibly what Nate meant. The comment was ambiguous enough to include both sides.

  56. mark: The jab at CES was meant to be flippant and derogatory ;-> but it also had an real point, namely that CES (as a stand in for devotional stories that Mormons tell about themselves to themselves) does not provide a complete or nuanced account of Mormon political history. I hardly think that this is a controversial claim to make.

  57. Re post #30: Republicans who are uncomfortable with Mitt\’s religious affiliation wouldn\’t have to choose between Mitt and Hillary, even if they were the two nominees. They could vote for a third party candidate, or just stay home. It might not take many doing so in key states to swing the outcome of an election to the Dems.

  58. Just a little clarification – when my dad left HBS to go to BYU Idaho it was not an ‘out of the blue’ thing. My dad had commited 10 years to HBS and that time was up. He was wondering what the next step in life would be and hoped it might be Church related. He had even been approached by a friend just throwing out the BYUI post months earlier and my dad said he’d be interested while not knowing if that offer would ever come. During the first call from President Hinckley, President Hinckley asked if he’d be interersted and said “this is not a calling” my dad said he was interested and they agreed he would talk it over with his family and then during subsequent calls the job offer was accepted. Now, all that being said, in the press my dad made a big shift from being the head of a secular institution to heading a Church institution. He made a decision to speak openly about his faith and acknowledged that on its face the decision didn’t make career sense, but then he explained his faith and how it made it an appealing offer. He also highlighted his personal belief in the divinity of President Hinckley’s calling and the impact from a call (meaning a phone call) from him. I hope this helps clarify.

    Thanks and Best regards,

    Bryce Clark

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