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June 15, 2011

Column #1,555

Will Romney’s Mormonism Hurt His Odds?

By Mike McManus

            This seems to be a “Mormon moment.”

Mormon Mitt Romney is the front runner for the Republican nomination. Another member of the Church of Latter-day Saints, Jon Huntsman, former Utah governor and Obama’s recent Ambassador to China, is expected to announce his bid for the White House next week.

            Last week a Broadway irreligious musical, “The Book of Mormon,” won nine “Tony Awards,” including best musical.  The HBO series “Big Love” about a fictional Mormon with three wives, just ended after 5 years of critical acclaim.  Nevada Democrat Harry Reid, an LDS member, is the U.S. Senate majority leader.

            On the other hand, the fact Romney is a Mormon will diminish his chances of getting the nomination, according to a Pew Poll which reports that 25% of Americans are “less likely” to support a Mormon.

            In fact, Pew found a third of white evangelical Protestants say they are “less likely” to support a Mormon.  They are the backbone of the Republican Party.

            Why are evangelicals cool to a Mormon as president?

            “A lot of evangelicals will want to vote for some other candidate, such as Bachman  or Pawlenty, rather than for a Mormon.  They would be more comfortable voting for someone who is not coming out of the LDS background,” said R. Philip Roberts, President of the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO.  He is also author of “Mormonism Unmasked: Confronting the Contradictions between Mormon Beliefs and True Christianity.” 

            “In the general election, it will be less of an issue, but many will feel the Mormon Church would use his election as President as a proselytizing strategy, to prove their legitimacy and help establish themselves as a mainstream religion.”

            Roberts conceded that “On moral issues, there is not much of a difference between a devout Mormon and a Baptist.  Both are prolife and opposed to pornography.

            “However, we would look at this through eyes of eternity.  We want people to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and not the Jesus of Mormon revelation. Those are two different persons and two different paths of salvation.”

            Warren Cole Smith, assistant publisher of World magazine, wrote a controversial article, “A Vote for Romney is a Vote for the LDS Church,” for Patheos’ “Evangelical Portal,” in which he argued that Romney has some explaining to do for evangelical Christians.

            “On such essential doctrines as the Trinity and the role of Jesus in salvation, there are major differences between orthodox (biblical) Christianity and Mormonism. But the real problem is that Mormons believe and teach an American history that is in many particulars, completely unsubstantiated and in others demonstrably false.

            “Mormons believe that the “lost tribes” of Israel actually ended up in America, and that Jesus visited America and these tribes during his incarnation.” 

            Surely, Romney will be asked whether he believes those views.  In the 2008 campaign, Romney assured evangelicals that he “shares your values,” but asserted that it was “not appropriate for him to discuss the doctrines of my church.”

            How would he explain the Mormon belief that he will become a god and have his own universe after death? 

            In many respects, Romney is an attractive candidate.  At a time of 9% unemployment, he has been a successful business leader, and would have a clearer idea than Obama about how to create private sector jobs. 

Furthermore, Republicans have historically nominated the front runner since 1972.  “Romney has history on his side,” said David Campbell, a political science professor at Notre Dame and a Mormon. “They like candidates who have run before.”

Penny Nance, CEO of Concerned Women for America, believes his Mormonism is of less concern than his public policy record.  “His weakness on issues such as his support of individual mandates in Romneycare, is identical to the mandates of Obamacare. The fact he has flip-flopped on social issues will also be a concern, but I don’t know his faith will be an issue.”

Michael Cromartie, Vice President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center where he directs Evangelical Studies, also felt his personal belief system will be less important to evangelicals than his credentials to restore and revive the economy. “We are electing a commander-in-chief not a pastor in chief.”

Perhaps so.  But the quick rise in polls of Michelle Bachman may have as much to do with her solid evangelical background and her impressive personal life as with her sparkling performance in this week’s debate with Republican candidates.

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