Mitt's religion not an issue
Mormonism is a minority sect once persecuted by mainstream American Christians for its unconventional doctrines and practice of polygamy. It is still viewed by many as an odd cult. But a Mormon is the Republican nominee for president, and he can take consolation that if he loses, it will not be because of his religion.
When he ran four years ago, Mitt Romney's affiliation with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was a novelty that looked to be a liability. Running against him then, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee — an ordained Southern Baptist minister — asked, “Don't Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?” Huckabee went on to trounce Romney in the Iowa caucuses.
Mormonism has gotten attention once again, thanks in part to the Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon.” But Romney's previous candidacy apparently inoculated him against sectarian distrust. This time, he has been largely silent on his religion, which has become a practical irrelevancy.
“The vast majority of those who are aware of Romney's faith say it doesn't concern them,” said the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in summarizing a July poll. Of those who know he's a Mormon, only 19 percent said it made them uncomfortable.
But discomfort is not disqualifying. Mormonism is only one of Romney's attributes, and the election is not a referendum on the GOP nominee: It's a choice between Romney and Barack Obama, who has traits of his own that rub some people the wrong way and drive others up the wall.
There are two big reasons Romney's faith is having so little impact on the race. One is that the people most inclined to hold it against him have bigger things to worry about. White evangelicals may see the church as un-Christian, but they are so strongly opposed to Democrats in general and Obama in particular that theology gets dismissed.
Aside from evangelicals, the group most uncomfortable with Romney's Mormonism consists of those who don't practice any religion. The good news for Romney is that being a Republican, he wouldn't have gotten most of their votes if he were the last politician on Earth.
Only 23 percent of Americans with no religious affiliation voted for John McCain in 2008, and Romney is matching that. In a September Pew survey, 27 percent of the “nones” supported him, compared to 65 percent for the president.
But it would be a mistake to discount the other major factor: the ever-growing religious tolerance of the American people. In 1960, John Kennedy's Catholicism roused vocal opposition among large numbers of respectable people.
Protestant ministers and lay people representing 37 denominations formed a group called Citizens for Religious Freedom to assert, “It is inconceivable that a Roman Catholic president would not be under extreme pressure by the hierarchy of his church to accede to its policies with respect to foreign relations.”
Today that sort of effort would be seen as scandalously illegitimate. Faith is regarded as a private prerogative. The 2008 attempt to damage Obama with his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, failed for that reason.
Americans have no trouble remembering that they are electing a president. Deciding who gets into Heaven? They'll leave that to someone else.
Steve Chapman blogs daily at newsblogs.chicagotribune.com/steve_chapman.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Penguins notebook: Lovejoy says individual play is problematic
- Magma chamber spied under Yellowstone volcano
- NFL Draft preview: Safety crop offers no sure-fire stars
- Pirates notebook: McCutchen unfazed by return to Arizona
- Lexus sport coupe has youthful appeal, power
- First Amendment experts decry Plum authorities’ warning to students
- Kings Family Restaurants sold to California firm
- Pittsburgh group keeps alive Laurel & Hardy’s legacy
- MLB notebook: Rangers, Angels work on deal for Hamilton
- Gardening in raised beds has lots of benefits, but also challenges
- Western Pa. May markets, plant sellers ready to spring into action