Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Romney's Mormonism Is Different Than Kennedy's Catholicism


On the HBO series, Big Love, the patriarch Bill Henrickson, played by Bill Paxton, juggles three wives, seven children and a home improvement chain of stores, while trying to shake the manipulative fundamentalist Mormon prophet, Roman Grant.

The series isn't about the Church of the Latter-Day Saints, but its rogue offshoot that still practices polygamy. Most Americans erroneously associate Mormonism with plural marriage, which was banned over a hundred years ago. Can Americans deviate the two and elect a Mormon president?

Former Massachusetts Governor, Mitt Romney, doesn't wear his religion on his sleeve. He doesn't claim to be a devout follower and his background takes him around the country. He's the son of the popular former Michigan governor, George Romney, saved the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake and became governor of the Bay State.

But, can Americans elect a person whose religion seems to illicit such mystery and controversy? Invariably, Romney's electability is compared to John F. Kennedy becoming the first Catholic in the White House in 1960.

Back then, the Pope was the bogeyman that would call the shots from Rome, they said. Like everything else nearly fifty years ago, we live in a different society, albeit more diverse.

That apparent diversity in our country doesn't quite equate to any sensibility. These are times when divisiveness is the paramount currency in our lives. The president equivocates that either "you're with me or you're against me."

If you're a Democrat, then every Republican is a dirty, rotten fool and every person speaking a foreign language or wearing ethnic garb is a terrorist.

Romney doesn't mention his religious views and he shouldn't. At times, he's courted his party's religious right on the grounds that Mormonism is just another religion based on Christianity. In the primaries, this tact has had some success in attracting conservatives who view the clean-cut, gentile politician as similar in looks and demeanor to their neighborhood pastor.

If Romney advances to the general election, expect things to get downright nasty. This is politics, afterall. He'll likely have to turn away a huge whisper campaign that will play off his religion's past and unsaid beliefs.

While Romney is not a polygamist, his family's history serves up plenty of fodder for opponents to link that dirty secret to Romney in the present.

In the same way that Kennedy's political rivals claimed he would take orders from the Pope, a connection could be made with the fundamentalist LDS belief that one can speak directly to God.

Not only would this be blasphemous to Christians, it would also cast Romney as crazed. Who talks to God, but crazy people?

Then, there's Christian extremists like televangelist Bill Keller who talked Salon.com's Michael Scherer and believe Romney's campaign is one big billboard paid for by the Mormons.

"A vote for Romney is a vote for Satan," Keller declared in his daily e-mail devotional last May. His reasoning went like this: Romney's election would serve as a giant advertisement for a competing religion, Mormonism, which Keller and others believe has falsely portrayed itself as another form of Christianity in an effort to find converts. "He would influence people to seek out the Mormon faith," Keller predicted of a Romney presidency. "They would get sucked into those lies and they would eventually die and go to hell."

This isn't 1960 and people just don't know Mormons outside of Utah. They're nice people. I know some, but others watch TV characters like Bill Henrickson and think how weird it is to be married to three woman and then look at Mitt Romney with a strange feeling in their guts--the kind that doesn't transfer to votes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Anybody who has had a brush with Mormonism knows how looney they can be. They have some real off-the-wall beliefs, including the belief that Jesus grew up in the United States, and that they are closer to God because they wear secret undergarments. They can be manipulative and downright destructive. They're nuts.