Mitt Romney: can a Mormon take the White House?
The problem for Mr Romney is that whatever he attempts to make the political focus or the central message of his campaign, he will be confronted at every turn with an almost innate American suspicion of his Mormon faith. For most Trinitarian Christians (by no means just the Evangelical ‘Christian Right’), the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a cult whose theology is heretical and whose customs are anachronistic (to say the least). The Southern Baptist Convention firmly categorises Mormons with Scientologists; among those sects who have blasphemously added to Scripture and are under the control of false prophets. This is not insignificant for the Republican Party, whose evangelical base constitutes almost a third of the party's electorate and can wield considerable power in primary states, most notably South Carolina.
In an attempt to neutralise this, Mitt Romney has said that America is choosing a commander-in-chief not a pastor-in-chief. He is attempting to echo the reasoning of John F Kennedy, the first Roman Catholic to take the White House, who placated Protestant church leaders with the declaration that he was ‘not the Catholic candidate for President’ but instead was ‘the Democratic Party's candidate for President, who happens also to be Catholic’. He went on to allege (as Mitt Romney is doing) that those who play the religion card have something to hide. He said:
But because I am a Catholic, and no Catholic has ever been elected President, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured - perhaps deliberately, in some quarters less responsible than this. So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again - not what kind of church I believe in, for that should be important only to me - but what kind of America I believe in.Well, it worked for him, even if it didn’t end well.
But Roman Catholics are Trinitarian and share many of the social concerns of America’s Evangelicals, particularly on the family, abortion, civil rights and poverty alleviation. And while the US Constitution affirms that ‘no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust’ (Article VI), it must be observed that Republican candidates are invariably asked at some point if they believe the Bible to be the inviolable Word of God, and none has ever quoted Article VI in response. It appears that one only becomes President of the United States by the adoption of the American Creed and with the majority assent of the American Church.
Certainly, Mitt Romney can (and probably will) say that he believes that ‘Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the savior of mankind’. But the theological ambiguities will not be expounded (and ‘ambiguities’ is putting it politely). The Mormon god is not spirit, but a mortal, material being of flesh and blood who progressed to deity, as all men may. If believers are good and faithful, each will be given a planet of their own to rule. The Mormon god lives in heaven in a polygamous relationship with multiple wives, and sexually reproduces. In common with Eastern religions, there is a variation on reincarnation as Mormons believe in the pre-existence of all people in heaven before they were born on earth.
While Mitt Romney worships Jesus Christ, this is not the Jesus revealed in Scripture. The biblical Jesus was with God in the beginning and was God: the Mormon Jesus was conceived and born in heaven first as a ‘spirit child’ by God the Father in union with one of his wives. Jesus was the first-born spirit child, and Lucifer was his second. Thus Jesus and Lucifer are brothers. The orthodox Christian teaching is that God became man and was born of a virgin. For Mormons, the heavenly man-god came to earth and had sexual relations with Mary, and Jesus was the result. Mormons do not believe in the eternal deity of Jesus: he became a god only after living a virtuous life on earth. He then appeared before the council of gods that meet near a star called Kolob, who declared him to be a god in the pantheon of gods. It is a religion of salvation by works, which even the Son of God has to earn.
What would Christopher Hitchens or doctors Richard Dawkins and Evan Harris make of this? It’s bad enough for them when politicians believe in virgin births, the resurrection of Nazarene carpenters, papal infallibility or the verbatim dictation by the Archangel Gabriel of a book in perfect Arabic. Not that Evan Harris is in the same league as the other two, you understand. But he tends to pop up with tedious regularity whenever religion dares to encroach into the public sphere, spluttering his hard-line secularism.
John F Kennedy had to persuade the sceptical American people that the White House would not become an embassy of the Vatican, and neither would the US President do the Pope’s bidding. But, for a nation born out of the struggle for liberation from religious tyranny, his words frequently rang hollow: the prejudices were only overcome by oratorical skill. At times, the communication of his dreams and visions were redolent of Martin Luther King Jnr:
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute - where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote - where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference - and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.That speech was made in 1960, yet 50 years later the land of the free still does not permit all men to be equal. The inequalities may no longer be based upon race or gender, but they are manifest and legion when it comes to religion. Barack Obama knows only too well how damaging even a whiff of Islam can be.
To win the White House, Mitt Romney has to become mainstream; he has to overcome the widespread perception that in office he will be the mouthpiece of a cult that wants the White House in order to realise a particular celestial heaven. To achieve this, he will need to detoxify the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, and persuade America that it is not a cult that seeks to do harm, but a bona fide religion; a positive, respectable and beneficial spiritual force. And yet the moment he attempts to do that, he will be accused of being a proselytising apologist for his theological cause.
There are, of course, too many relativist considerations in the present age for terms like ‘harm’ and ‘beneficial’ to be expounded. Even the democratic primacy of ‘mainstream’ is undermined by the deference displayed to every fragmented religious minority interest, for fear of causing offence. In the final analysis, every cult is now a religion because no-one is perceived to have the political right or the spiritual authority to tell anyone else what they should or should not believe, or what they may and may not do. Liberty has become a deity.
Since we are now obliged to respect all religious beliefs and revere every spirituality, perhaps Mitt Romney would make the perfect postmodern presidential candidate. All men may not be equal, but all religions certainly are. Islam is as great as Judaism and as noble as Christianity, which are just as worthy of respect as Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and any and every other spiritual ‘-ism’ which emanates from the mind of man. Mormonism? Well, why not?