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Serious Stuff

Mormons in the Political Spotlight

May 16, 2012 by Somebody Else

As we are preparing for the upcoming showdown between Democratic President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney, a lot of folks out there are wondering if the United States is really ready for a Mormon president, perhaps slightly akin to those who were wondering if we were ready for an African-American president back in 2008. Of course, this is not an exact analogy, since being an African-American is not so much a personal choice as being a Mormon is. Certainly, the argument can be made that people tend to unquestioningly accept the particular religion they are born into, but that's a topic for another day.

So, could Romney win the White House? Who knows? There are so many factors involved in determining who will come out on top. In any case, up to now, the conclusion of most political pundits seems to be that Romney's Mormon faith is perhaps his greatest political liability. Understandably, Romney himself has greatly downplayed his religious background in his campaign for president. He tries to emphasize that he is a Christian, and that, when considering his ideological affinity with other Christians in the United States, his particular denomination is of secondary importance.

On May 9, 2012, President Barack Obama finally openly came out in favor of gay marriage. This was of course a calculated political decision, and is one that may both help and hurt his chances for reelection in different ways. The American voting public is split just about half and half on this volatile issue. Romney himself has a mixed record on the whole gay marriage thing. When he was governor of Massachusetts, he demonstrated some support for legal recognition of civil unions among gay couples, and still does today, but on the campaign trail he has opposed gay marriage, as is to be expected of a Republican candidate for president. I don't know how much that says about Romney's personal beliefs as it does about his assessment of the political turf he has chosen to stake out for himself, based upon exhaustive public opinion surveys. But as far as Romney's Mormon faith goes, the issue is pretty clear. The Mormon Church is unmistakably opposed to same-sex marriage.

In the end, that could be the difference between a victory for either Obama or Romney. This election will probably be very close, so it might only take one hot-button cultural issue, regardless of its relatively low ranking as a category important to voters, to king one man or the other.

But I'd like to move beyond this one topic, and take a broader view of the role that the Mormon religion might play in Romney's possible rise to the highest office in the land, and the impact that all of this might have upon the nation in general.

I think it's fairly safe to assume that the average American voter knows little or nothing about the Mormon religion. If asked to explain what it is, the most common response you might get would be something to the effect of:

"Aren't those the young guys that go walking around wearing those white buttoned-up shirts with ties and dress pants? They've got those name tags, too. What do you call those fellows? Oh, yeah, elders, I believe. Which is kind of funny, you know, because they're all so young. I hear it's a different sort of religion."

I actually had two elders come up to my apartment the other day, and in the interest of finding out more about their faith, I invited them in. They were both very nice, clean-cut white guys in their early twenties. I am in my forties, but I must say, I was impressed by their fierce seriousness and the intense maturity of their demeanor. They had this authoritative tone of voice and spoke in a sternly patriarchal way, as if they were completely certain that they had God's ultimate truth.

I could imagine their distant ancestors with their grim and dusty faces riding their wagons across the endless and unforgiving dry plains with their dutiful wives tending to the silent children in the back, their gazes firmly fixed upon the cruel razor's edge of a distant horizon, their thoughts anchored like a ten-ton weight upon their unshakeable faith in an almighty Christ, a unique vision of God's only begotten son that only the select elite could be privileged to know, and they most undoubtedly considered themselves to be of that select elite. Regardless of any territory-defending Indians or hostile anti-Mormon whites, they were on their way to the Promised Land in Utah, and nothing on God's earth was going to stop them.

My feeling about those elders was that not only were they ready to lay down the law by imparting to me their version of religious truth, but that they were also quite possibly well prepared for leading in the private business sector as well. Give them a year or two, I figure, and they could have management positions in some large company, the kind of place where someone like me would undoubtedly be handling some kind of thankless, low-level task. Guess who just might be giving me orders? You guessed it, the same Mormon who was in diapers when I was giving up on finishing my associate's degree.

But let me return to my home discussion with the elders. Those guys gave me a basic outline of the Mormon story, which consists of the following. There was this man named Joseph Smith who lived in upstate New York in the early 1800s. He claimed to have this unique vision from the angel Moroni who told him where to dig up a bunch of golden tablets that contained the story of Christ's appearance in America many centuries ago, and which also confirmed that the lost twelve tribes of Israel had immigrated to the American continent. Joseph Smith was given unique powers to translate those tablets from their ancient and unknown language into English. After he had finished his translation, the golden tablets were taken up to heaven. Joseph Smith then started his Mormon religious community, which from the outset was viciously attacked by mobs of pig-headed and idiotic anti-Mormon zealots. The Mormons had to continually move west as their community grew, and the hatred that was focused upon them also increased. Finally, in Missouri, Joseph Smith was himself murdered by an enraged gathering of self-proclaimed true Christians with rock-bottom IQs. Brigham Young then became the leader for the Mormons, and he led them west to what would become Salt Lake City in present-day Utah, the capital of the Mormon empire, where they would grow and prosper in relative freedom from persecution.

Well, I must admit, when those elders told me about all of that stuff, I pretty quickly decided that for me personally it just wasn't my kind of thing. I mean, if that's what anyone wants to believe, more power to you and all, but organized religion just isn't my cup of tea, whether Mormon or otherwise. The elders encouraged me to pray and to ask God if the Mormon revelation was really the truth, and in an effort to be fair and impartial, I promised that I would do that.

Shortly after they left, I tried praying for ten or fifteen minutes on that topic, but it seemed to me that my connection to God almighty was down or something. I'm sure there must be something wrong with the reception on my end instead of his. Oh well.

The growth of the Mormon faith since its inception has been nothing short of stunning. They are quite probably the fastest growing Christian denomination in the United States today.

To what is owed this phenomenal growth? Without a doubt, Mormons will tell you that it is nothing less than the confirmations of the Lord God himself through the power of Jesus Christ. But I can point out some other possible reasons as well. I would say that it is attributable in great part to the amazing self-discipline, focus, efficiency, and expert organizational abilities of the Mormon community. In my experience working with and under several Mormons in a variety of jobs over the years, my impression is that many of them are can-do people who work their tails off. I think that being lazy and unmotivated might be the ultimate cardinal sin among a lot of Mormons.

Despite their proportionally small numbers in the United States compared to other major Christian denominations, the Mormons, which only make up about two percent of the national population, have had a disproportionate amount of success in matters of national and international commerce. Take the innovative, ubiquitous, and fast-growing Marriott hotel chain, for example, which was started up by John Willard Marriott and is now run by his family. Likewise, consider industry leader Jet Blue, whose founder is David Neeleman. You've also got Eric Varvel, Chief Executive Officer of the global Investment Bank of Credit Suisse. And let's not forget self-help guru and Stephen Covey, who wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, as well as Gary Crittenden, who has been CFO for Citigroup, American Express, and Sears Roebuck. And last but not least, you've got Mitt Romney himself, former head of Bain Capital, which made and broke a large number of different companies and businesses in our great capitalist tradition of letting those with the most money decide what's best for the rest of us.

Business Week sums up the Mormon impact upon the business community with the following:

"Latter-Day Saints hold, or have held, a seemingly disproportionate number of top jobs at such major corporations as Marriott International, American Express, American Motors, Dell Computers, Lufthansa, Fisher-Price, Life Re, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, Madison Square Garden, La Quinta Properties, PricewaterhouseCooper, and Stanley Black & Decker. The head of human resources at Citigroup is Mormon, and in 2010 Goldman Sachs hired 31 grads from Brigham Young University, the same number it hired from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School."

So, if Romney becomes president of the United States, he really will be like the chief executive officer of the country, because, if you really think about it, Wall Street and Washington have been pretty much one and the same for quite some time. In so much of the public's mind these days, the chief role of government should be to foster the growth of industries and businesses. If that is your vision of national leadership, and since a good number of Mormons appear to be masters at commercial enterprise, it would seem quite natural to want to entrust the presidency to someone who, along with several of his highly prominent co-religionists, has demonstrated exceptional ability at making huge amounts of money by doing business in this country and abroad.

Also, looking at the situation from the point of view of the Mormon Church itself, Romney's election would be a tremendous accomplishment, and would do wonders to promote his religious community even more. The fact that he is on the sure path to the Republican nomination is already a momentous event for Mormons, but were he to actually become president, it would be a truly transformative one. Enrollment in the Mormon Church just might skyrocket, especially if Romney were to have reasonably good approval ratings. Considering the meteoric rise of this denomination, you have to wonder if Romney's ascendancy to the presidency is destined to be its next breakthrough stage of development.

How would Romney govern? It would be hard for me to predict the specifics, but in general, I'm certain that he would attempt to run the country just like he tried to run Massachusetts as its governor and Bain Capital as its chief executive officer, which is to say that he's an extremely driven, highly ambitious, results-oriented guy who looks for the quickest, most effective, and most efficient way to meet his carefully conceived strategic objectives. He values organization, order, and expertise, and he's inclined to make decisions that benefit the powerful and the privileged in our society, that is, his own social class.

Alright then, so maybe he would be able to govern in accordance with our usual expectations for a president, which admittedly aren't all that high, but more importantly, does the man have much of a heart? Is he compassionate? Will he look out much for little people like me? I doubt it. I don't think that forms a key part of his agenda, if you know what I'm saying. He might do well to take a few notes from Democratic Senate Majority Leader and fellow Mormon Harry Reid. But I don't think he will.

So, what will happen to this country if Romney becomes president? Will the Mormons take over? Well, of course not. But that two percent of the United States population that is Mormon might go up to five or ten percent during the four or eight years that Romney is in office. And public awareness of the Mormon faith would rise to much higher levels than it is now.

Would there be renewed outbreaks of persecution against Mormons? I really don't think so. On the contrary, I would envision a greater level of acceptance towards the Mormon religion within the country, and the strengthening of its widespread acknowledgement as a legitimate Christian denomination.

In my view, the greatest appeal of the Mormon faith is the way that they seem to have everything under control, as well as their appearance of being on the pathway to ever greater achievements. When you walk into a Mormon church -- which I did once at the invitation of those same elders who had come to my apartment -- you feel like you are in the presence of a strongly unified body of believers who share a solidly established common purpose.

If you join the Mormon Church, you'll get awesome child care for your kids, lots of highly focused and expertly administered instructional classes for youth and adults to help you become a super success in all areas of your life -- whether they be personal, academic, professional or spiritual -- innumerable chaste, alcohol-free and drug-free acquaintances, clean church facilities that are expertly staffed and abundantly provided for with high-quality material resources, and quite possibly some valuable connections to the business community. And all it will cost you is a monthly tithing of ten percent of your salary. So, it's not such a bad deal, provided that you can get through to God on the spiritual hotline and have him confirm for you that the Mormon religion is the one you are supposed to follow.

Well, as I wrote earlier, religion, whether Mormon or otherwise, just isn't for me, but if it's for you, don't let me stand in your way. And I won't be voting for Romney either, not because he's Mormon, but rather because I don't agree with a large chunk of his political agenda.

"Won't you tell me where my country lies?" said the unifaun to his true love's eyes...