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Monday, July 24, 2006

Are we ready for a Mormon president?

A local pastor in Auburn, Alabama has a recent religious column peice in a Decatur, Alabama newspaper called "Are we ready for a Mormon president?" It has some interesting points and the overall tone is fair and relatively objective.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church, is America's own home-grown religion.

Founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith, the Mormon movement began by embracing all that was already present in the American religious experience via Christianity.

A little later:

Among other things found in the Book of Mormon is the assertion that Native Americans are descendents of the lost tribes of Israel . . . Of course, DNA evidence has established that Native Americans did not come from the Middle East but from Asia. But that has not deterred the growth of the Mormon Church. With its strong emphasis on family and the church's vigorous mission activity, the Church of Latter-day Saints is one of the fastest growing religions in the world.

Unfortunately, many Christians do not regard Mormons as holding to an authentic faith. Southern Baptists and many evangelical groups regard Mormonism at best as a heresy and at worse a cult. Although the size and scope of the Mormon Church seriously calls into question the continued designation as a cult

Like it or not, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is on track to become a major world religion. For some time now, Mormons have been a presence everywhere in the mainstream of American life. They hold significant positions in education and business and as elected officials.

And later he ends his column with:
These days, piety has taken on a distinctly ideological cast. Folks of differing faiths make common cause on a range of social concerns. A new orthodoxy has emerged around issues such as abortion, gay marriage, public display of the Ten Commandments, and so on.

Which brings us to Mitt Romney, governor of Massachusetts. Romney, son of George Romney, is seen by many as a contender for the 2008 Republican Presidential campaign. He has the ideological credentials. Gov. Romney is on the right side of many of the social issues championed by the political and religious right. The fact that he gets to the right side of those issues by means of his Mormon faith may or may not matter.

And it shouldn't matter. The U.S. Constitution mandates that there is no religious test for public office. But outside the law, out in the marketplace of American public opinion, it will be interesting to see how a Romney campaign will be received. Could it be that America is ready for its first Mormon president?

I wrote a letter to the editor and have put that in below:

Dear Decatur Daily,

As a former and future Alabaman, current Iowan, DNA researcher, and "Mormon" I feel I have an interesting perspective to add to Pastor James Evans excellent editorial "Are we ready for a Mormon president?" He gives a fair take on how the hot button issues of politics and religion will combine, for better or for worse, in 2008 GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. Romney is indeed an adherent of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (nicknamed "Mormons" or "LDS")

Evans brought up the previous and current polls where many express a reluctance to vote for a Mormon. Similar figures were noted for JFK when the question was whether the American people could vote for a Catholic for president. Such polls address hypothetical presidential candidates where the only issue you know about them is their religion. Fortunately, we take many other things into account when choosing a presidential candidate to support.

I have heard Romney speak to an Evangelical Christian crowd here in Iowa and it was clear that once they met him (and he is extremely likable, articulate and charismatic) they cared much more about his common conservative values than about his religious affiliation. I feel that as more and more people are exposed to Mitt Romney, they will come to respect his experience, values, and policies. This is already happening in Iowa as political insiders and journalists are pegging him as a frontrunner to win the Iowa Caucuses.

Also, as a minor point, the editorial brings up DNA research suggesting that native American populations derive from Asian sources supposedly conflicting with Mormon beliefs. Firstly, LDS theology does not claim that all (or even "most") native Americans are directly derived from "the house of Israel." Secondly, that same DNA research also claims that such migrations across the Bering Strait were at least 13,000 years ago, a time frame that may not jive well with many Christians.


Jeff Fuller, M.D.

We'll see if they pick up my letter.

Disclaimer: my undergraduate Honors thesis at BYU dealt with migration tracking of native Americans through mitochondrial DNA sequencing. And we hope to move back to Alabama when done training here in Iowa.

1 comment:

IOWACAUCUS2008 said...

Dr. Jeff-
Very insightful observation on the Iowa Straw Poll only being one year away. In 2000 we brought six busloads of GWB supporters from Waterloo/Cedar Falls to Ames for the Iowa Straw POll. GWB was introduced by former Iowa fb Coach Hayden Fry and had Tracy "Keeper Of The Stars" Byrd as entertainment. Lots of VIPs such as Rep. JC Watts, Sen. Nighthorse Campbell, etc. were in attendance at GWB's tent. Catering at GWB's tent was provided by Famous Dave's BBQ. All of the candidates had some sort of food & entertainment at the various tents, with GWB's being the most extravagant. For example, Liddy Dole's tent was an "ice cream social." Karl Malone was at Sen. Hatch's tent and Reggie White was at Gary Bauer's.