Here is the question. Would a Mitt Romney presidency encourage people to leave their current congregations, and fill up Mormon chapels?
Let's try a thought experiment. Imagine Bill Clinton (or George W. Bush) changed religions during his term in office and became a Jehovah's Witness. Would you become a Jehovah's Witness? Would you regard that religion as more legitimate somehow?
In my mind, the Jehovah's Witness religion would not be any more or less legitimate because of the President converted to it. And I have to believe that you're basically the same as me. If the next president is a Methodist, the Methodist church will have the exact same legitimacy in my mind that it currently has. Same with the legitimacy level in your mind.
Does the religion of the US president even influence how many people join that religion? If it does, I'd like to see some data. Have people left their pentecostal congregations in droves to become Methodists since George W. Bush's election?Did the Quaker congregations swell in number during the Nixon years?
Okay okay. A lot of people don't like George W. Bush. And Nixon went down in flames. But Reagan won big at the polls. Did people bail out of their Baptist congregations to become Presbyterian during the Reagan administration?
How about during the Clinton administration, or the Carter years? Did people leave their Presbyterian congregations and join Baptist congregations?
I don't even recall that it was an issue during the 2004 campaign. If John Kerry would have been elected would people have flocked to the Catholic church? Is that what happened when John F. Kennedy was elected? Were Evangelicals worried back then that Catholicism would somehow gain a fresh new appeal and Protestants would switch and become Catholic? I wasn't around back then but I thought the concern was that the Pope would decide on policy issues. Was that just the concern that was articulated, when the real concern was that people would go Catholic? I suspect that it was a concern during the JFK campaign.
But it was no longer a concern with John Kerry. I certainly don't remember any hand wringing about this subject in 2004.
Was it a concern?
All of the above denominations are mainstream, fairly well accepted American religious traditions. Catholics accept baptisms of most of the above denominations (Catholics don't recognize Mormon baptisms). But what about religions that fall firmly outside mainstream Christianity? If Al Gore had won the election in 2000 with Joe Lieberman as a running mate would Americans have left their religious traditions to become Jewish?
What about the idea that is circulating out there that a Mormon in the White House would add additional credibility to the Mormon religion. If that is true, then let's see some data. Does the Mormon church swell in numbers in states where there is a successful Mormon Governor? When Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts, did people leave their churches faster than before to join up with the Mormons? If so... let's see some data.
For that matter, did people leave their Episcopalian, or Lutheran congregations in droves when Mike Huckabee was Governor to become Southern Baptist? If so, I'd like to see some data supporting that. I think religion is way too personal to be influenced in any meaningful way by politicians. The influence goes in the opposite direction.