With former Utah governor Jon Huntsman and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney both believed to be gearing up for a run for the presidency, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has again found itself answering questions about what these two prominent members believe.
Post reporter Sandhya Somashekhar wrote in a story published Tuesday that Mormon leaders see the ascendancy of these and other Mormons (such as convert Glenn Beck) as a sign "that the community has finally 'arrived,'" but added "researchers say there remains a deep mistrust of Mormons and that little has changed in public opinion to suggest that voters will be more open this year than they were in 2007."
If conservative Christian and Mormons share a political agenda, why do suspicions still plague Mormon politicians? Do media personalities such as Glenn Beck help or hurt the cause?
God works in mysterious ways to perform His wonders. Old Testament prophets complained about the instruments God chose, but God went on being God despite their complaints. 2012 is likely to give Americans two serious candidates for president that are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS). Many conservative Christians, for good and bad, get inspiration and information from Glenn Beck, who is also a member of the Church.
Should Americans be concerned? Bluntly, no, though those of us who are not Mormon should be depressed that such a small group has outworked, out thought, and out hustled us. Mormon success should spur traditional Christians, who outnumber Mormons by tens of millions, to do better.
Sadly ignorance of the LDS Church is widespread in our culture. Despite over a century of faithful citizenship and embracing family values, stupid stereotypes remain. Magically much of the media easily remembers Glenn Beck is Mormon, but keeps forgetting that Harry Reid is as well. Sacred garments on Christians and Jews are normal, but sacred garments on Mormons?
Of course, there is a vocal fringe of Americans who think any religious person is nuts. These equal-opportunity offenders can be ignored as invincibly ignorant. They don't respect Mormons, because they don't respect Christians, Jews, Muslims, or anybody who thinks we are more than computers made out of meat.
There is another group, sadly not so tiny, that cannot be friends or co-laborers with anyone who does not share their theology or ideology. This sectarianism is the bane of any movement, but most Americans know we can learn and work with almost anyone if they share our values in some area.
There are no good reasons not to consider voting for a Mormon. Theologically, I disagree with the faith's teachings. My professional speaking has included pointed academic encounters with LDS professors about our areas of disagreement. Simultaneously, serious disagreements have not prevented our making common cause on many issues.
Studying Mormonism closely did not make me a Mormon, to the contrary, but it did give an abiding respect for certain things the LDS Church gets right. They have demonstrated things worth knowing. If this is a Mormon moment in American history, there is a reason for it. Their virtues have particular civic relevance today and their theological vices (from my point of view) do not. The LDS I know love America, urge good behavior on their members, and promote many traditional American values. If that bothers you, vote for somebody else--the LDS will fight and die in the American forces for your right to do so.
The LDS Church made North America sacred space. With Native Americans and Spanish mission builders in California, they have loved this land and made it part of their story. The Mormon revelation, whatever its origins, is centered in North America.
Part of that epic is actual Mormon history: born, bred, and thriving in the United States of America.
Mormonism is old enough by American standards to feel "ancient," but young enough to make the founding stories easy for Americans to understand. Joseph Smith received his revelations closer than four score years after the American founding. Any literate English speaker can read founding Mormon documents without the need for much translation or scholarly explanation, but knowledge of American history is vital. Most Americans look abroad for "holy land," but Mormons look here.
This gives them a passion for this place difficult for anyone else to match. Other religious groups must work harder to match this sense of place that the LDS Church has naturally.
A great weakness of our lives today is isolation and loneliness. Mormonism is one solution to that problem for many. LDS church services to members and communities are a free market model for private charity. I have personally seen LDS charity help families that were not LDS, but related to a member. The charity gave work-centered help that met needs without sacrificing dignity. The commendable community found in Mormonism should be imitated not attacked.
I am sure Glenn Beck would agree that more Americans should read that speech, even if it meant turning off his program. Oaks, a professor and judge, not Beck, represents the best civic face of the LDS Church.
If this is, as the Washington Post suggests, a Mormon moment, it is because Mormons clung to truths now unfashionable and addressed questions others ignore. They suffered exile in their own land, persecution, and the need to change important ideas to be part of the broader culture. This American experience taught them good lessons about America. Being right is powerful and most LDS are right on many of today's big issues: the nature of family, the protection of life, defense of religious liberty, and republican values.
Traditional Christians should learn from their example and patriotic Americans should celebrate their effective service.
I cannot be a Mormon, because I think they are seriously wrong in their theology, but most Mormons are not wrong about the traditional values of our republic. Mormons like Harry Reid will never get my vote, because his policy ideas do not match with mine, but a Mormon like Mitt Romney could, because I support his good ideas.
Providence works in peculiar ways and it is particularly odd for an evangelical and Orthodox Christian to be grateful for this Mormon moment in American history. But if a Biblical prophet could celebrate the pagan emperor Cyrus for being God's man to free His people, surely we can praise our Mormon countrymen for sounding a trumpet call to rally America to life and liberty.
BY JOHN MARK REYNOLDS | FEBRUARY 9, 2011; 7:29 PM ET