Romney's Mormonism: Problem for voters?

For vague, unknown reasons, some Christians are reluctant to support a Mormon for president. At least that's the impression you get reading a Washington Post story this week with this headline:

Romney's religion still a sticking point

Here's the top of the story, published before Romney won the Iowa caucuses by the thinnest of margins Tuesday:

COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa — On a recent afternoon at the Kanesville Tabernacle, the historic site along the Mormon Trail where pioneers selected Brigham Young to lead their church in 1847, Sister LaRae Wright lamented that 150 years later many Iowans still know nothing about the Mormon faith.

Mitt Romney, she said, could change that.

“I want him to shout it from the rooftops,” Sister Wright burst out with a chuckle. Then she paused. “But does that make political sense?”

It does not. Conversations with voters and evangelical leaders across Iowa reveal that a suspicion of Mormonism may still be a central reason for those opposing the former Massachusetts governor. But by establishing himself as the electability candidate in the field, Romney has created a political tension between that undercurrent of religious antipathy and a more open hostility toward President Obama.The outcome of Tuesday’s caucuses could depend on whether the fear of a second Obama term trumps the trepidation about Romney’s religion.

Why are some voters suspicious of Mormonism?

A longtime Romney supporter suggested to the Post that "bigotry" is the reason. Another source cited a "fear of the unknown." The story included this interview with a voter at a Romney campaign event:

On Sunday afternoon, potential voters in Atlantic waited for Romney at the Family Table restaurant. A few tables down from a group of Mormons, Karen Poe, 68, fresh out of church services, sat with her husband, Phil, around ketchup-stained plates. “Beating Obama is my bottom line,” she said, but isn’t sure she can get behind Romney.

“He’s a Mormon,” Poe said, grimacing at the mention of Romney’s name. “Everyone needs to base their decision on something, and the basis for his decisions would be different. I’m not convinced it’s a good point of view to be coming from.”

Poe, an evangelical member of the Assemblies of God church outside Des Moines, said that while she’d also have issues with a Jewish or Muslim candidate, Mormons worried her more. “They are a very controlling religion,” she said.

Missing from the article: Any exploration of theological reasons why some Christians — evangelicals, mainliners and Catholics among them — might have problems recognizing the core of Mormonism.

Your GetReligionistas spent some time this morning privately bemoaning that glaring omission.

This afternoon, we were pleased to see a Religion News Service piece that provides clarity where the Post offered confusion.

In his report, Godbeat pro Daniel Burke explores why Romney's "evangelical problem starts with theology":

(RNS) The good news for Mitt Romney: he won the Iowa caucuses. The bad news for Romney: evangelicals remain reluctant to support him.

Romney bested former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum by a mere eight votes in Tuesday’s (Jan. 3) first-in-the-nation voting. But just 14 percent of evangelicals supported the former Massachusetts governor, according to entrance polls, a third less than he won during his 2008 campaign.

Steve Scheffler, president of the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, said Romney failed to convince evangelicals that he cares about their issues, particularly outlawing abortion and same-sex marriage.

“What evangelicals are saying is: We don’t know what this guy believes,” Scheffler said. “Does he have any public policy philosophy other than wanting to be elected president?”

Yet numerous polls and anti-Mormon statements suggest that deeper disagreements rooted in core elements of Christian theology are also in play.

Those core elements of Christian theology?

Among the disputes are the nature of God, the doctrine of the Trinity and the acceptance of revelations and books beyond the Christian Bible.

“For the people on the inside of these kinds of discussions, these are not just matters of life and death but of salvation. There is nothing more important for them than having a proper relation to God and idea of who Jesus is,” said Mason, author of “The Mormon Menace: Violence and Anti-Mormonism in the Postbellum South.”

In a sense, Mormons and mainstream Christians have been at odds for nearly 200 years, Mason said.

Mormonism’s founding prophet, Joseph Smith, said God told him that every existing church and creed was “corrupt” and “wrong.” Drawing on personal revelations—published in the Book of Mormon and other texts—Smith set out to restore the church.

Smith preached fairly orthodox Christian theology at first, but “became increasingly radical, breaking more and more from standard Christianity with every year that he lived,” said Craig Blomberg, a professor at Denver Seminary who has been active in evangelical-Mormon dialogue.

A sermon Smith preached three months before his death in 1844 planted the seeds for Mormonism’s biggest break with traditional Christianity, according to scholars. In it, Smith preached that God was once a flesh-and-blood man who had attained godhood. Likewise, Smith taught, humans could advance to God-like status in heaven.

That's a pretty big chunk of the story that I just copied and pasted. I'm tempted to share much more. Instead, I'll encourage you to read the whole thing yourself.

By all means, peruse both pieces and share your thoughts on how each media organization handled the story. This is not the place, however, to argue politics or debate beliefs. Let's keep the focus on journalism.

Romney photo via Shutterstock

Please respect our Commenting Policy