Mormonism and the 2012 election

Mormons came to the center of the national conversation about religion in large part because of the 2012 presidential election. Mitt Romney, a lifelong Mormon, was the GOP nominee. It was thought that evangelical Christian concerns about Mormonism may have impeded his prospects. Romney’s loss to incumbent Barack Obama in the general election was seen by many as ending the “Mormon moment” in American culture.

That “moment” is seen as a turning point for a religious community that has faced serious discrimination and opposition throughout its history.

In addition to Romney, GOP presidential candidate Jon M. Hunstman Jr. is a Mormon, as is Nevada Democrat Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader. Glenn Beck, the cable television commentator, is a convert to Mormonism.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – the formal name for the Mormon church –has also become a cultural touchstone of sorts: The hit Broadway musical The Book of Mormon took home nine Tony awards in June 2011, the HBO series Big Love ended in March of that year after five seasons of critical acclaim, and Stephenie Meyer, author of the hugely popular Twilight series of vampire stories, is a Mormon housewife-turned-novelist who says her faith influences her writing.

  • “Mormons in America”

    A survey of Mormons by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, released Jan. 12, 2012, provides a window into the views, attitudes and religious practices of Mormons.

  • “Romney’s Mormon Faith Likely a Factor in Primaries, Not in a General Election”

    Read the Nov. 23, 2011 survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. The poll finds that white evangelical Protestants — a key element of the GOP electoral base — are more inclined than the public as a whole to view Mormonism as a non-Christian faith. And this view negatively affects their views about Mitt Romney.

The prevalence of those views came to the fore in October 2011 when Robert Jeffress, leader at First Baptist Church of Dallas, told reporters at the annual Values Voter Summit that “Mormonism is a cult” and that Romney “is not a Christian.”

Jeffress’ comments came minutes after he introduced Texas Gov. Rick Perry to the conservative Christian forum. The defenses and denunciations of Jeffress’ remarks about Mormonism have continued to roil the political waters.

This edition of ReligionLink provides resources for reporters covering the increasing prominence of Mormons in American life.

 

Developments

Election-related

Post-election

General

Background

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one of the faster-growing religions in the world. It claims about 13 million members worldwide and 5.6 million in the United States.

There are 15 LDS members in the current Congress. That is about 2.8 percent of the House and Senate, a slightly larger representation than their estimated 1.7 percent share of the overall U.S. population, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Mormons say they are Christian because they believe in Jesus Christ and consider the Bible Holy Scripture. However, many Christian groups say they do not accept Mormons as Christian because of their beliefs on the nature of God, salvation and scripture. (Mormons revere three other scriptures, including the Book of Mormon, some of whose teachings differ from the Bible.)

Evangelicals – a large and important constituency in the GOP – in particular often reject Mormon theology as un-Christian. But political observers say Mormons and evangelicals also share concerns that could unite them politically – both groups oppose abortion, physician-assisted suicide, same-sex marriage and gay rights, and both generally support “traditional” marriage. Likewise, Roman Catholic beliefs do not accord with Mormon doctrine, and Catholics make up 27 percent of the American electorate. Still, traditional Catholics’ views on some social issues also accord with Mormons’.

What Mormons believe

Mormon theology differs significantly from traditional Christian theology:

Surveys

  • “Mormons in America”

    A survey of Mormons by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, released Jan. 12, 2012, provides a window into the views, attitudes and religious practices of Mormons.

  • “Romney’s Mormon Faith Likely a Factor in Primaries, Not in a General Election”

    Read the Nov. 23, 2011 survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. The poll finds that white evangelical Protestants — a key element of the GOP electoral base — are more inclined than the public as a whole to view Mormonism as a non-Christian faith. And this view negatively affects their views about Mitt Romney.

  • “Republican Candidates Stir Little Enthusiasm”

    Read a June 2011 survey by the Pew Research Center showing that 25 percent of Americans, and 34 percent of white evangelicals, would be less likely to vote for a Mormon candidate for president.

  • “Evangelicals: Less Likely to Vote for Gay or Mormon Candidates”

    A June 3, 2011, post at Christianity Today‘s politics blog analyzes the Pew findings from the Pew research report “Republican Candidates Stir Little Enthusiasm.”

  • “In U.S., 22% Are Hesitant to Support a Mormon in 2012”

    See a June 20, 2011, Gallup poll showing that 22 percent of voters would not support a candidate if their preferred party nominated a Mormon for president. About 20 percent of Republicans voiced such opposition, and 27 percent of Democrats.

  • “Mormonism, Cults, and Christianity”

    LifeWay Research, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, on Oct. 8, 2011, released results of a poll of 1,000 Protestant pastors taken a year earlier and found that three-quarters disagreed with the statement: “I personally consider Mormons to be Christians.”

  • “Faith on the Hill: The Religious Composition of the 112th Congress”

    Read a Pew Forum analysis (updated in February 2011) titled “Faith on the Hill: The Religious Composition of the 112th Congress.” It finds that Mormons are better-represented in Congress than they are in the U.S. population.

  • “A Portrait of Mormons in the U.S.”

    Read a July 24, 2009, analysis, “A Portrait of Mormons in the U.S.,” by the Pew Forum. The report, based on data from Pew’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, shows that “as a group Mormons are among the most devout and conservative religious people in the country.” But the report also shows that Mormons are “internally diverse, with differences according to levels of religious commitment and educational attainment, regions of the country where Mormons live, and between lifelong Mormons and those who have converted to the faith.”

  • “How the Public Perceives Romney, Mormons”

    Read a December 2007 Pew Forum report on how the public perceives Mitt Romney and other Mormons.

Past elections

National sources

Mormons

  • Scott Gordon

    Scott Gordon is president of FairMormon, an organization that defends Mormon theology. FairMormon is based in Redding, Calif., and previously was called the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research.

    Contact: 530-225-4645.
  • Kent P. Jackson

    Kent P. Jackson is a professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. He wrote an article titled “Are Mormons Christians? Presbyterians, Mormons and the Question of Religious Definitions” for the 2000 edition of Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions.

  • Robert Millet

    Robert Millet is a professor of ancient scriptures at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. He helped organize a 2004 gathering of evangelicals and Mormons in Salt Lake City that included Richard Mouw and Ravi Zacharias and has frequently engaged in Mormon-evangelical dialogue. Millet co-edited C.S. Lewis, The Man and His Message: A Latter-Day Saint Perspective. He says Lewis is one of the most admired, respected and quoted Christian writers in Latter-day Saint literature, and Lewis’ prose, fiction and ability to teach difficult Christian doctrines and principles are without parallel.

  • Michael Otterson

    Michael Otterson is head of public relations for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City. He can discuss the church and its stand on politics and government matters.

Scholars

  • Francis J. Beckwith

    Francis J. Beckwith is professor of philosophy and church-state studies at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. He writes and comments widely in defense of traditional Christianity. He also wrote Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice.

  • Craig Blomberg

    Craig Blomberg is a distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary in Colorado and author of Neither Poverty Nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions, a study of prosperity theology. 

  • Richard L. Bushman

    Richard L. Bushman is the Howard W. Hunter Visiting Professor of Mormon Studies, an endowed chair at Claremont Graduate University in California, and author of Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. A prominent scholar of Mormonism, he has given talks on the relationship between Mormonism and American politics.

  • David Campbell

    David Campbell is a political science professor at the University of Notre Dame who has written widely on religion and politics and what motivates voters to go to the polls. His books include A Matter of Faith: Religion and the 2004 Presidential Election.

  • Damon M. Cann

    Damon M. Cann, an assistant professor of political science at Utah State University in Logan, conducted a 2008 study titled “Religious Identification and Legislative Voting: The Mormon Case,” in which he concludes that Mormon representatives are no more unified in their voting behavior than any randomly selected set of legislators.

  • Noah Feldman

    Noah Feldman is a professor at Harvard Law School whose specialties include the relationship between law and religion. He gave the keynote address, “Persecution and the Art of Secrecy: An Interpretation of the Mormon Encounter with American Politics,” at a 2007 conference on Mormonism and American politics. He also wrote a July 22, 2007, essay in The New York Times Magazine (subscription required) titled “Orthodox Paradox,” about his drift away from the Orthodox Judaism of his youth. He has a doctorate in Islamic thought and is an expert on Middle East politics and Islamic constitutional law.

  • Kathleen Flake

    Kathleen Flake is Richard Lyman Bushman Professor of Mormon Studies at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. She has written extensively on Mormons and is the author of The Politics of American Religious Identity: The Seating of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle.

  • Terryl L. Givens

    Terryl L. Givens is a professor of literature and religion at the University of Richmond in Richmond, Va. He is the author of several books on Latter-day Saints, including The Latter-day Saint Experience in America.

  • Sarah Barringer Gordon

    Sarah Barringer Gordon is Arlin M. Adams Professor of Constitutional Law and Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania, where she teaches in the areas of church and state and American religious and constitutional history. She is the author of The Mormon Question: Polygamy and Constitutional Conflict in Nineteenth-Century America and The Spirit of the Law: Religious Voices and the Constitution in Modern America. She also wrote In-laws and Outlaws, a book-length study of the social history of prosecutions of polygamists in territorial Utah. She says there were and are women who find happiness in polygamy because they believe they are living their religion. Gordon says that, technically speaking, permitting two people to participate in a traditional, monogamous marriage doesn’t mean opening the door to polygamy because gay marriage doesn’t change such legal-administration matters as inheritance and parental issues.

  • Greg Johnson

    Greg Johnson is a founder of Standing Together, a Utah-based group that promotes evangelical-Mormon dialogue and understanding. He has previously said a Romney candidacy would cause great concern among evangelicals, many of whom think of Mormons as a non-Christian cult.

  • Geoffrey Layman

    Geoffrey Layman is an associate professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland in College Park. He wrote The Great Divide: Religious and Cultural Conflict in American Party Politics.

  • Carl Mosser

    Carl Mosser is a co-editor of The New Mormon Challenge: Responding to the Latest Defenses of a Fast-Growing Movement. He is an associate professor of biblical studies (on leave) at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pa.

  • Richard J. Mouw

    Richard J. Mouw is a well-known writer and commentator on evangelical Christianity and the president of the Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., a leading evangelical institution. Contact Mouw through Fred Messick, Fuller’s associate vice president for public affairs.

  • Corwin E. Smidt

    Corwin E. Smidt is a research fellow at the Paul B. Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics and a professor of political science at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. He is author, editor or co-author of books on religion and public life, including In God We Trust? Religion and American Political Life; Pulpit and Politics: Clergy in American Politics at the Advent of the Millennium; and The Bully Pulpit: The Politics of Protestant Clergy.

  • Rodney Stark

    Rodney Stark is the author of The Rise of Mormonism, a collection of essays. He is Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Stark has frequently delved into the historical aspects of Christian origins, in books such as The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History and Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome.

  • Lane Williams

    Lane Williams teaches communications at Brigham Young University-Idaho. He is a former reporter and has conducted research into media coverage of the LDS (he is a Mormon) and Romney’s candidacy.

  • Alan Wolfe

    Alan Wolfe is the founding director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College and a frequent commentator on religion and politics. His books include The Transformation of American Religion: How We Actually Live Our Faith, which focuses on the impact of evangelicals on American religious culture. He has written widely on secularism.

Political analysts

  • Michael Barone

    Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner and co-author of The Almanac of American Politics 2012. He has said Americans increasingly vote as they pray or don’t pray.

  • John C. Green

    John C. Green is a senior research adviser at the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, specializing in religion and American politics, American evangelicals and politics, the Christian right, religion and elections, and religion and presidential politics. He also serves as director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics and Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the University of Akron. He is the co-author of The Diminishing Divide: Religion’s Changing Role in American Politics. He can speak about Americans’ views on gun control, religious demographics and other political issues.

  • Mike Murphy

    Mike Murphy is a Republican political consultant with Navigators Global who has advised candidates, including John McCain, Jeb Bush, former Michigan Gov. John Engler and Romney. In February 2006, Murphy stepped away from Romney’s campaign.

    Contact: 202-315-5100.
  • Amy Sullivan

    Amy Sullivan is a contributing writer for TIME magazine and a former editor for Washington Monthly, where she wrote of the Democrats’ need to reclaim religion from the Republican Party. She is the author of The Party Faithful: How and Why Democrats are Closing the God Gap (Scribner, 2008).

    She wrote a September 2005 article (for The Washington Monthly, where she was an editor at the time) in which she described Romney’s Mormonism as a problem for evangelical voters.

  • Trent Wisecup

    Trent Wisecup is the former director of Romney’s Massachusetts political action committee. He is a principal at Navigators Global.

    Contact: 202-315-5100.

Elected officials

Fifteen LDS members serve in the 112th Congress — six senators and nine representatives — up from 14 in the previous Congress. (The total includes Eni Faleomavaega, a Democrat, who represents American Samoa and is a nonvoting member.) Senators are listed below; U.S. representatives are listed under regional sources.

  • Sen. Mike Crapo

    U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, is a member of the LDS church.

    Contact: 202-224-6142, 208-522-9779, 208-334-1776.
  • Sen. Jeff Flake

    U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican, represents Arizona and is a member of the LDS church.

    Contact: 202-224-4521, 602-840-1891, 520-575-8633.
  • Sen. Orrin Hatch

    U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is a member of the LDS church who has run for president. In the 2000 presidential primaries, he encountered anti-Mormon sentiment in the Midwest and ultimately withdrew from the race.

    Contact: 202-224-5251, 801-524-4380, 801-375-7881.
  • Sen. Dean Heller

    U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., was appointed to the Senate in May 2011 to fill the vacancy left by Sen. John Ensign’s resignation. Heller previously represented Nevada’s 2nd District in the U.S. House, and before that, he served many years in state government.

    Contact: 202-224-6244, 702-388-6605, 775-686-5770.
  • Sen. Mike Lee

    U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, is a member of the LDS church.

    Contact: 202-224-5444, 801-524-5933, 435-628-5514.
  • Sen. Harry Reid

    U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., is U.S. Senate majority leader and a member of the LDS church.

    Contact: 202-224-3542, 775-882-7343, 702-388-5020.
  • Sen. Tom Udall

    U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat, was elected to represent New Mexico in the Senate in 2008 after serving five terms in the U.S. House. He also had served as the state’s attorney general.

    Contact: 202-224-6621, 505-988-6511, 505-346-6791.

Critics

  • John Ankerberg

    John Ankerberg is president of the Ankerberg Theological Research Institute in Chattanooga, Tenn. He has a daily radio and television show. An FAQ on his website asks whether Mormons and Christians believe the same thing. His conclusion is they do not.

  • Roberta Combs

    Roberta Combs is president of the Christian Coalition, a political action organization that describes itself as “pro-family.” According to news releases on its website, the coalition has several times agreed with statements made by Mitt Romney.

  • Ed Decker

    Ed Decker is president of Saints Alive in Jesus, an evangelical Christian mission to Mormons, Freemasons and other groups the mission considers cults. He is a former Mormon and co-author of The God Makers.

  • Fritz Ridenour

    Fritz Ridenour is the author of So What’s the Difference, in which he compares Christianity to other world religions, including Mormonism. The book is endorsed by Focus on the Family and declares that Mormonism is not compatible with Christianity. Ridenour lives in Santa Barbara, Calif.

    Contact: via Marlene Baer, 800-235-3415 ext. 1256.
  • James R. Spencer

    James R. Spencer is a minister and author of seven books on cults, the occult and secularism. He wrote an article about Mormonism and Christianity for the Assemblies of God magazine, Today’s Pentecostal Evangel. He runs the website Maze Ministry. He lives in Boise, Idaho.

    Contact: 800-871-7120.

Regional sources

In the Northeast

  • Bob Bennett

    Bob Bennett is a former U.S. senator from Utah, as was his father, and is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Bennett is now chairman of the Bennett Group, a consulting group for corporations in Washington, D.C.

    Contact: 202-684-7117.
  • Louis H. Bolce

    Louis H. Bolce teaches a course on religion and politics at Baruch College in New York City. Bolce’s research interests include what he calls the anti-Christian fundamentalist factor in contemporary politics, and he and Gerald De Maio (also at Baruch College) are working on a book about the rise of secularist influence in the Democratic Party.

    They have written that the clearest indicator of voting patterns is religious affiliation

  • Walton Brown-Foster

    Walton Brown-Foster teaches a course on religion and politics at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain.

  • Patrick Lynch

    The Rev. Patrick Lynch is chair of the religious studies department at Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y. He is a Jesuit priest and has taught courses on Catholic social ethics, religion & politics and the Jesuits.

  • C. Brid Nicholson

    C. Brid Nicholson is an assistant professor of American history at Kean University in New Jersey who has studied Mormonism.

  • Mark Silk

    Mark Silk is director for the Leonard Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. Silk is also professor of religion in public life at Trinity. He is particularly knowledgeable about religious variances from one part of the country to another; his books include (as co-author) One Nation, Divisible: How Regional Religious Differences Shape American Politics.

  • Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

    Laurel Thatcher Ulrich is a professor of early American history at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In the South

  • Ferrel Guillory

    Ferrel Guillory is a professor of journalism and director of the Program on Public Life at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C.

  • James Guth

    James Guth is a professor of political science at Furman University in Greenville, S.C. He has written widely on the emergence of Christian conservatives in the political arena.

  • Robert B. Stewart

    Robert B. Stewart is professor of philosophy and theology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He has provided an evangelical critique of Mormonism at several conferences.

  • Charles Reagan Wilson

    Charles Reagan Wilson is the author of Judgment & Grace in Dixie: Southern Faiths from Faulkner to Elvis. He is a professor of history and Southern studies at the University of Mississippi.

  • J. David Woodward

    J. David Woodard is a professor of political science at Clemson University in Clemson, S.C., and author of The New Southern Politics.

In the Midwest

  • Douglas Firth Anderson

    Douglas Firth Anderson is a professor of history with a specialty in American religious history at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa.

  • Paul Djupe

    Paul Djupe is a professor of political science at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, specializing in religion and politics. He co-authored the Encyclopedia of American Religion and Politics and co-edited the 2007 book Religious Interests in Community Conflict: Beyond the Culture Wars. His interests include secularism and politics.

  • John-Charles Duffy

    John-Charles Duffy is a visiting assistant professor in the department of comparative religion at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. From 2001-04, he helped coordinate a series of brown bag discussions on Mormon studies at the University of Utah.

  • Laurie M. Johnson

    Laurie M. Johnson is a professor of political science and has taught a course on religion and politics at Kansas State University.

In the West

  • Rep. Rob Bishop

    U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, a Republican, represents Utah’s 1st District and is a Mormon. He is a former high school teacher of American history and government who served 16 years in the state legislature.

    Contact: 202-225-0453, 801-625-0107, 435-734-2270.
  • Rep. Jason Chaffetz

    U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican, was elected in 2008 to represent Utah’s 3rd District in Congress. He is a member of the LDS church.

    Contact: 202-225-7751, 801-851-2500.
  • Rep. Raul Labrador

    U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, a Republican, represents Idaho’s 1st District and is an LDS church member.

    Contact: 202-225-6611, 208-667-0127, 208-743-1388.
  • Patrick Q. Mason

    Patrick Q. Mason holds the Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, Calif., and is author of The Mormon Menace: Violence and Anti-Mormonism in the Postbellum South. Mason is a leading expert on anti-Mormonism.

  • Rep. Jim Matheson

    U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, a Democrat, was re-elected in 2008 to his fifth term representing Utah’s 2nd District. He also belongs to the LDS church.

    Contact: 202-225-3011, 801-486-1236.
  • Rep. Buck McKeon

    U.S. Rep. Buck McKeon, a Republican, represents California’s 25th District and is an LDS church member.

    Contact: 202-225-1956, 661-254-2111, 661-274-9688.
  • David Knowlton

    David Knowlton is a professor in the behavioral science department at Utah Valley University in Orem. His specialties include the anthropology of Mormonism.

  • Stephen E. Robinson

    Stephen E. Robinson is a professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. He is the co-author of How Wide the Divide? A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation.

  • Rep. Mike Simpson

    U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, a Republican, represents Idaho’s 2nd District and is a member of the LDS church.

    Contact: 202-225-5531, 208-334-1953, 208-523-6701.
  • Sandra Tanner

    Sandra Tanner co-founded the Utah Lighthouse Ministry with her late husband, Jerald. The ministry seeks “to document problems with the claims of Mormonism and compare LDS doctrines with Christianity.” Both of the Tanners were raised in the LDS church.

    Contact: 801-485-8894.

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