Republican presidential candidates Former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman (R) and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (L) greet to each other prior to marching in a Fourth of July parade as Huntsman’s wife Mary Kaye (2nd R) and daughter Gracie Mei look on July 4, 2011 in Amherst, New Hampshire.
Mormons are everywhere!
You’d be hard-pressed to find a Mormon who would say “we hate all this attention.” It’s a great chance to do some evangelizing! But here’s how the conversation goes in real life:
Mr. Jones: Hey, Mr. Smith, I’ve been noticing a lot of talk about Mormons in the media. Would you mind if I asked you some questions about your religion?
Mr. Smith (excitedly): Sure! I love talking to my friends about my faith. It’s what has helped me and my family be so happy my whole life.
Mr. Jones: Tell me, do you really get to have your own planet? And what’s up with the magic underpants?
Mr. Smith (chuckling nervously): Well, I wouldn’t really consider those to be big parts of what I believe…
Mr. Jones: I read that Harold Bloom called your leader a “plutocratic oligarch.” Is that true?
Mr. Smith: I really need to get back to work now.
Mormons can be touchy, though we talk a good game. We crave popularity, not microscopes. Notice us — but on our terms, please. Look, Mormons are probably not unique in this respect; everyone loves to get attention. But not everyone is a member of a quirky, modern, American-made religion.
Actually, it’s hard to tell if Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman are really members of my quirky religion. Romney’s public persona is so polished and practiced that nary a hint of his religion appears, and when it does it’s in a negative sense, down-playing his Mormonism in an effort to appeal to voters. This is the odd effect of his 2007 speech in which he famously refused to distance himself from his religion: now that none of the other candidates is bringing up religion, Romney never brings up the topic himself and the underwear questions quietly disappear. Perhaps the other candidates feel that Romney is entitled to some modicum of privacy on the issue. Huntsman, on the other hand, has no need to sideline his Mormonism: “I can’t say I’m overly religious,” he has said. Why, he’s even been known to drink tea!
It might be nice to see the candidates add in a little religion to their presentation, just for effect. Perhaps Romney could take a Tebow-style kneel whenever he gets applause in a GOP debate. Huntsman could wear a stylized lapel pin of the angel Moroni. It might help the candidates seem a little more satisfying. and would certainly help to rally the LDS community.
Right now, there’s little indication that Mormons are excited or mobilized about the prospect of a Mormon president — rather, there’s trepidation. Liberal Mormons don’t know if they want Romney (or Huntsman) to be the single most prominent face of their faith. Conservative Mormons have the same concern, for the same reason: the candidates don’t share their views on social/political/fiscal issues. You won’t find a unified front of support as you might have seen from Catholic supporters of JFK, despite the obvious parallels. Instead, my LDS friends and I quietly ask innocent questions about the banal practicalities of an LDS president: Will he pay 10 percent of his government salary to the church? Will the White House offer tea and coffee? Will the Secret Service accompany him to his temple services, which are for LDS initiates only?
The two Mormon contenders in the Republican primaries bring an absurd level of attention to the LDS religion. It’s an exceptional chance for the rest of us to explain the principles and history of our faith, a singular moment to show the world who we really are. The challenge stems from the fact that like any other religious group, Mormons are far from homogeneous. Romney and Huntsman’s prominence force us to ask ourselves some hard questions about who we are and what our religious community should look like. “Showing the world who we really are” will require a healthy dose of self-examination and community definition, which is strong medicine indeed.
Steve Evans is an attorney and blogger living in Wisconsin. In 2004, Steve founded the popular Mormon blog By Common Consent, where he is an editor and contributor.