Mitt, Mormons, and the religious test that wasn’t

Buried in the mountain of demographic data preoccupying political pundits this week is one historic statistic that may have far-reaching … Continued

Buried in the mountain of demographic data preoccupying political pundits this week is one historic statistic that may have far-reaching consequences for religious freedom in America:

Seventy-nine percent of white Protestant evangelicals voted for Mitt Romney, a lifelong member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – popularly known as the Mormon Church.

After a bitter Republican primary season during which many evangelical leaders supported the “anybody but Romney” effort, prominent conservative Christian ministers lined up behind Romney for the general election. A defining moment came on Oct. 11 when America’s Preacher, the Rev. Billy Graham, publicly signaled support for Romney’s candidacy.

One week after Graham’s embrace of Romney, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association removed from its Web site the reference to the Mormon Church as a “cult” – a small change in language that could have a big impact on future relations between evangelicals and Mormons.

It’s very likely, of course, that conservative Protestant acceptance of Romney was largely a political marriage of convenience. Evangelical positions on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage trumped misgivings about putting a Mormon in the White House.

But however pragmatic the reasons, strong evangelical support for Romney was an unprecedented break from the long history of anti-Mormon sentiment among Protestants that dates back to the founding of the Mormon faith in the 19th century.

Theological differences will no doubt continue to spark robust debates between evangelicals and Mormons. But Mitt Romney’s run for the presidency appears to have shifted the tone of the disagreements, promising perhaps to usher in a new era of more civil dialogue and – when public policy interests overlap – more common cause.

Like John Kennedy’s historic breakthrough as the first Roman Catholic to win the presidency, Romney’s candidacy signals another turning point in the long struggle to move beyond voter-applied religious tests for office. Although Romney fell short of winning a majority, his big numbers among evangelicals demonstrates that being identified as a Mormon is no impediment in a presidential race.

Beyond the Mormon question, is it possible that religious affiliation more broadly – for much of our history a litmus test for major party nominees – is becoming a non-issue in American presidential politics?

Consider, for example, that in 2012 no white Protestant was on one of the two major parties’ ticket for the first time in our history. The response of voters to this milestone appears to have been a big shrug.

But despite the apparent indifference to the religious affiliation of this year’s candidates, voter surveys suggest that religion still matters in the voting booth. The range of “acceptable” affiliations may have expanded in recent elections, but the country is nowhere close to the day when either major party will nominate an avowed atheist for the presidency or vice presidency. Polls also suggest that candidates from many minority faiths, especially Muslims, would not fare well on the national stage.

Nevertheless, the demographic handwriting is on the electoral wall in an increasingly pluralistic America. Protestants are no longer in the majority for the first time in our history. And leadership of key institutions – long dominated by Protestants – is now religiously diverse. (The current U.S. Supreme Court, for example, has six Roman Catholic and three Jewish justices.)

The fact that Romney’s religious affiliation played virtually no role in this election is another step – a significant step – toward the day when candidates for high office are only judged primarily by their record and character, not by the place of worship they attend (or don’t attend).

We still have a distance to go. But with Mitt Romney’s candidacy in 2012, we moved closer to the First Amendment promise of full religious freedom – a level playing field in the public square for citizens of all faiths and none.


Charles C. Haynes 
 is senior scholar at the  
Freedom Forum First Amendment Center 
 and director of the
 Religious Freedom Education Project 
at the

Newseum 
 in Washington.

More On Faith and 2012:

David Gibson: What’s next for religious conservatives?

Lisa Miller: After huge Hispanic vote, plenty of reason to compromise on immigration reform

Figuring Faith: Faith in 2012 by the numbers

Otterson: What lies ahead for Mormons?

Thistlethwaite: Compassion in chief: Why Obama won

Patel:Hopeful for explicit discussion from White House on religious diversity

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  • jeff9999

    “Seventy-nine percent of white Protestant evangelicals voted for Mitt Romney, a lifelong member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”

    Pretty much proving that the mouthiness of the Holy Roller breed of Protestants is just wind sauce.

    They bend when it suits their political goals.

    Big surprise.

  • Axial

    Christianity is not Evangelical. They are totally different. Obama is a Christian Bush is an evangelical.

  • n0tafan

    It’s because Mormons believe the dumb dumb dumbest story ever contrived. We would be putting, literally, someone dumber than O into the Presidency. This election was for the R’s to lose, as was Kerry in 2004, and in both cases it was delivered.

    America is smarter than that dumb story told by that whack church dude a hundred plus years ago. Give us some credit. And I don’t like O’s policies ONE BIT. But I won’t vote for dumb at that level.

  • slbpitc

    First of all Mormons are NOT Christians nor is it a religion based oon the definition , and therefore is defined corrrectly as a cult. All Christians religions believe in the “Trinity” which Mormons do not. The reason Christians voted for the Romney was simple a vote against President Obama. If President Obama was white and running against Romney the only white votes Romney would have received would have been other Mormons.

    Therefore, these so called white Christians are nothing buy bigots hiding behind a false religion. If there is a God I really don’t think many of them will be allowed the chance to enjoy the prize unless a lot of soul searching is done.

    Let the truth be told!

  • JoBails

    Come on here. The evangelicals are located in the flyover states and are delivered by the evangelical ministers to the GOP every year. Part of the reason Mitt came across as such a big flip flopper is that he had to pander to these extreme right wingers during the primary. Does any reasonable person think that Mitt would have really done anything at all to overturn Roe v Wade, restrict access to the pill, or publicly repudiate the rights of gay people? The only people who believe this are the Fox dupes in the deep red states. He had to say this stuff to win the primary then tried to scoot back to the middle as soon as he was the nominee. The battle over abortion is over- it’s been over for a long time – but don’t tell that to the rubes in the red states or they might catch on that they are being played as part of the “base” even though the real establishment GOP are embarrassed by them.

  • ralphost

    “Billy Graham Evangelistic Association removed from its Web site the reference to the Mormon Church as a “cult” ” Cowards to the republican cause over sanity.

  • doctordawg

    Romney had the prerequisite digits Norquist spoke of. Yes, all that was more likely than you might think. Romney would have most assuredly signed anything the Republican overlords put on his desk.

  • ralphost

    Now you see how little it would take to change something in the bible over thousand of years if a political race could change a cult to a religion over night.

  • doctordawg

    Superstitious fables are superstitious fables, and Christians holds no more truth than Mormons or Jedi Knights. It’s all fake. Religion should be tolerated the same as good fiction books or movies. Fictitious storytelling is great, but the moment these pretty fictions are claimed to be truth (and conversely facts are claimed to be “lies from the pits of hell”), the claimant’s sanity must be questioned, and all power to legislate or enforce laws of the land must be stripped from them effective immediately.

  • sbrian

    The lost opportunity for Romney and the Mormon Church was to once and for all disavow the Church’s racist practices of the past. Romney refused to do so, and for that alone should never have been elected President. The Mormon Church continues with the position that its version of apartheid was God-inspired at the time. Not only is this repulsive, it only reinforces that religions too often put traditional teachings (no matter how repulsive and irrational) above people, ethics and reason.

  • Pooua

    You don’t know whether the stories of the Bible are true or not; you are presenting your opinion as if it were fact. However, the Bible is far superior factually than is the Book of Mormon. For example, every coin mentioned in the Bible has been found. No coin mentioned only in the Book of Mormon has been found. Most of the locations mentioned in the Bible have been located; none exclusively from the Book of Mormon have been found. The Mormon religion is provably fraudulant, in that at least one of its canonical documents, from the Pearl of Great Price, has been proved to be a fraud. The “Book of Abraham” was “translated” by Joseph Smith from ancient Egyptian manuscripts, but what Joseph Smith wrote is nothing like what the manuscripts actually state. Joseph Smith is a proven liar and con man.

    Facts; you should use them.

  • Pooua

    Obama would not be acceptable to conservative, Bible-based Christians, regardless of what color he is. His stance on homosexuality and birth control are unacceptable.

    I regret that Evangelicals supported Romney, but that doesn’t mean they should have gone to Obama, either.

  • jonathanhakim

    I’m not seeing the correlation. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is an official body, and it can change its position whenever it wants. And the United States is a unified political system with mass media influencing public opinion. But the Bible has always been represented by thousands of manuscripts all over the place, in many difference languages held by many different people in many different political systems. There’s no “organization” that ever had control over all the Bibles so they could change them. Since we have full Bibles going back to the 400s, and books, fragments, and quotes going back to the 100s and 200s, there wasn’t “thousands of years” to change the Bible. Any changes would only affect some Bibles and would have had to happen in the first few hundred years. Scholars have found a number of such differences between different manuscripts, but not anything significant to the main points of Christian theology.

  • Chip & Chip

    I would like to thank Charles C Haynes for taking the time to write this article. Anti-mormon dialogue seems to interest many readers and so it is an easy sell and a great temptation to many writers. Mr. Haynes didn’t stoop to that level. He actually included the name of our church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in his article and although I am not sure I agree with his conclusion that religious affiliation played virtually no role in this election, I believe the majority of protestant evangelicals know that members of the Church of Jesus Christ share and also cherish the teachings of Christ. With this shared commitment to love God and to love our fellow man, I think protestant evangelicals recognized that Romney would support those values. Oh, and yes, we believe in Christ, we teach of Christ, and we teach our children to trust and pray in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ

  • Chip & Chip

    I would like to thank Charles C Haynes for taking the time to write this article. Anti-mormon dialogue seems to interest many readers and so it is an easy sell and a great temptation to many writers. Mr. Haynes didn’t stoop to that level. He actually included the name of our church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in his article and although I am not sure I agree with his conclusion that religious affiliation played virtually no role in this election, I believe the majority of protestant evangelicals know that members of the Church of Jesus Christ share and also cherish the teachings of Christ. With this shared commitment to love God and to love our fellow man, I think protestant evangelicals recognized that Romney would support those values. Oh, and yes, we believe in Christ, we teach of Christ, and we teach our children to trust and pray in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ

  • MemyselfI2

    Anyone but Obama

  • zomalaja

    Pooua -what a great example of Christianity you are. Your should be proud.

  • madpotter

    Thank you for stating something rather obvious that gets the tiptoe treatment – the racism of the evangelical South. I knew as soon as Romney got the nomination the bible thumpers would have revelations rivaling those of Mormon elders who had to change god’s statements as portions of their Mother Goose doctrine were embarrassingly revealed – such as that Blacks were not suited for Mormon priesthood. Romney said he felt the doctrine was wrong but he didn’t say or do anything about it did he? If he wasn’t willing to do the right thing then, when would he do the right thing? Please, as another reader suggested, search “Book of Abraham.” When you read all that is presented, you’ll wonder why anyone would stay with this moronic cult. Joseph Smith made it all up folks so he could be popular with the girls. This election was a statement that tolerance of racial intolerance will no longer be tolerated. There’s a global progressive movement underway and it’s going to be messy at times. Viva la revolution.

  • Alinup3

    It will a sign of great tolerance when Ralph the unemployed
    Satan worshiper, alcoholic down the street gets the nomination
    of either of the major parties.

  • ChicagoJim

    I hope that the lack of a religious test in the campaign was an indication of the growing irrelevance of religion in politics. As long as the unconstitutional tax exemptions remain in place, religion should also remain in its place, the tax-exempt church.

  • sambawi

    Amen…………

  • Missy Keene

    Seriously? I have read 100 fictional novels that reference actual places, people and things. The story however is still fiction.

  • cricket44

    So very many reasons to NOT vote for Mitt. His religion never crossed my mind.

  • SODDI

    Look, it’s been the mormons running around shouting “It’s the mormon Moment!” and “He’s one of us!”

    And then it was revealed in short order that Romney was an enormous income tax cheat who despised half of the American population and a nearly psychopathic liar who would do and say ANYTHING to pander to the lowest common denominator of the racist right. He is a very evil man.

    You’re right. It is a mormon moment. Romney is the archetypal mormon. You said it yourselves. You are just like him.