For a long overdue online essay of the week, you simply must go read the New York Times Magazine essay on Mormonism and politics, "What Is It About Mormonism?", by Noah Feldman, a Harvard law prof. First line: "Our post-denominational age should be the perfect time for a Mormon to become president, or at least the Republican nominee." Ah yes, it should be, shouldn't it?
A few choice quotes from the short essay:
- For Mitt Romney, the complex question of anti-Mormon bias boils down to the practical matter of how he can make it go away. Indeed, and the fact of the matter seems to be that he can't.
- Something troubling is afoot here. From a constitutional standpoint, the religion of a candidate is supposed to make no difference. Sure, that's a formal consideration that's not binding on voters, so everyone recognizes that religion does influence some voters. But one expects the religious angle to emerge as a reason not to vote for the other party's candidate, not your own. The problem with the Evangelical disavowal of Romney as a candidate isn't that they don't consider him a true Christian, it's that they don't seem to consider him — or, by implication, any Mormon — a true Republican. Evangelicals hoping to nominate Huckabee and expecting support from the rest of the Republican party if they do are skating on really thin political ice here.
- Still, even among those who respect Mormons personally, it is still common to hear Mormonism’s tenets dismissed as ridiculous. This attitude is logically indefensible insofar as Mormonism is being compared with other world religions. Nice to hear someone who's not Mormon say that.
- Like Mormon ritual, much of Mormon theology remains relatively inaccessible to outsiders. Worse — much of Mormon theology remains relatively inaccessible even to insiders.
- The rise of the religious right posed a tricky political quandary for the LDS church. Exactly — but that quandry was largely latent until Romney's candidacy. Now it threatens to become a serious problem for the GOP.
- In theory, the evangelical political movement says that it is prepared to embrace Jews and even Muslims so long as they share the same common values of the religious right. In the case of a Mormon candidate, though, many evangelicals are not prepared to say that common values are enough. You can imagine how this makes your average Mormon Republican feel. I doubt Evangelicals, the self-appointed moral [sic] majority within the GOP, will ever figure this out.
- If the reality of soft bigotry does not today pose an existential threat to Mormons as explicit oppression once did, it would nevertheless undercut the hard-won public face of Mormonism as a distinctively American religion characterized by worldly accomplishment. For conservatives to reject a Mormon because he is a Mormon would be an especially harsh setback for a faith that has accomplished such extraordinary public success in overcoming a history of painful discrimination.
So, spurned Mormon Republican, pariah within your own party, what are you going to do about it? Vote for the guy who thinks you worship Satan? [That seems to be the sly suggestion implicit in Huckabee's remark that "Mormons think Jesus and Satan are brothers" and probably a fair characterization of what many Evangelicals think of the Mormon faith.] It is certainly going to be a strange year in politics.
[Note: Last paragraph reformatted and the reference to Huckabee toned down, 1-7-08. There's also a new post at T&S on the Feldman essay that should elicit additional discussion.]