As Mitt Romney becomes the first LDS candidate to secure a major party presidential nomination, Mormon women will be watching with special interest. Then again, we have always been interested in politics. Mormon women in Utah enjoyed the right to vote as early as 1870—a time in American history when many women rejected political involvement as the proper domain of men, and fully five decades before the achievement of U.S. women’s suffrage.
Mormon women know that because of Romney’s candidacy the 2012 presidential election will bring intense scrutiny of our faith. Surveys show that most Americans still know very little about Mormonism: a faith rooted in nineteenth-century American Protestantism that has developed its own distinctive body of scripture, Christian theology, and culture. Mormon women will be watching to see if the national media accurately captures the humanity and complexity of the 12 million LDS people who live across the nation and around the globe and whether our faith—though it is a comparatively young tradition—will be afforded the dignity a truly civil society affords all religions.
Mitt Romney tends to be very private about his faith. Still, we hope that through the publicity of this election season more Americans will come to recognize the Mormon story as part of the American story. Mormon women are proud of our pioneer ancestors who sacrificed material comfort to cross the American plains in pursuit of the free exercise of their religion and in the hopes that they could build a community—a “Zion”--where all could flourish. Just as we own these inspiring dimensions of Mormon history, Mormon women also recognize its human flaws and missteps as our own. We know that the lives of Mormonism’s founders and leaders, its historic discrimination against people of African descent, and its opposition to equal rights for women and LGBT people will come under scrutiny in connection with Mitt Romney’s campaign. We hope to respond with honesty and dignity, as our religion comes of age under intense scrutiny.
In the United States, the LDS faith tends to be associated with conservative Republicanism, but this is not the only way to be Mormon. Progressive Mormon women especially will be watching the 2012 race to see how well Mitt Romney represents the Mormon values we hold close. Our faith has long stressed that parenthood is a divine responsibility. Progressive Mormon women question whether the nation’s current political and economic priorities truly support well-being for children and families. As Mormon women, we belong to a global sisterhood that includes women of every color, economic class, and nationality. Our concern extends to women and families living at or below the poverty line in the United States and around the world, as well as to families divided and punished by harsh anti-immigrant policies. Progressive Mormon women find unacceptable attacks on the dignity and equality of LGBT families, many of whom are also doing the vital work of parenthood but without the rights and protections of civil marriage. And we question whether a nation that starves its schools and its civic, environmental, and industrial infrastructure of badly needed investments can be said to value its children.
Progressive Mormon women remember that in 1976, LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball warned members of the church that Americans had become a “warlike people” who “idolized” military and industrial power at the expense of human welfare. Even as we celebrate the historic quality of Mitt Romney’s candidacy, this campaign season, we will be watching to see which candidate offers the best expression of Mormon values of preparedness, compassion, pragmatism, and service to others.
Joanna Brooks is the author of “The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith” to be released in August by Free Press.