Reynolds is an ordained minister, a columnist for TheRootDC and the author of six books, including “Out of Hell and Living Well, Healing From the Inside Out.” She is a former editor and columnist for USA Today.
It is not inconceivable that the United States could elect its first Mormon president, a man who has served as a missionary, a bishop and a
stake president and presided over several congregations in Boston. In the second presidential debate, GOP contender Mitt Romney said that he wanted to be known not only as a businessman, but also as a pastor. “My passion flows from the fact that I believe in God.”
Although there have been reams of words written about Romney as a businessman and a politician, it is amazing that about 50 percent of Americans in a 2011 poll said they knew little or nothing about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, popularly called the Mormon church. That same year, another poll found that 38 percent of Americans don’t see Mormons as Christians and 42 percent would feel at least some discomfort with a Mormon president. And there is a widespread belief that Mormonism is a cult. I am not justifying this lack of clarity on Mormons, but it’s clear that many people are uninformed.
I find it strange that the media are not opening up a dialogue concerning Romney and his faith with the same dedication as they scrutinized John F. Kennedy on whether his first loyalty would be to the pope or the presidency, or Jimmy Carter, who as a Southern Baptist, was grilled about what it meant to be born again. Indeed, President Obama was asked repeatedly how his Christian beliefs related to liberation theology. Some Americans believe he is a Muslim.
Kevin Lewis, a professor of theology at Biola University, a private Christian school in Southern California, who believe the connection between faith and politics is so critical that the public is being disserved when questions about the faith of candidates go unasked. In Romney’s case, Mormonism is at the core of a man who could occupy the highest office.
“For example, if a Muslim were running for president, it would be appropriate to ask about sharia law,” he said. “Catholic judges have been asked if their religion would prevent them from imposing the death penalty. If God or a religious belief is the final or highest authority in someone’s life, we certainly need to know how that governs his decisions.”
I agree. I believe it is necessary, imperative even, to ask our politicians how their faith, if at all, will affect their decisions in office. It was fair to ask those questions in 1960, 1976 and 2008, and it is appropriate to do so now.
There are only 14 million Mormons worldwide, but according to Stephen Mansfield, author of “The Mormonizing of America,” the faith is one of the fastest growing religions in the nation. Included among well-known Mormons are more than a dozen congressional leaders, such as Senate Majority leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.); top executives of Jet Blue, American Express, Sears and Marriott; TV commentator Glenn Beck, management guru Stephen Covey and singer Gladys Knight.
Yet for many people, Romney has become the face of Mormonism. For his part, he, like Kennedy, has emphasized that if he were elected, he would represent the nation, not his church. Nevertheless, for better understanding, here are some questions that Romney should be asked about his religion and its possible impact on the nation.
●Question: Before 1978, the church regarded dark skin as a sign of a spiritual curse that denied black men the right to be ordained as priests. The curse was lifted in 1978, and black men were ordained for the priesthood. Would you support efforts to lift the ban against women being ordained to the priesthood? Also, the church has aggressively fought against passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. Would you support measures such as the ERA and other public policy for gender equality?
●Question: Mormons, such as noted UCLA professor-biographer Fawn Brodie as well as Sonia Johnson who campaigned for ERA, have been chastised and excommunicated for writing unfavorable articles about the faith. Do you believe journalists have the First Amendment right to probe religious and governmental institutions without unfair pressure being applied?
●Question: Mansfield, in his book on Mormonism, makes the point that Mormons were founded on the principle that it is “the only living and true church and that non-Mormon clergy have been depicted as serving the devil”. Do you agree with those beliefs and in your administration, would you embrace a diversity of faiths and religions as equals?
●Question: Prophet Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormons called for the establishment of a “theo-democracy.” You seemed to continue the analogy when you apparently referred to the Declaration of Independence as a theological document establishing a covenant between God and man. Do you see the American presidency as a theological office?
●Question: Mormons reportedly believe that after the resurrection of Jesus, He appeared in Jackson County, Mo., where He will one day return and rule from a temple there and in Jerusalem. If this is correct, how does it affect your policy toward Israel?
I suggest these questions as a ordained minister who is genuinely curious about the nexus of faith and politics. I welcome answers and comments in the spirit of open dialogue and understanding.
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