“For many Latter-day Saints, it was a surprise that a Mormon candidate was able to make it as far as Mitt,” said Stuart Reid, a Mormon and a Republican state senator from Ogden, Utah. “He’s done more than any single person in recent church history to share with the general public what a Mormon is, putting up a very positive image about Mormons and creating interest in our faith that was unprecedented.”
Despite the defeat for Romney, Mormonism came out a winner, said Philip Barlow, chair of Mormon history and culture at Utah State University.
“It developed a thicker skin in the eyes of the world,” Barlow said, “and the world could see that a Mormon who runs for office isn’t, by definition, a nut case.”
Overall, most observers say, the Romney candidacy was a net positive for his Utah-based faith.
“Mormonism has moved into a new place in American culture,” said Richard Lyman Bushman, a prominent Mormon historian.
“There’s been a lot of tough talk about Mormonism here and there in corners of the press,” he said. “But that has given Mormons the chance to talk back and and explain themselves. Overall, in terms of just making the population aware of Mormonism and knowing a little bit about their lives, it has been positive.”
Bushman and other Mormons said that even though Romney did not talk often about his church, his candidacy offered other Mormons the opportunity to share their faith with friends, co-workers and the media.
“For us, this has really been an opportunity to really depict who we are,” LDS spokesman Michael Otterson told The Washington Post. “The opportunity to set aside some of the long-standing misunderstandings — more misunderstandings and lack of education than prejudice.”
The LDS church’s governing First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles issued a statement late Tuesday (Nov. 6) congratulating President Obama and commending Romney for “engaging at the highest level of our democratic process which, by its nature, demands so much of those who offer themselves for public service.”
“This is now a time for Americans to come together,” the statement from Mormon leaders said. “It is a long tradition among Latter-day Saints to pray for our national leaders in our personal prayers and in our congregations. We invite Americans everywhere, whatever their political persuasion, to pray for the president, for his administration and the new Congress as they lead us through difficult and turbulent times.”
Romney’s bid focused attention on Mormonism, which helped bring the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints into the mainstream of American religion, says Jan Shipps, a Methodist and a leading expert on LDS history.
But being better known “may not be entirely positive, just different,” she said. “Once a church loses its minority status, it may not be as protected as it once was.”