Much has been made about Mitt Romney and his faith over the last six months. Undoubtedly, this scrutiny will become more and more pressing as the campaign rolls on, especially if Romney should happen to win the GOP nomination for President. A majority of things written focus on the impact his religion will have on his campaign, there has also been some writings on what impact his campaign will have on the Church. It is this latter topic that I would like to address.
The LDS Church (of which I am an active member) is in a very unique position in its history. Sure, there have been high profile members, members in position of power, and members as heads of companies. Steve Young, Harry Reid, Orrin Hatch, J.W. Marriott, and even Brandon Flowers (lead singer of the band, The Killers) have all been high profile LDS individuals, among others. Many high profile Mormons introduce the Church to new groups of people and, as a result, provides opportunity for Church growth and also opens them up to more scrutiny. However, none of these high profile individuals have or will ever put the church in a larger spotlight than will Mitt Romney should he continue as a Presidential front runner.
Just 6 months into the campaign, with 7 to go until the first vote is cast and 16 until the last, Mormonism is covered more in the MSM and on the Internet more than ever before. This is and will be both a blessing and a curse for the Church. I even think that lay church members will have bitter sweet feelings over whether they want this attention or not. On the one hand, having a Mormon be legitimatly considered for President of the United States makes us feel more accepted and like we have made it. (What “it” is however, is a mystery). LDS culture, whether most admit or not, has an insatiable desire for acceptance and recognition. I don’t think there is anything wrong with this or that it is abnormal, everyone has some sort of desire for these same things. This desire is why I, as a Utah Utes fan cheers for our bitter and hated rival BYU when they are playing Notre Dame or Boston College or TCU, I can say “yeah, we Mormons beat you Catholics or Evangelicals” or whatever. I know this is childish, but it is what many of us do. So I think many are somewhat looking forward to the attention the Church gets as a result of the campaign, even the negative things.
On the other hand, every organization, especially religious ones who claim some sort of divinity and hold high moral standards, are going to have skeletons in their history. Mormons are no exception. Things like the Mountain Meadow Massacre or the controversy about Blacks not receiving the Priesthood until 1978 can and will reflect poorly on the Church, regardless of the reasoning or explanation behind them. Not only these type of things, but the Church also has many doctrines that are foreign to mainstream Christianity and that are deemed heretical. Average Mormons will be questioned and challenged about these doctrines, it will be greatly uncomfortable and challenging (This is why I created the Mormon Q&A page here, to attempt to answer such questions). These things will be flaunted across the Internet and on TV, it will be interesting to see how the Church addresses it, if they do at all.
Because of these challenges I think many members will sort of wish that this attention never came at all. Some people may even lose their faith as a result. Despite this, I welcome the attention for the Church and I think the senior leadership, while actively preparing for it I’m sure, also welcome it. Why? Because the Church has nothing to be afraid of or to apologize for. Our people are generally good, moral, law-abiding, neighborly people. Most people who know Mormons have a favorable view of them, despite reservations about our beliefs. Additionally, the Church claims to be Jesus Christ’s restored church on the earth. We believe in a foundation of apostles and prophets and that the Church is led by direct revelation from God and is given authority from him to act in his name. What do we have to fear? Sure, there are beliefs and doctrines that are hard to understand, but I have always held the belief that every Church has doctrines that most people, even most members, don’t fully understand; God uses 100% of his brain, I use about 6%. God would expect us to utilize faith and try to use our brains to figure out the mysteries. In fact if a Church doesn’t have such complexities and intricacies I personally doubt any claim they have on divinity. God should require things of his people.
Now I am not writing this to disparage any other religion or faith, but only to illustrate why I don’t think most LDS folks need to be concerned about the negative attention brought on our faith as a result of Romney’s candidacy. In fact there will likely be many many people intrigued and curious and may end up joing the LDS Church as a result. It seems that this one factor alone is one of the major motivating factors behind much of the criticism of the Church so far. Undoubtedly, there are some people who will not support Mitt purely because of his faith and that said faith may benefit from it, if inadvertently. The next year and a half will be ridiculously exciting and intriguing, yet for many Mormons, will also be challenging. But I always try to remember a quote from Joseph Smith in regards to the incredible challenges and persecutions the Church endured in Missouri and Illinois:
“The Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing. Persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say, ‘the work is done’.”