Mormonism and American Politics

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There are two Mormon candidates in contention for the 2012 GOP nomination. Richard N. Ostling, former religion writer for the Associated Press and Time Magazine and co-author of Mormon America: The Power and the Promise, discusses how Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman balance their religious and political identities on the Brian Lehrer Show today.

The Church of Latter Day Saints is becoming more and more a political force and a player in the 2012 presidential race, as two GOP candidates are Mormon. With Harry Reid on the left and Warren Hatch on the right, what are the church’s politics and values?

The Church prefers the use of the name the Church of Latter Day Saints, but Ostling said he isn’t sure why there would be resistance to being referred to as Mormon, especially given that their holy book is the Book of Mormon and their best known cultural institution is the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

I think it’s good practice if you’re writing an article, to use.. the full official name in the first reference and then afterwards, use Mormon nickname of LDS.. I think part of it is nervousness about the phrase “Mormon fundamentalists”, which is typically applied to Mormon polygamous sect groups, and of course the main body of the LDS abolished its polygamy practice way back in 1890 and has been trying to live it down, in a sense, ever since.

The church is growing, Ostling says there are currently about 6 million baptized Mormons in the US, but the majority of LDS members today are overseas. Even within the US the religion is expanding beyond the southwest.

It’s really becoming a national denomination.

The issue of Christianity and Mormonism is complex. Ostling says it’s very offensive to Mormons not to be thought of as Christian. 

If you’re a Mormon, do you view Protestants and Catholics as Christians? And I think the honest answer is not really, or precisely in the way we understand Christianity, and the reverse is also true. The Vatican and a number of more conservative and more liberal Protestant groups in this country have said not exactly that Mormons aren’t Christians, but that they do not adhere to and teach the Christian faith as we have understood it the past 200 years. They usually try to phrase it that way.

Ostling said it is true that there is variety in political views among Mormons, however it does lean heavily to the right.

The LDS membership, notably in Utah, is the most faithful to the Republican party than any other group, even more than people who identify as evangelicals.

Ostling said while the church does not get involved in partisan politics, they do take stands on political issues, such as their strong opposition to same-sex marriage.

The parallel would be Catholic or evangelical action on the abortion question.

Despite the separation of church and state, religion is always a huge part of candidates’ platform. Yet Ostling doesn’t think that Huntsman and Romney will suffer in the polls from their declared religion.

I think the religious issue with Perry or especially Bachmann is going to supplant or overshadow the Mormon issue.