About Corazon

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Mormon Political "Controversy." Before Romney there was Reed Smoot

As most are already aware, Mitt Romney's Mormon faith has been a popular topic for quite some time. The question of how Romney's religious beliefs would effect him as president was a source of debate and controversy throughout his 2008 presidential campaign, and is likely to be a major issue in 2012. For many citizens, the Romney campaign has been their first experience to learn about the Mormon faith. And as is common with all misunderstood religions, Mormonism (and Romney in particular) has been the recipient of ignorant and biased criticism. In fact, a 2007 Gallup poll showed that Americans of both parties are less likely to vote for a Mormon than a candidate of any other faith (and in some instances, are more likely to vote for an atheist). In addition, this 2011 Gallup poll shows that there isn't too much change since 2007. At least 22% of Americans are "fundamentally opposed" to voting for a Mormon candidate, regardless of his/her qualifications.

As a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I have grown accustomed to many of the typical stereotypes associated with Mormons. As a missionary in Chile I regularly met people whose preconceived notions about Mormons were so entrenched in mythology that it became impossible for many of them to recognize the forest from the trees. Throughout my life I have met people who have all kinds of varying opinions on the Mormon church. I guess, like any other faith, there will always be those who approve and disapprove.

Now, I say all this not out of a hope that people will accept or embrace Mormonism. I fully understand that there are people out there who will never approve of the Mormon faith. Nor do I want to come across as a Romney supporter. To be perfectly honest, I have not decided who I will vote for in 2012 (and I did not support Romney in 2008). It's just too early in the game to make that call.

But I do want to address some common myths.

The issue of Romney's faith is not the first time that the Mormon religion has been center stage in the play of American politics. In fact, the Mormon "controversy" was a major issue at the beginning of the last century. In 1904, Utah Senator Reed Smoot (also a devout Mormon) was called to fill a vacancy in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Mormon Church. As a result, the U.S. Senate began an investigation into the faith of Utah Senator Reed Smoot, in an effort to determine if his faith was supporting treasonous acts against the United States. The goal was to determine if Smoot's faith would compromise his loyalty to the United States. Several prominent Mormon leaders were subpoenaed by the Senate to testify at a hearing known as the Smoot Hearings. Among those who testified were President Joseph F. Smith, James E. Talmadge, and Francis Lyman. In the end, Senator Smoot was allowed to retain his position as a U.S. Senator, but not after weeks of intense scrutiny and criticism from an obviously biased investigatory committee.

The Smoot/Romney Mormon "controversies" do prove one very important point: that hasty and ignorant stereotypes towards any race, religion, creed, etc. create nothing more than a culture of fear. Again, I am not suggesting that everyone needs to vote for Romney or support the Mormon faith but I do believe people need to take a serious look at how stereotypes can influence their thinking. It's one thing for Americans of the early 1900s to allow their fear, prejudice and downright ignorance of Mormonism to lead them to attack Senator Smoot; it's quite another thing for us in the 21st century to maintain many of these same ridiculous stereotypes. Not voting for Romney because of his politics is fair and good, but to not vote for Romney because of his faith is prejudicial.

Not to mention sort of anti-Constitutional.

As Article VI, Section III of the U.S. Constitution states:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
Of course you have every right to vote your conscience, and one's personal reasons for voting hardly constitute a breach of the Constitution. But, if you are one who claims to revere the Constitution, how can you possibly justify not voting for a candidate exclusively on their faith?

You can't.

If you are interested in reading what the New York Times had to say about the Smoot Hearings back in 1904 click here.

1 comment:

Brian Tubbs said...

Very interesting article, Brad.

My problem with Romney has to do with his apparent and somewhat frequent flip-flopping. We'll see if he's learned some lessons in that area since 2008.