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Time Magazine: “Can a Mormon be President?”

November 27, 2006

Article: Can a Mormon be President?, by Mike Allen (Time Magazine) – “Why Mitt Romney will have to explain a faith that remains mysterious to many”

A mormon church official and a public relations executive shuttled recently from the Fox News Washington bureau to the Washington Post to the online political digest the Hotline.

I’m guessing that it was an executive from Edelman.

But church officials are wary of the impact Romney’s candidacy could have on them–and on the portrayal of their faith. Yes, his campaign will bring attention and credibility to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), as the Mormons are formally known, and give them a chance to demystify their theology and customs.

More realistically it’s a chance to obfuscate, not demystify, their theology. Anyone familiar with Mormonism knows that they do not take such public opportunities to herald their most important distinctives. Mormons are glad to provide stock corrections to notions about any sort of current practice of polygamy. Issues like that are safe. But what about things like the nature of God?

If I were them, I’d be concerned too, as this buzz over Romney will potentially expose some of Mormonism’s most radical beliefs to the American public. The Mormon Church has long taken advantage of general ignorance toward Mormon doctrine. This is the kind of climate needed for mainstreaming. With exposure (and succession of Hinckley by Monson) perhaps a day of retrenching is coming (that is, a retreat back to distinctive Mormon doctrine).

But church officials also calculate that Romney’s bid to succeed George W. Bush could remind some mainstream Christians just how different Mormonism is from their faith and perhaps expose their flock to more of the sort of discrimination that drove their founders west by handcart and covered wagon into the Great Salt Lake Valley.

One friend of mine wrote: “Yeah, that’s why Romney is being elusive. Once those bigoted Christians learn that Mormons really do believe men can become Gods they’re all going to go out a burn a Mormon’s home. What kind of reporting is this?”

…some Evangelicals hold the view that Mormonism is not a Christian faith. Because Mormons acknowledge works of Scripture that are not in the Bible, believe that their prophets have received revelations directly from God and teach that God has a physical body, Evangelicals consider them heretics.

Some? How about almost every evangelical? When any bona fide evangelical Christian learns actual Mormon doctrine, he or she is quick to recognize it as non-Christian. That God has a body is just the beginning. Mormonism teaches that God is of the human species and nature. We’re certainly not upset about the idea of theophanies or the incarnation.

Will that dodge work for other theological questions? Calling himself “a religious person,” Romney in June used the Charlie Rose Show on PBS to test-drive an answer that keeps him from getting into the nitty-gritty of his religious heritage. “I believe that Jesus Christ is my savior,” he said. “But then as you get into the details of doctrines, I’d probably say, ‘Look, time out. Let’s focus on the values that we share.'”

Unfortunately, it probably will work with the American public. But hopefully I can make it a little harder for Romney to keep dodging.

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