Is Mormonism the new black?

23 Nov

Jesus is coming to Missouri.  It sound pretty unlikely, but for over 3 million Americans it’s a proposition that underpins the very fabric of their faith. Mormonism, or the Church of Latter Day Saints to give its formal name, the faith with which Republican Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney belongs, has been unwittingly  cast under the glare of the media spotlight of late as the race for the 2012 Presidential election heats up.

A prominent supporter of Rick Perry, one of the current frontrunners in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, recently labelled Mormonism a ‘cult’. Robert Jeffress, a soft spoken minister of the 1st Baptist church in Dallas, went on to proclaim that Mormons, whilst capable of great morality, were not Christians in his estimation. His comments have met with both criticism and approval from both sides of the political fence and have reopened the debate on how much scrutiny should be placed on a Presidents faith.

The role of faith in the White House has always been contentious. The United States constitution is strictly secular in its design with the separation of church and state a primary design of the founding fathers. Despite this, numerous men of the cloth have been close to the Oval office. The Reverend Billy Graham, a man derided by some as merely a cheap huckster, has provided council to 12 Presidents dating back to Harry Truman. All of these men belonged to more traditional Christian faiths. Kennedy was a Catholic, George W. Bush a Methodist and Jimmy Carter a Baptist.

No modern President has ever confessed to beliefs outside of the mainstream, let alone to no faith at all. But does the history and belief system of the Mormon faith hold any values that would inhibit voters from electing someone like Mitt Romney?

Mormonism has never been far short of controversy since its inception in the early 19th Century. Its founder Joseph Smith was a charlatan known for defrauding the more gullible citizens of upstate New York. The dogma, which Smith concocted, is pretty bizarre, even in comparison to most mainstream faiths. The primary tenets of the Book of Mormon, the core text of the faith, include a belief that Native Americans are a lost tribe of Israel; that Jesus visited North America; that the Garden of Eden is in Missouri, rather than in Iraq; and that God is a physical man that lives on another planet.

The Church has gained even greater notoriety as a ‘cult’ for its positions on marriage and race. Polygamy was not only tolerated but at times encouraged up until the dawn of the 20th Century. Black Americans were not allowed to preach the faith until 1978, when Church elders were struck with a sudden revelation, 10 years after the death of Martin Luther King.

Bigoted attitudes were not the sole preserve of the Mormons with many Southern Protestant ministers prominent in their invocation for segregation, even during the height of the civil rights movement. However the prolonged delay of Mormon elders to accept racial equality was a bone of contention that still sticks to this day.

Of course mainstream Christianity is hardly free from ridicule itself. The fables of talking snakes, magic hands, and messianic zombies aren’t exactly propositions that stand up to much scrutiny. But Mormonism not only accepts the hokum of the two testaments but adds to it with its own strange concoctions. The criticism of Mormons from other Christians shouldn’t be so much that the Mormons are crazy and weird in their convictions but rather they’re even more crazy and weird than them.

But maybe there is a saving grace for Mitt Romney in all of this. His faith, despite its absurdity, is uniquely American. It manages to marry the two things millions of Americans love most; God and country. Mormonism plays to American exceptionalism, putting the United States squarely at the centre of both this world and the next.


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