Mormons who fear Mitt

Young people are leaving the church -- and some think a Romney presidency will only make things worse

Topics: Mormon Church, Mitt Romney,

Mormons who fear MittMitt Romney (Credit: AP/Jim Cole)

“I would not vote for him just because he is Mormon. I want to know what he is going to do for the people.  I want to see the compassion.”

Gladys Knight is not voting for Mitt Romney. In a recent interview with BET the famed singer, herself a Mormon, said she wants to see the GOP front-runner “talk about something else besides the money.” Knight’s ambivalence about Romney is shared by at least a handful of her fellow Latter-day Saints.

You see, last time a Republican was president, he became just about the least popular person in the world. So some Mormons are a little bit nervous that having one of their own in the White House could interfere with the church’s true mission of spreading the gospel — something with which it has already been having recent troubles.

“Mitt Romney is having a terrible impact on how we are perceived,” explained Brigham Young University law student Marshall Thompson, a former intern to Orrin Hatch, an Iraq vet and a faithful Mormon — the type of person, in other words, you’d expect to be part of Romney’s base.  “I’m told he’s a very nice person in real life,” Thompson continues, “but he comes across as out-of-touch, materialistic and disingenuous.”

Thompson is cluing into what pundits have identified as Romney’s greatest vulnerability – the so-called likability gap that separates him from Barack Obama. Romney’s candidacy comes at a time when Mormonism itself is facing a similar crisis of likability.

Mormon leader Marlin Jensen has recently acknowledged that Latter-day Saints are leaving the fold in droves. The former church historian spoke frankly to a group of students at Utah State University, saying, “We’ve never had a period of — I’ll call it apostasy — like we’re having now.”

Church leaders never anticipated the Internet generation would access their history online. Joseph Smith used magic stones to see into the past. Today, young Mormons use Google. When they discover that their founding prophet wedded several teenage girls, it is often a traumatic revelation. Mormons experience a crisis of trust, if not outright betrayal, from their leaders.

Though the actual numbers of defections have not been published, anecdotal stories abound throughout Utah. It’s not just Joseph’s sex life that causes many Mormons to mistrust their leaders, but also the church’s persistent commitment to right-wing politics.



“I cannot count the number of stories I’ve heard from moms who left the church because of Prop. 8,” explained Utah writer and social critic Holly Welker. “The reason? They have a gay son or daughter.”

Indeed, since the backlash after Prop. 8, the church has been cautious when it comes to hot-button social issues. It has proclaimed itself on the sidelines of Maryland’s gay-marriage referendum and allowed a gay student club to form at Brigham Young University. Romney, however, could re-entangle the church with social issues: He’s signed the National Organization for Marriage’s pledge and backed a federal marriage amendment. Now, with commentators suggesting that Romney “own” his Mormonism as part of his campaign, some Mormons are hoping that he doesn’t.

“The national backlash against Prop. 8 deeply shook the church,” says D. Michael Quinn, a historian of Mormonism. “That, coupled with the attention garnered by Romney’s candidacy, has caused them to back away from controversial issues for prudential reasons. They don’t want to be stung again. Whether they’ve backed away permanently is anyone’s guess.”

The church has stated that general authorities are forbidden to participate in political partisan campaigns. At this point, however, it may be too late to genuinely disentangle Mormonism from right-wing politics. Complicating yet again LDS authenticity on political neutrality is the recent discovery that church authority W. Craig Zwick was campaigning for Romney last summer in Vegas. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Zwick used church email to fund-raise for Romney. He wrote to a friend, “How much can you contribute to the Romney for President Committee today? You can only give $2,500 max for you and your wife. Let me know — let’s take back America!” His son Spencer is Romney’s finance chairman.

The church’s troubles aren’t just in the United States. There are signs that it is contracting in Europe. Meanwhile, it’s expanding most rapidly in the developing world — where American presidents, especially Republicans, can prove exceptionally unpopular.

Mormonism’s political monoculture may well be shrinking the gene pool of potential converts who will remain comfortable in LDS pews. To be relevant — that is, likable — in the 21st century, Mormons will need to find a way to appeal to a broader segment of American society: women, gays and even Democrats.

Mitt Romney could make that effort more difficult.

Troy Williams is the executive producer and co-host of RadioActive on KRCL-FM in Salt Lake City. He was recently featured in the Errol Morris film Tabloid. He blogs at www.troydwilliams.com and tweets at @troywilliamsSLC.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 7
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    AP/Jae C. Hong

    Your summer in extreme weather

    California drought

    Since May, California has faced a historic drought, resulting in the loss of 63 trillion gallons of water. 95.4 percent of the state is now experiencing "severe" drought conditions, which is only a marginal improvement from 97.5 percent last week.

    A recent study published in the journal Science found that the Earth has actually risen about 0.16 inches in the past 18 months because of the extreme loss of groundwater. The drought is particularly devastating for California's enormous agriculture industry and will cost the state $2.2 billion this year, cutting over 17,000 jobs in the process.

       

    Meteorologists blame the drought on a large zone (almost 4 miles high and 2,000 miles long) of high pressure in the atmosphere off the West Coast which blocks Pacific winter storms from reaching land. High pressure zones come and go, but this one has been stationary since December 2012.

    Darin Epperly

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Great Plains tornadoes

    From June 16-18 this year, the Midwest was slammed by a series of four tornadoes, all ranking as category EF4--meaning the winds reached up to 200 miles per hour. An unlucky town called Pilger in Nebraska was hit especially hard, suffering through twin tornadoes, an extreme event that may only occur every few decades. The two that swept through the town killed two people, injured 16 and demolished as many as 50 homes.   

    "It was terribly wide," local resident Marianne Pesotta said to CNN affiliate KETV-TV. "I drove east [to escape]. I could see how bad it was. I had to get out of there."   

    But atmospheric scientist Jeff Weber cautions against connecting these events with climate change. "This is not a climate signal," he said in an interview with NBC News. "This is a meteorological signal."

    AP/Detroit News, David Coates

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Michigan flooding

    On Aug. 11, Detroit's wettest day in 89 years -- with rainfall at 4.57 inches -- resulted in the flooding of at least five major freeways, leading to three deaths, more than 1,000 cars being abandoned on the road and thousands of ruined basements. Gov. Rick Snyder declared it a disaster. It took officials two full days to clear the roads. Weeks later, FEMA is finally set to begin assessing damage.   

    Heavy rainfall events are becoming more and more common, and some scientists have attributed the trend to climate change, since the atmosphere can hold more moisture at higher temperatures. Mashable's Andrew Freedman wrote on the increasing incidence of this type of weather: "This means that storms, from localized thunderstorms to massive hurricanes, have more energy to work with, and are able to wring out greater amounts of rain or snow in heavy bursts. In general, more precipitation is now coming in shorter, heavier bursts compared to a few decades ago, and this is putting strain on urban infrastructure such as sewer systems that are unable to handle such sudden influxes of water."

    AP/The Fresno Bee, Eric Paul Zamora

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Yosemite wildfires

    An extreme wildfire burning near Yosemite National Park forced authorities to evacuate 13,000 nearby residents, while the Madera County sheriff declared a local emergency. The summer has been marked by several wildfires due to California's extreme drought, which causes vegetation to become perfect kindling.   

    Surprisingly, however, firefighters have done an admirable job containing the blazes. According to the L.A. Times, firefighters with the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection have fought over 4,000 fires so far in 2014 -- an increase of over 500 fires from the same time in 2013.

    Reuters/Eugene Tanner

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Hawaii hurricanes

    Hurricane Iselle was set to be the first hurricane to make landfall in Hawaii in 22 years. It was downgraded to a tropical storm and didn't end up being nearly as disastrous as it could have been, but it still managed to essentially shut down the entire state for a day, as businesses and residents hunkered down in preparation, with many boarding up their windows to guard against strong gusts. The storm resulted in downed trees, 21,000 people out of power and a number of damaged homes.

    Debbie Arita, a local from the Big Island described her experience: "We could hear the wind howling through the doors. The light poles in the parking lot were bobbing up and down with all the wind and rain."

    Reuters/NASA

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Florida red tide

    A major red tide bloom can reach more than 100 miles along the coast and around 30 miles offshore. Although you can't really see it in the above photo, the effects are devastating for wildlife. This summer, Florida was hit by an enormous, lingering red tide, also known as a harmful algae bloom (HAB), which occurs when algae grow out of control. HABs are toxic to fish, crabs, octopuses and other sea creatures, and this one resulted in the death of thousands of fish. When the HAB gets close enough to shore, it can also have an effect on air quality, making it harder for people to breathe.   

    The HAB is currently closest to land near Pinellas County in the Gulf of Mexico, where it is 5-10 miles offshore.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>