Mitt Romney’s increasingly credible Presidential campaign raises urgent but uncomfortable questions about his Mormon faith.Does the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints constitute a benevolent, mainstream religion or a dangerous cult with a deranged and bloody past?
Polls suggest that as many as one-third of voters rule out supporting a Mormon candidate due to negative impressions of his religious faith and one Florida televangelist (Bill Keller) has already declared to his audience of more than two million that “A vote for Romney is a vote for Satan!” In more temperate terms, one of my prominent talk radio colleagues, Mike Gallagher, also announced that he could not in conscience vote to elect a Mormon president.
Meanwhile, an upcoming Hollywood film with a few veteran stars (Jon Voight, Terrence Stamp, Lolita Davidovich) focuses on one of the darkest episodes of early Mormon history: the so-called “Mountain Meadows Massacre” on September 11, 1857. The movie “September Dawn” pointedly ignores all exculpatory evidence and holds Mormon prophet Brigham Young directly responsible for the murder of 120 innocent members of an Arkansas wagon train. The film (scheduled for national release on June 22) portrays the entire Mormon Church as a demented, cruel, utterly corrupt conspiracy while quoting Young wildly out of context to make the Utah pioneer come across like a nightmarish combination of Jim Jones and Osama bin Laden.
Some of Governor Romney’s political allies insist that attacks on Mormonism bear no relevance to his Presidential candidacy: my friend and colleague Hugh Hewitt, for instance, argues in his fascinating book “A Mormon in the White House?” that it’s illegitimate to evaluate any candidate based on the theological particulars of his (or her) faith.This worthwhile principle does not suggest, however, that all religious traditions deserve equal respect.
Recent news items, for example, focused on a sect in Kenya known as the “Mungiki…a shadowy religious group with ties to the Mau Mau independence uprising against the British…. The group comprises snuff-taking, dreadlocked youths who champion old traditions like female genital cutting and oath-taking.” Kenyan officials blamed the Mungiki “for the recent beheadings of four people, whose bodies were chopped up and strewn in bushes in central Kenya.”