With the long-inevitable demise of Rick Santorum now behind us, it is clear that Mitt Romney will become the Republican candidate for president of the United States. Thus, for the first time in U.S. history, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) will appear on the presidential ticket of a major political party.
This realization has been approached with a general sense of disinterest by the pundits and press. Politicians, as well, have been reluctant to broach the subject: Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, recently stated that Mitt Romney’s Mormonism was “off limits” for Democrats this campaign season. Mitt Romney himself only reluctantly speaks of his faith and, when questioned, typically explains that he is not a spokesman for his church.
It is curious that politicians would shy away from commenting on Mormonism when the Mormon Church has already shown itself to be intensely political. While the Church claims neutrality in politics, California’s Proposition 8, which outlawed same-sex marriage in the state, was passed with the help of 8.4 million dollars in LDS donations and the personal backing of LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson.
More noteworthy, however, is the absurd double-standard that exists regarding faith in the American political discourse. While Mitt Romney seems to get a free pass, President Obama has had to refute countless criticisms and attacks regarding his religion. On top of erroneously being called a Muslim and atheist by pundits and politicians, Barack Obama was held accountable for inflammatory statements made by his longtime pastor Jeremiah Wright. In a speech following this accusation, Barack Obama condemned the remarks outright. In May 2008, he ended his membership with the church, explaining that he was outraged by the minister.
As long as President Obama is open to scrutiny on this subject, so is this year’s Republican contender. Mitt Romney, too, must face difficult questions regarding his own faith. For instance, the Mormon Church did not allow African Americans to become ordained in its priesthood until 1978. At that point in time, Mitt Romney was over 30 years old; he had been a freethinking adult for well over a decade. He volunteered his time, and tithed 10 percent of his income, to promote his church’s teachings abroad and in the United States, while the LDS church actively discriminated against African Americans. Why did he remain a member of a discriminatory institution well into his adulthood? What actions did he personally take to try to change church policy? Both would be reasonable inquiries.
I suppose in an ideal world American politicians would be able to rise above these discussions to tackle the big issues our nation faces. But as long as there is Karl Rove–style campaigning from the right Democrats should not feel obligated to take the moral high ground.
Michael Daus is a third-year in the College majoring in political science.