How to Choose a President

Dear Will:

Perhaps you’ve noticed that the Mormons have been in the press a lot lately. For instance, recently there was a four-hour Frontline special on PBS tracing the Church’s history from the early 1800s to the present days. But much more has been said about the Church (and will be) due to the candidacy of Mitt Romney for President of the United States. As every semi-conscious being in and around the United States must know by now, Romney is a Mormon. And it has caused much hand-wringing.

I continue to be surprised by the frequency with which politicos include Mormon theology in the discussion of Romney’s suitability for the office he seeks. What I find especially remarkable is that they do not, at the same time, at least make a gesture toward discussing the religious beliefs of any of the other candidates. In fact, I couldn’t tell you which church ANY of the other candidates belongs to, nor could I so much as confirm whether he or she so much as believes in God. I’ve now voted in six or seven presidential elections, and not once were the religious affiliations of the various candidates included in the public debate—even though (it should be noted) my voting life has coincided rather directly with the growing influence of the so-called “religious right.”

Most surprising of all is that so often you will hear that such-and-such a spokesperson for some ostensibly Christian political group will state emphatically that he/she would never vote for Romney simply because he is a Mormon. The implication, of course, is that such people would rather vote for a candidate who may or my not be a Christian and whose beliefs may or may not align with Christianity. Better to do that (they seem to be saying) than vote for a fellow Christian who happens to be a Latter-day Saint.

To be clear, I don’t begrudge anyone the right to use religion in deciding for whom to vote. But what I find hard to understand is the arbitrary application of such criteria. If you eliminate one candidate because of the teachings of his church, shouldn’t you be equally diligent in determining the accepted teachings of each candidate’s religion? To do otherwise is to be guilty of a kind of bigotry which I find inconsistent with the ideals which Jesus taught.

Please do not misunderstand. Personally, I have no idea if Mitt Romney would make a good President. I can assure you that I would never vote for him because he is a Mormon any more than I would vote against someone else because he isn’t. I would be much more interested in examining the personal integrity and motivations of each candidate. Let me know what he truly believes in, what he cares about, how he acts when the pressure is on and the right thing may be neither popular nor politically expedient. Then I will know whether his beliefs align with mine, regardless of where or if he goes to church on Sunday (or any other day, for that matter).

It was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who dreamed that one day his children would be judged not by their skin color but by the content of their character.  I sometimes find myself dreaming a similar dream on behalf of the Latter-day Saints (whom I know and love): Judge us on our character, not on some mistaken understanding of what we believe. Jesus said: “By their fruits ye shall know them” (see Matthew 7:15-20). That’s a standard up to which Mormons should rightly be held—and one worth discussing in reference to all candidates in any political debate.

PW

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