07 December 2007

Romney and Mormonism

An unnoticed effect of Mitt Romney's campaign for the Republican nomination may be to exacerbate internal theological divisions within the Christian Right. Only the tip shows on NRO's The Corner here and here, but I suspect the iceberg is quite real.

Most Americans know little about Mormonism and have never given much thought to the question of whether it should be classi-fied as a sect of Christianity or as a separate religion. Romney's presence as a major contender in the race, however, is drawing attention to the issue. In fact, Mormon doctrines include concepts which are radically incompatible with most Christians' idea of Christianity, such as the claim that God was once human and that humans can become gods, or that the American Indians are the descendants of the ancient Hebrews. To atheists, the differences between one set of zany ideas about the supernatural and another can seem trivial, but to fundamentalists, these things matter.

There is already division within the Christian Right between those who cannot stomach Romney because they consider his religion an un-Christian cult and those who are willing to ignore doctrinal differences because they think he's their best chance at getting another anti-freedom theocrat into the White House and fending off the specter of Hillary. It's hardly surprising that Mormons -- traditionally one of the most solidly conservative-voting blocs in the United States -- are taking offense at the former position. Yet as more and more Americans, including many fundamentalists, start learning about Mormonism, that camp is sure to grow.

To say that Mormon disgruntlement at anti-Mormon Republicans is "putting Utah up for grabs in the presidential election" is surely hyperbole -- Utah usually gives over 70% of its Presidential vote to the Republican candidate, a formidable margin to overcome. But it might make a difference to Congressional races in nearby states where Mormons are a large minority but not a majority. The divide among Christian fundamentalists over Romney's candidacy could be more significant, keeping fundamentalist support split between Romney and Huckabee rather than united. If this leaves the Christian Right divided into two camps which are embittered at each other over the issue -- or, better yet, if the Republican party ends up with a nominee whom a large chunk of its base is committed to denouncing as a heretic -- so much the better.

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