Attacking Mitt Romney’s Mormonism would be political idiocy

No religion has a monopoly on ideas that seem odd to outsiders, as this Horsey cartoon from 2011 shows.
(David Horsey / Los Angeles Times)

Jokes about polygamy and funny long underwear aside, Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith has not been, and will not become, a factor in the presidential campaign of 2012.
I have a friend who wishes that were not so. She thinks it’s creepy that Mormons comb genealogical records to find people to retroactively baptize into the church -- people who were not Mormons when they were alive and probably would not want to be Mormons if they still were. Knowing that the one constant in Romney’s otherwise malleable set of beliefs is his religion, my friend cannot understand why the Obama campaign has not raised the oddities of Mormonism as an issue.

It is not going to happen. The Obama campaign gurus are wise enough to know there is nothing to gain by opening up the can of very fat worms that is religion.

I thought about this last week as I was driving down Kamehameha Highway on Oahu after sunset. As I approached the small town of Laie, I noticed a bright glow in the darkness off to the right. When I got close enough, I could see where the light was coming from: the illuminated Mormon temple. It was like finding the Lincoln Memorial in the middle of a jungle; that is how out of context it seemed.

Yet, in Laie, the temple is the center of the community. Nearby is the Hawaii campus of Brigham Young University and the sprawling Polynesian Cultural Center – a Disney-quality re-creation of traditional life in the Pacific Islands run by the Mormon church.


In Laie, it is not easy to locate a shot of booze or even espresso; Mormons frown on stimulants like alcohol and caffeine. But just down the road is a Catholic church where sips of alcohol are served for free in the most holy rite of the faith. In one religion wine is frowned upon, in another it is a sacrament.

Of course, there are folks who think the whole concept of bread and wine magically being transformed into the literal body and blood of Christ is an archaic superstition. There was a time, not so long ago, that someone who subscribed to such an idea had a tough time running for high federal office. Now we’ve had a Catholic president and a majority of the Supreme Court belongs to the pope’s flock. Somehow, the republic has survived.

Follow the road from Laie to Waimea Bay and, on a hillside overlooking the Pacific, you will find an ancient Hawaiian heiau, a temple where human sacrifices were performed. These days, we tend to romanticize native religions, but when this particular cult was broken up in 1819, the Hawaiians who toppled the old superstitions were happy to be rid of an oppressive system. When the Protestant, Catholic and Mormon missionaries showed up soon thereafter, other problems arose, but at least no one was pushing human sacrifice.

The point is, what is sacred to one person is silly – or even deadly -- to another. In this country, we are proud of allowing our citizens to believe any sacred silliness they choose. And Mormons have no monopoly on unusual beliefs.

Those who are concerned about Romney’s Mormonism generally fall into two camps: those on the secular left, like my friend, who are a bit suspicious of any religion, except maybe Unitarianism; or those on the religious right who consider Mormonism to be a perversion of true Christianity. Those on the left are already in President Obama’s camp, so there would be no advantage in placating them with attacks on Romney’s faith. Those on the right? Well, they will hold their nose and vote for the Republican candidate because, for them, having a Mormon in the White House is not nearly as bad as giving that Muslim guy four more years to ruin the country.