I’ve rolled this thought around for several years and have been reluctant to discuss it for fear I would come across as being bigoted. But, couple of days ago I came across an article at The Daily Beast that gave credibility to my concerns so I decided to break my silence.
Most people know that John F. Kennedy was the first Roman Catholic elected to the presidency of the United States. Catholics had never fared well in presidential competition for many reasons but chief among them was the fear that a Catholic president couldn’t act independently of the Vatican (the Pope). If a conflict developed between the dictates of the church and the needs of the nation, a Catholic leader would bow to the church.
Kennedy broke through this bias in 1960 and became our first, and only, Catholic president and during his time in office dispelled the concerns of most Americans. What many people didn’t, or still don’t, realize is that Catholics come in all flavors. While they share many things in common and they all recognize the leadership of the Pope there exist vast differences in how they individually employ or adhere to the religious canons of the church.
A person can be a Catholic in mostly name only, an occasional Catholic, a frequent Catholic, a Catholic with liberal social and political viewpoints, a Catholic with rock hard devotion to the letter of Catholic teachings and the dictates of the Pope, or any degree in between. You can be any of this and not have too much concern about being asked to told to surrender your Saint Christopher medal and leave the faith. Catholics do get excommunicated but it is comparatively rare.
The Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), however, is quite different. Like the Catholic church the Mormons are a unified, structured, centrally controlled organization. They have an omnipowerful president who is considered a prophet through whom God reveals direction. The president is supported by a hierarchy of disciples, area presidents, stake presidents, bishops, and ward leaders whose tentacles reach to the furthest edges of the faith. Followers of the LDS are expected to closely toe the company line and veering too far can put one at great risk of being excommunicated.
It is this reality that bothers me about a Romney presidency. Romney’s Mormon roots are long and deep and he has served in the higher levels of church leadership. He is devoutly Mormon and one has to ask which would come first, the church or the country? If faced with the choice would the needs and demands of his faith, which represents only a small minority of Americans, be met, or the needs of all Americans of whatever faith? Would Romney risk excommunication if put into such a place?
I know many have expressed concerns about the Mormon religion and whether it is a true Christian religion or a cult. Personally I’m not concerned with those questions. There is no Constitutionally required religious test for becoming president of the US and there is a valid reason for such. But America is a vast and diverse nation and whoever sits in the White House must be able and willing to serve the needs of all that diversity. It demands a person of great ideological and religious tolerance and flexibility.
The article I originally cited is about a fifth-generation Florida Mormon who wrote, using a pseudo name, a series of blog posts criticizing Romney. Before long church elders were able to discover his true name and call him in for questioning. The article reports there are those in the LDS hierarchy who are calling for the author’s excommunication from the religion on grounds of apostasy (abandoning one’s religion).
This was not the first time the LDS has used the threat of excommunication to force compliance to the church’s point of view and it concerns me. Not because of the church’s tenets, that’s their business. If they want to run a tight ship and believe God lives on a planet named Kolob, good on em’. But, when their demand for uniformity of thought is tossed into the public arena it no longer is just a matter of a religion’s internal dogma. It becomes the concern of the public and a matter that demands scrutiny because it can have serious consequences on our nation’s adherence to popular democracy and freedom from religious domination.
Please don’t think I’m singling out the LDS, I feel the same about any religion that holds extreme views and demands ultimate loyalty from its followers. People unnecessarily worried about Jimmy Carter in the 1970s because of his associations with the Southern Baptist, with whom he parted company later in life. All our presidents have been men of professed faith and for the most part have been able to set aside their religion’s tenets for the public good. It is maintaining that tradition that I’m after.
It’s not just Romney’s Mormonism that concerns me. I am also concerned about the fundamentalist Catholic views of his running mate, Paul Ryan. Ryan’s Catholicism is not the same as Kennedy’s, he is much more in step with Papal edict and unyielding in his beliefs. He recently assured a gathered crowd of Republican voters that on day one of a Romney presidency, Obama’s birth control mandate would be history. That’s a position based on his staunch Catholic ideology and not in step with what most Americans would agree with. The same is true regarding his unwavering opposition to abortion in all its forms. Vice President Joe Biden is Catholic, but unlike Ryan, his ideological views are far less rigid. Biden, like Kennedy, would never permit his faith to deny people their right to social equality.
So, while there is no religious test for the White House, religion does come with consequences and must be given consideration. For all the reasons you may be for or against a Romney/Ryan ticket, these consequences need some attention paid to them.