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Posts published in “Day: December 22, 2009”

The white horse and the cherry tree

There's often some degree of religious tribalism in politics - the identification of some voters with some candidates because of a shared religious view; to some extent, that's just a normal part of elective politics. There are limits, even in places where the identification is very strong, to how far it can be pushed. In the 1994 gubernatorial race in Idaho, Democrat Larry EchoHawk (Mormon by faith) was thought to be damaged somewhat when links between his campaign and support out of Salt Lake City. The damage was not least among fellow Mormons who disliked having their church so overtly identified with a partisan political campaign.

But that was nothing to what an Idaho gubernatorial candidate this year has in mind. At least according to a news report in the Rexburg Standard Journal - there being no apparent reference to it on the candidate's own web site. . .

The candidate is independent Rex Rammell, who has made highly overt mention of his LDS faith before, and next month plans to kick it into a new gear. According to the Standard-Journal: "In January, Rammell will kick off a series of special meetings targeted specifically at 'faithful priesthood-holders of the LDS Church' to discuss the so-called 'White Horse' prophecy."

Meaning the meetings - though apparently campaign events held by a man seeking to be elected governor of all Idahoans - will be open only to men active in the church, because "it's just the sacred nature of the things we will be talking about." Starting January 19, meetings are planned for Idaho Falls first, then Rexburg, Blackfoot, Pocatello, Twin Falls and Boise.

This is something new, at least in recent times: A political campaign explicitly aimed at one religious group.

But this isn't just marketing segmentation; it's much more than that. The newspaper report indicates that a good share of the talk will relate to the "white horse prophecy," and that should raise some wider concerns.

You may have heard reference to it before, in the context of a prediction that the constitution one day would "hang by a thread." Here's the generally neutral Beliefnet description:

The White Horse prophecy is the name for a largely oral tradition that says Joseph Smith predicted that a day will come when the Constitution will hang by a thread (or “be on the brink of ruin”) and the elders of Israel (or “the Latter-day Saints,” never an individual) will step forward to save it from destruction. Although no definitive version of the “white horse prophecy” has been traced to Smith, a number of sources recorded him as saying something to that effect. The denunciation of the prophecy as false and ridiculous by a few Mormon leaders is probably a reflection of the prophecy’s non-canonical status, and their wish to rule out melodramatic interpretations of what may have been a largely metaphorical prediction.

Put that in the context of Rammell's gubernatorial campaign, its projected audience, the influence of Glenn Beck and the superheated rhetoric aimed at the Obama Administration. This ought to be watched closely.

The churched and the unchurched

One of the great dividing lines between the regions west and east of the Cascades is attitudes toward church and religion. Oregon and Washington have (largely on account of their west-of-Cascades population bases) for years been rated among the "least-churched" states in the country, and Idaho toward the other end.

A just-out Pew study suggests that both are moderating in those regards, albeit gently.

Among people who say that religion is very important in their lives, Idaho (at 58%) ranks 19th-highest among the states - not especially far above the median - while Washington (46%) ranks 36th and Oregon (48%) 40th. (Number 1 is Mississippi, at 82%, and the least is New Hampshire/Vermont at 36%. California is almost identical to Washington.)

There are some interesting variations. Utah ranks only 12th on the most-important scale (which seems low), but second in worship attendance. Idaho is 19th on imporance but 15th of regular worship attendance.

H/t to Jeff Mapes at the Oregonian for the alert on this.