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Carlson: Passing the test

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

The “chattering” class of political pundits and prognosticators is in full lather these days offering uninformed assessments regarding former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s prospects for winning the presidency given that so much of the GOP base today is comprised of self-described Christian evangelicals.

For these folks, most of who are in the south, Mormonism is a cult, not a religion. Some experts think over half the delegates to the National Republican Convention in 2012 will be self-professing evangelicals. Polls show only about 20 percent of this core base of the GOP could vote for a Mormon to be president.

Much is being written since a prominent Southern Baptist pastor with ties to Texas Governor Rick Perry charged that Mormonism is a cult, not a Christian faith. While the self-anointed political experts commenting on this may know something about analyzing polls, most are uninformed when it comes to actual knowledge about Mormonism.

Permit this pundit a few observations.

First, Governor Romney can win the 2012 presidential election for the simple reason that a desire to retire President Obama will trump all concerns regarding his religion. Regardless of one’s political bias, most objective perspectives would concede that so far Romney’s campaign strategy has been smart, well-implemented and soundly executed.

He has been the “steady Eddie” of the field, staying focused on his message that he is the most qualified to lead an economic turn-around by virtue of his business background as a turn-around artist. Exhibit A is the Salt Lake Olympics but he has other examples to employ.

When asked about his religious beliefs he wisely directs the question to the LDS communications office in Salt Lake.

Secondly, if Romney wins the Republican nomination he selects African-American businessman and former pizza executive Herman Cain as his running mate. Cain is the perfect antidote to anyone who charges a person is not voting for the President because deep down he or she is really a bigot.

Cain also reinforces Mitt’s message about his campaign being all about business leading the way back to economic growth by creating the jobs needed to generate more spending by consumers. Additionally, Cain’s “9-9-9” proposal for tax reform and revenue generation will continue to attract attention and analysis.

Third, there is an answer to the challenge represented by the charge that Mormonism is not really Christian, which, once the public internalizes, will decrease concerns and needless anxieties. A little background.

Many of my summers as a teenager were spent in and around either Pocatello or Salmon working for uncles who ran the respective National Laundry and Dry Cleaner businesses. Naturally, I frequently was socializing with members of the LDS church, both “jacks” and committed practitioners.

Being good proselytizers, those in the latter group would almost always ask if I had read the Book of Mormon if I started to question or opine on some aspect of their beliefs. While pursuing my B.A. at Columbia I took a minor in Comparative Religion, and for my senior year, last semester I had a class of independent study wherein I could pursue a topic and produce a research paper if approved by the class instructor.

I chose to study Mormonism and proceeded to read the Book of Mormon, The Pearl of Great Price, The Doctrine and Covenants, University of Utah professor Thomas O’Dea’s book The Mormons, Fawn Brodie’s biography No Man Knows My History: the Life of Joseph Smith, and a dozen other books.

My conclusions were that devout Mormons are fine practicing Christians in the sense that by their actions, their care for their neighbors, their emphasis on family, their living for others to the point of self-sacrifice, they have internalized the gospel message of Jesus Christ. They are true practicing Christians and no one should challenge their contention that Christ is their Savior.

This is a sociological ethic that deserves nothing but praise and commendation.

The theological ethic is something else that for me defied logical analysis. Replete with contradictory and controversial concepts, there was no other conclusion a logically inclined person can draw.

But faith is not necessarily all logical – indeed, faith often requires a suspension of logic and an embracing of the mysterious. As such, Mormonism is a unique American religion. To call it a cult displays ignorance and denigrates unfairly.

The issue for the voter to assess is not whether Mitt Romney wears the undergarments Mormons in good standing wear. It is rather whether his religion reinforces values critical to assessing issues and reflects a solid commitment to ethics as he weighs the hefty matters that confront a president. Mitt Romney easily meets indeed passes that test.

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