It is not inconceivable that the United States could elect its first Mormon president, a man who has served as a missionary, a bishop and a stake president and presided over several congregations in Boston. In the second presidential debate GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney said he wanted to be known not only as a businessman, but also as a pastor. "My passion flows from the fact that I believe in God."
While there have been reams of words written about Romney as a businessman and a politician it is amazing that about 50 percent of Americans in a 2011 poll said they knew little or nothing about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints popularly called Mormons. In 2011, another 38 percent didn't see Mormons as Christians and 42 percent would feel at least some discomfort with a Mormon president and there is a widespread belief that Mormonism is a cult.
I find it strange that the media are not opening up a robust dialogue concerning Romney and his faith with the same dedication as they scrutinized John Kennedy on whether his first loyalty would be to the Pope or the presidency or Jimmy Carter, who as a Southern Baptist, was grilled about what it meant to be born again. Indeed, President Barack Obama was asked repeatedly how his Christian beliefs related to liberation theology. Some Americans still believe he is a Muslim.
I believe the nexus between faith and politics is so critical that the public is being disserved when questions about the faith of political candidates are not asked. In Romney's case, Mormonism is at the core of a man who could occupy the highest office in the land.
There are only 14 million worldwide but according to Stephen Mansfield, author of "The Mormonizing of America", the faith is one of the fastest growing religions in the nation and there are many in politics, entertainment and pop culture. Included among this famous group are more than a dozen congressional leaders, such as Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, top executives of Jet Blue, American Express, Sears and Marriott. Then there are the millionaire commentator Glenn Beck, management guru, Stephen Covey and even Gladys Knight to name a few.
Yet for many people Mitt Romney has become the face of Mormonism. So for better understanding here are questions that I believe Romney should be asked about his religion and its possible impact on the nation: Before 1978 the Church regarded dark skin as a sign of a spiritual curse which denied black men the right to be ordained as priests. The curse was lifted in 1978 and black males were ordained for the priesthood. Would you support efforts to lift the ban against women being ordained to the priesthood? Also the Mormon Church has aggressively fought against passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. Would you support measures such as ERA and other public policy for gender equality?
Mormons, such as noted UCLA professor-biographer Fawn Brodie as well as Sonia Johnson who campaigned for ERA, have been chastised and excommunicated for writing unfavorable articles about the faith. Do you believe journalists have the First Amendment right to probe religious and governmental institutions without unfair pressure being applied?
Mansfield in his book on Mormonism makes the point that the faith was founded on the principle that it is "the only living and true church" and "non-Mormon clergy have been depicted as serving the devil." Do you agree with those beliefs and in a Romney administration would you embrace a diversity of faiths and religions as equals?
Prophet Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon movement, ran for president in 1844 calling for the establishment of a "theo-democracy," a government led by God – and eventually by the Mormon Priesthood – as the only way to bring order and happiness to the earth. How would you separate your political and religious beliefs, such as the right of women to have an abortion? Would you base your decisions on Roe V. Wade or on The Book of Mormons or the Bible?
Mormonism teaches that after the Resurrection Jesus appeared in Jackson County, Mo., where He will one day return and rule from a temple there and in Jerusalem. How does this belief affect your policy toward Israel?
The Mormon movement founded by Prophet Smith evolved by prophesies rather than doctrine. If there were two opposing views, one from someone recognized by your faith as a prophet and the other based on the U.S. Constitution, how would you choose?
Dr. Barbara Reynolds is a syndicated columnist, an author of six books and a lecturer at colleges and universities across the country. Reynolds can be reached through her website, www.DrBarbaraReynolds.com.