In the last 6 months, as the election has been heating up, I’ve done a bit of travelling. I have been on the East and West Coasts of the US and up and down Eastern Europe. In my travels, I often wear BYU gear and when people see that they assume that I am a Latter-day Saint (LDS) (AKA Mormon). Their assumptions are good. But then another assumption is immediately made. “Oh, you’re Mormon…So you’re a Romney fan.” I shouldn’t be surprised by that statement because I get it a lot, but I’m always taken aback. I feel that my integrity as a politically involved member of society is in question when people make that assumption. I don’t want people to think that my political opinions are based primarily on a candidate’s religion. So I usually retort with, “Yes, I’m a Romney fan…but not because I’m a Mormon.”
Recently, I’ve engaged in some self-reflection. Why do I get so defensive when people accuse me of basing my political beliefs on my religious ties, and should I be? I think I get so defensive because I feel that me admitting that I like Romney because he’s LDS, would justify people not liking him for the same reason.
True as that may be, there is a fine line here. Was it wrong for African-Americans to be excited about Barack Obama becoming the very first African-American president? Was it wrong for Greek Americans to be excited about Mike Dukakis being the first Greek Orthodox nominee for president? What about Catholics and JFK? Now, can Latter-day Saints be excited about Mitt Romney as one of their own having a legitimate chance of victory? My answer is, yes.
Latter-day Saints, from both parties, should feel able to be excited about Mitt Romney as a Mormon. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has not always been even tolerated in the United States. In 1838, Governor Boggs in Missouri issued Executive Order 44 – commonly known as the Mormon Extermination Order. The Governor issued an order allowing citizens to drive Latter-day Saints from the state and kill any who resisted… Kill any who resisted…. That was not the only time Mormons were driven from their homes. Now, just under two-hundred years later, a member of that church that was forced from the country into the barren wasteland that became vibrant Salt Lake Valley is now competing for the highest office in the land. It’s a great moment for Latter-day Saints and should be celebrated.
Will Latter-day Saints vote for Romney knowing nothing more than the fact that he is LDS? I would hope not, just like I would hope that African-Americans would not vote for Obama just knowing that he is African-American. But can either of these groups be justified in citing their cultural ties as a reason for voting? Should society turn a blind eye to a candidate’s religious, cultural, and ethnic background? My answer to that is “no”.
My religion has made me who I am. From my religious upbringing, I have learned how I should treat other people and define my own priorities. My perspective on life’s problems would be vastly different if I was not raised LDS and served an LDS mission to Ukraine. To turn a blind eye to that would be to turn a blind eye to my character. To turn a blind eye to a candidate’s character is to turn a blind eye to how they are going to act in the Office of the Presidency.
So Mormons, be excited about Mitt Romney. Don’t be ashamed of what you share a common set of religious beliefs. African-Americans, do the same. Look to the candidates’ character to understand how they will do their job, but understand that we are voting for the President of the United States, not the President of the student body. This is not a popularity contest; too much is at stake.
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