America and the meaning of a Mormon president

Would Romney's election signal an end to anti-Mormonism?

Published: Friday, June 3 2011 11:00 a.m. MDT

The former are ideologically based and more common among conservative evangelicals. Usually based on vague or misinformed notions of LDS theology, these prejudices are very hard to overcome.

Soft prejudices, on the other hand, are commonly based on a sense that Mormons are somehow different, or weird. "That kind of (soft) prejudice can be overcome and Mitt Romney has overcome it in his life. He overcame it by becoming the governor of Massachusetts. Frankly, his father overcame it in his time by becoming the governor of Michigan. So it can be overcome by someone like Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman for that matter," Feldman said.

Hamilton, whose great-grandfather was a slave, was proud of Obama's election, "I was born in 1958 in the Jim Crow south. I never imagined in my lifetime any African-American president or president of African descent," he said.

When asked what Hamilton, an LDS convert and one of the LDS Church's first black bishops, would think if a Mormon were elected in 2012, he said, "If you think about the history and about having presidents from those groups elected back to back, to me that would be some type of personal sign (of progress)."

Of course, Hamilton may choose not to vote for another Mormon, or for a Republican for that matter — the Mormon with the highest-ranking office in the U.S. is Senate majority leader Harry Reid, a Democrat. Also, the LDS Church is strict in its political neutrality and does not "attempt to direct its members as to which candidate or party they should give their votes to," according to its political neutrality statement. "This policy applies whether or not a candidate for office is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."

Neutrality aside, "many Mormons would doubtless celebrate a Mormon presidency as a long-awaited bookend to the story of Mormon exile from America," said Terryl L. Givens, noted Mormon scholar and author of "People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture," via email. "And such a success would help the church immeasurably to bury misconceptions and polygamous associations that belong in the past."

Yet, he cautioned, "other Mormons might wonder if such an achievement would signify full assimilation into the mainstream — and if that would necessarily be a good thing."

In Givens' book, he writes that by "consciously evoking the design of the Salt Lake Temple," the Washington D.C. Temple "reflects the Mormons' triumphant return to the capital of the nation that once exiled them."

Whether an LDS presidency would reflect the same symbolic meaning is yet to be seen.

Email: hboyd@desnews.com

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