Mix of politics, religion is here to stay

Published: Thursday, Oct. 27 2011 10:21 a.m. MDT

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney delivers his "Faith in America" speech in 2007.

David J. Phillip, Associated Press

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The uncomfortable and sometimes unpleasant mix of presidential politics and religion is here to stay, according to an article in the Washington Post.

"It's a fact of political life that religion has become as much a part of presidential campaigns as it is part of the everyday lives of Americans, and conversations about it on the stump are here to stay," wrote Melinda Hennesberger in a story that focuses on Republican candidate Mitt Romney and his membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

While many are urging Romney to aggressively address the issues being brought up publicly against him and the church to which he belongs — including claims that the LDS Church is a cult and non-Christian — Romney believes that "a great majority of American people want to select the person who is the most capable of getting our country going again with strong values, a strong economy and a strong military; a religious test shouldn't be applied to people who are running for office."

Still, Romney was inclined to add that he is "shaped by the Judeo-Christian values which I have and hope that those will hold me in good stead as they have so far."

Hennesberger notes that every presidential candidate must now be prepared to talk about "a topic that not so long ago was thought too private — and yes, too sacred — to be displayed and dissected in public."

The Post story seemed to echo the sentiments expressed by Sen. Joseph Lieberman at Brigham Young University Tuesday.

"If Gov. Romney is nominated," Sen. Lieberman said, "he's going to have to . . . educate people about the Mormon faith, and confront it directly and appeal to people's better nature, which is what (then-presidential candidate John F.) Kennedy did in 1960 (with regards to his membership in the Catholic Church). (Kennedy) appealed to people to be fair, which is what the country's supposed to be about."

Added Lieberman: "Anybody who tries to separate faith from America's public square is doing something unnatural and ultimately bad for our country."

For that reason, Lieberman said that political candidates "have a right to talk about the role that faith plays in their lives. (But they have to) understand that voters have a right to decide whether that affects their views of those candidates. I always welcome the opportunity to hear about a candidate's faith. It helps me understand them as people better."

Such "understanding" was in short supply when LDS Church founder Joseph Smith ran for president in 1844 — the first of 11 Latter-day Saints to do so.

"A barrage of bullets cut short Smith's campaign in 1844," wrote Daniel Burke of Religion News Service in an article that was published in both the Washington Post and USA Today. "He was the first presidential candidate to be assassinated, according to historian Newell G. Bringhurst."

While drawing application to the ongoing presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman Jr., both of whom are LDS, Burke notes that "a study of (Joseph Smith's) short-lived campaign demonstrates that anti-Mormon sentiment is rooted deep in American history."

Burke outlines the history of Joseph Smith's candidacy, drawing from the insights and perspectives of several historians and academicians, including Richard Bushman and Richard Bennett, associate dean of religious education at BYU.

Although the presidential candidacy of Joseph Smith was a long shot, Burke indicates that "Smith had the uncanny confidence of a prophet, and remained convinced that his candidacy would benefit the country and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."

EMAIL: jwalker@desnews.com

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