Jerry Earl Johnston: Voters were not so much accepting of Mitt Romney's religion as indifferent

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 14 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

In this Thursday Dec. 22, 2011 file photo, Republican presidential candidate, former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, visits St. Paul's Lutheran Church while campaigning in Berlin, N.H.

Charles Krupa, Associated Press

Like many others, I was surprised when Mitt Romney's faith failed to become a major issue in his campaign for president. I figured some newshound would lift the lid of Mormon theology and ask him a question akin to: "Do you really believe the earth will one day become a great sea of glass?"

But no one ever asked.

The lack of interest in such things was greeted in many Latter-day Saint circles with relief. Some even felt that Mormonism, after a troubled history, was finally being embraced by mainstream America.

Perhaps that is so.

But I also see something else at work: indifference.

I think, like Europe, the United States is quickly becoming indifferent to religion. And indifference is much different than acceptance.

When a person is accepted, he feels welcomed and embraced.

When he's greeted by indifference, he's met with an apathetic shrug.

In short, religion is fading from the public debate.

When Joe Lieberman, an orthodox Jew, ran for vice president, I thought his behavior would raise eyebrows. As an orthodox Jew, Lieberman didn't work on the Sabbath, and that meant he didn't operate machines. Each Saturday, he'd steer clear of pencil sharpeners, elevators, cars, microwave ovens and — I assume — nail clippers. To the Gentile, such behavior might appear eccentric at best and phobic at worst.

But no one seemed to care or notice.

The attitude seemed to be: Orthodox Jew? Orthodox Pagan? Orthodox Wiccan? Whatever gets him through the day.

I felt that same lack of interest toward Romney's religion.

Mitt the Mormon?

Mitt the Mennonite?

Mitt the Manichean?

To each his own.

In fact, my guess is the new crop of younger missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the United States will learn their true foe is not antagonistic people, but distracted people who don't care about them one way or the other.

Oswald Chambers, the legendary Scottish minister, once said: "Never be afraid of the man who seems to you to talk blasphemously … The man to be afraid of is the one who is indifferent; what morality he has got is well within his own grasp, and Jesus Christ is of no account at all."

He said that in 1947.

Today, most European nations see themselves as "post-Christian," in the same way they are "post-agrarian."

That same term gets tossed around on this side of the pond as well.

Mitt Romney's religion wasn't scrutinized too much during the campaign, in part because people didn't care that much.

Americans not only lack the time to attend church these days, they also lack the time to even think about it.

Jerry Johnston is a former Deseret News staff writer. "New Harmony" appears every other week in Mormon Times. Email: jerjohn@desnews.com

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