Of course, that measure of appreciation seems to vary, depending on the part of the country in which Latter-day Saints live, said Dr. Kathleen Flake, associate professor of American Religious History with Vanderbilt University’s Divinity School and Graduate Department of Religion.
“It’s important to not try to speak for all Latter-day Saints,” she said. “As I read the news reports, it appears that Mormons in Utah are ecstatic with what Mitt Romney has done through the campaign, while church members in other parts of the country seem to be disappointed by Mr. Romney’s unwillingness to talk about his faith and his religion more directly.”
The response by Latter-day Saints to the cultural impacts on the LDS Church of a possible Romney presidency are similarly mixed, Flake said. “But clearly,” she said, “the predominant view in the American West is the feeling that this is a way to broader acceptance.”
Flake, who is a leading expert on the history of the controversial seating of LDS apostle Reed Smoot after he was elected as a U.S. Senator from Utah during the early 1900s, said she sees very little comparison with that political battle and the impact of Romney’s Mormonism on his presidential campaign.
“The differences are greater than the similarities,” she said. “The seating of Apostle Smoot was much more fraught with difficulty. There was real potential for conflict and danger to the church.”
Nor does she see a comparison between what Mormons might feel at the election of a Mormon president and what black Americans felt four years ago with the election of President Obama.
“I think that comparison is inapt,” she said. “The histories are just so different. You can’t really compare the religious prejudice Mormons have experienced through the years with centuries of bigotry and slavery.”
Bowman also thinks another frequent analogy — comparing Romney’s possible election with the 1960 election of John F. Kennedy as the nation’s first Catholic president — lacks the substance of similarity.
“This is not Mormonism’s JFK moment,” he said. “Catholics saw the Kennedy election as a great and historic moment, but the thing that really integrated the Catholic Church into America’s mainstream was the overwhelming size of the Catholic population.
"Should Romney win," Bowman continued, "I don’t think that it by itself will change a great deal about how Americans view Mormons. While there will justly be pride in the accomplishment for a lot of church members, the only thing that will better integrate Mormons culturally in the United States is for there to be a lot more Mormons in a lot more places.
“The major problem the church faces in terms of acceptance is that so many people have never known a Mormon,” he added. “I have kids coming to my classes for whom the only thing they know about Mormons is what they’ve seen on episodes of ‘South Park.’"
If Romney is president, he will obviously be the most visible Mormon, Bowman said. “But until there are a lot more Mormons,” he said, “there is going to continue to be misunderstanding and a certain amount of apprehension.”
Still, the election of a Mormon president may provide more church members with an opportunity to dispel misunderstandings and alleviate apprehension.
“Being from the South,” said Steven Lambert, a Latter-day Saint who lives near Nashville, “it has already presented many opportunities to dispel misconceptions and present the church in a more thought-provoking environment. It gives church members a great opportunity to reach out and show others our love of the Savior and the gospel.”
Steven J. Padilla, an LDS computer security expert who lives in Maryland, said that while he thinks a Romney presidency will be "a great thing for the country and for the church," he approaches the possibility “with some trepidation.”
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