Many religious conservatives worry that if Mitt Romney becomes president, it will help legitimize LDS missionary work abroad and condemn extra converts to hell. Liberals, meanwhile, see a chance to use his faith to show he is "too weird" to be president.
That is according to conservative evangelical radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt, who just wrote a book titled, "A Mormon in the White House? 10 Things Every American Should Know about Mitt Romney." It is published by Regnery Publishing, which prints conservative titles.
Hewitt, who is not LDS, says he believes Romney can overcome his "Mormon problems" presented from the left and right, but that his candidacy also shows that all of America has a "Mormon problem" by misunderstanding the church.
"I am disappointed in how much noise we hear on this" question of whether a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can be president, Hewitt told the Deseret Morning News in a telephone interview. The law professor at California's Chapman University said the Constitution prohibits any religious test for officeholders.
Hewitt says he wanted to write the book because he had previously interviewed the late LDS apostle Neal A. Maxwell for a PBS series on religion in America. "I got to know the Mormon faith and history. I found it astonishing how much discrimination had happened and how much had been tolerated," he said.
He said he wanted to use what he learned in a book on Romney, in part, to explore what challenges being LDS presents for his candidacy.
Hewitt says that after extensive questioning of hundreds of objectors to a Mormon in the White House, he reduced their list of objections to three.
First, some worry that an LDS president would be controlled by church leaders in Salt Lake City. "That is the easiest of the objections to dismiss," Hewitt said.
Hewitt notes that Romney was not controlled by church leaders as governor of Massachusetts, nor have other presidents been controlled by their own churches.
In the book, Hewitt quotes Romney saying, "It would be inappropriate for church officials to contact me and it would be less than appropriate for me to take guidance from any institution other than caring first for the oath of office."
The second objection may be the toughest for Romney, Hewitt said. It comes from some evangelical conservatives who worry that a Mormon president "would greater legitimize Mormon missionary work abroad and lead to more converts."
Hewitt said in his book that many evangelical Christians believe that Mormons "are not 'saved,' and thus bound for eternal damnation." He said that leads to "a deeply sincere concern that the legitimization of Romney's religion will in fact condemn hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions of souls to eternal torment."
Hewitt's book quotes Romney saying he doubts that an LDS president would affect missionary work. "My guess is, if you looked at the conversions in Massachusetts, you wouldn't see any change between before and after I became governor, and I don't think Democrats are flocking to the Mormon church because Harry Reid is the (U.S. Senate) majority leader," Romney is quoted as saying.
The third objection is that Mormonism is "just too weird," and anyone who believes in such "fantasy" should not be elected. Hewitt said he believes some on the left are willing to use that in attacks on Romney should he gain the Republican nomination.
Hewitt said he worries that could make any religious person a target in coming years, because most churches believe in angels, visions, miracles and things that may appear strange to outsiders.
"Romney's LDS faith represents the soft underbelly of all faith-based voters and the candidates they prefer, and if Romney can be bled via an assault on the rationality of his faith, the next candidate of firm religious view can expect more of the same," Hewitt wrote.
Romney's religion is only one of 10 things that Hewitt writes that people should know about him. Hewitt said much more important to him personally is how highly intelligent Romney seems, and his problem-solving approaches learned in business.
He said the most surprising thing he learned about Romney is his extreme wealth. "He would be the richest president ever," he said. Hewitt cites estimates ranging from $500 million to $1 billion in net worth.
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