One of the questions on the table at an online symposium titled, "For Life and Family: Faith and the Future of Social Conservatism" was, "Should traditional Christians be comfortable supporting Mormon candidates for office?"
The symposium at Patheos.com began May 11 and ends Wednesday. Part of the reason for the question about supporting Mormon candidates grows out of another question asked at the symposium: "Is the evangelical commitment to social conservatism fading as Catholics and Mormons take the lead?"
That question came from an article written by Patheos columnist David French, who argued, "As devout Catholics and faithful Mormons step forward boldly, evangelical Protestants appear in cultural disarray. … Evangelical youth may have orthodox opinions on marriage or life, but they're increasingly reluctant to voice those opinions, lest they appear 'divisive' or 'intolerant.' In fact, at times it appears as if much of the evangelical world has retreated into a defensive crouch, eager to promote its universally-loved work for the poor while abjectly apologizing for the cultural battles of years past."
French's observation expands to the question of whether "traditional Christians" can support a Mormon candidate. French's website, EvangelicalsForMitt.org, tips his hand on that question.
Patheos columnist and evangelical J. E. Dyer wrote that Christians can indeed vote for Mormons. She said that neither Mitt Romney's or Jon Huntsman's religious views affect her political opinions about their suitability to be president. "I've never really 'gotten' the antipathy of some evangelical conservatives to Mormon politicians," she wrote. "On the other hand, reports of that antipathy may be somewhat overblown."
Dyer referred to 2007 poll numbers from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life that 36 percent of white evangelical Republicans said they would be less likely to vote for a Mormon because of his religion, as compared to 25 percent of everybody else. The best Mormons could muster was only 21 percent of respondents having an unfavorable view of Mormons.
Now 36 percent of white evangelical Republican negativity sounds bad, but Dyer focused on the other side of the numbers — what all respondents thought. "It seems to me, therefore, that the real story here is not the higher unfavorability toward Mormons among white evangelical Protestants; it's the fact that there is still such a high level of unfavorable views across the board."
Dyer then made a case for voting for Mormons. She said Mormons are integrated into mainstream American life and are "simply part of the community." She said they "are law-abiding, responsible, and positive about the tenets of American political philosophy." Their political ideas are within the mainstream and also run the gamut from the liberal left to the conservative right. "LDS politicians work within the limits of constitutional government. They have no history of failing to respect First Amendment protections, nor do they advocate applying religious principles inappropriately to the activities of the state."
She said they work within the Constitution and respect the First Amendment. "This, it seems to me, is what we need to know about Mormons when we are contemplating voting for one," Dyer said.
Jeremy Lott, the editor for Real Clear Religion and a Catholic, also wrote in defense of voting for Mormons. Lott grew up as the son of a Baptist minister and wrote that he has seen the "deep suspicions" evangelicals have toward Mormons. "If you want to see the head of a conservative Fox News-watching Protestant explode," Lott said, "just draw his attention to the fact that Glenn Beck is a Mormon. Be sure to stand back, well outside the blast radius."
Lott said the reason to support a Mormon candidate is exactly the same reason why you might not support a candidate from your own religion. "Random traditional Christian voter X should not vote for Mormon candidate Y for the same reason that he would not for a Catholic, Protestant or Jewish candidate — because you disagree with the candidate about political matters of great import."
He gave House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as an example. If a Catholic voter is opposed to abortion, they would do better to vote for someone like Jeff Flake or Rob Bishop, who are Mormons, than a Catholic without a pro-life voting record.
Lott acknowledged some may still not vote for Mormons because of their beliefs. He said that if the point of being involved in politics is to accomplish change, then socially conservative people are going to need allies — even Mormons. "(W)e should remember that Mormonism may be the most pro-American religion there is," Lott said. "It was born here, after all, and has stuck around and thrived against considerable odds."
French's essay on evangelical commitment to issues concluded, "Simply put, we evangelicals are blown and tossed by the cultural winds. Right now, the winds are blowing against us, and our young people are reluctant to engage. But God is sovereign, and the fate of the nation is in His hands, not ours. And if we fail, there are others — some from an ancient tradition, some from a new one — who may very well carry out His work with more faith and courage than we ever could."