Last week I noted that several Mormons had written convincing pieces in various publications in defense of their faith. Two more have recently added their voices to that group:
Writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, Nathan Oman, a Law Professor at William & Mary, explains that Mitt Romney’s candidacy means something very important for all Mormons:
As a Latter-day Saint, I care deeply about whether a Mormon can be elected president. This is not because, as the anti-Mormon fringe suggests, my co-religionists and I want to impose a theocracy on the nation, but because so long as a Mormon cannot be elected president because he is Mormon. Rather, I care because so long as a Mormon cannot be elected president because he is Mormon, I am a second-class citizen in our culture, a member of a tribe disqualified from full political participation.
To be a full citizen means that one is eligible for full participation in public life. It doesn’t mean, of course, that one will actually hold any particular office. But it does mean that one will be judged as an individual rather than as a member of a foreign tribe. By raising the possibility that Mormonism de facto disqualifies one for the presidency, the furor over Romney’s religion has thrown the full citizenship of all Latter-day Saints into question. Ultimately, history suggests that the question can only be laid to rest by a Mormon being elected president. This fact does not provide a reason for electing Romney, but it does mean that, whether they like it or not, the stakes in this election are very high for Latter-day Saints. It is also a cautionary tale for members of any other marginal American tribe seeking the privilege of being judged as an individual.
Oman’s is a thoughtful piece and worth reading in whole.
The second piece, and equally impressive, is by Carrie Sheffield writing in the American Spectator. Sheffield, who is also LDS, takes up the increasingly frequent speculation among American evangelicals that a Mormon president would usher in a new era of Mormon respectability and result in widespread conversions through America and the world. (My response to this phony speculation may be found here).
Sheffield takes a much more empirical approach than has been on offer before. She attacks the hypothetical head-on, citing data from its best possible analog- the administration of Governor Romney in Massachusetts.
Consider: From 1997 to 2002, the six years prior to Romney’s governorship, LDS church membership in Massachusetts grew by a rate of nearly 40 percent. During the four years Romney was in office, membership growth slowed to a snail’s pace — a mere 1.7 percent, according to membership statistics kept by the church and published in the LDS Church Almanac. The national growth rate during that same period was about three times the Massachusetts number: 5.1 percent.
During the Romney years, the number of Mormon wards and branches, congregations that are created and dissolved based on geography and population, in the Bay State rose by one and fell by one, indicating that congregational growth was static. Nationwide, the number of congregations grew by 7.3 percent.
In response to the argument that a Mormon president would be more influential than a Mormon governor, Ms. Sheffield points to the Salt Lake City Olympics as a useful proxy. Noting that Mormons gained worldwide positive media exposure during the Olympics, Sheffield points out that no spike in growth resulted. In fact, there is no instance recorded anywhere where a prominent Mormon or boost in Mormon publicity ever led to an increase in conversions. Indeed, while it’s easy to conjure thoughts of a mass conversion provoked by mainstreaming Mormonism, it’s almost impossible to imagine an actual person who could be led down that road by such an irrelevant fact as the religion of the president.
Sheffield’s piece is also worth a full review.