Could I Vote for a Mormon for President? An Election-Year Guide to Mitt Romney’s Religion, by Ryan T. Cragun and Rick Phillips (Washington, D.C.: Strange Violin Editions, 2012, ISBN 978-0-9837484-5-8) 132 pp. Paperback, $12.95.
Before this review can proceed, we must accept two assumptions: an avowed secularist has no chance of becoming president in this election cycle, and Mormon Mitt Romney is likely to be one of the two candidates with the best chances for winning. So, like all other elections for the presidency of the United States before this, many secular voters will have their choice limited to two churchgoing men. With a sigh we plod on (might not we change things up a little some year with a female or even a nonChristian candidate?) and dutifully study the party platforms to make an informed decision. But how many of us this fall will pause a bit longer before plunging in because one of the candidates is a Mormon?
Should that be extra cause for concern? No, say authors Ryan T. Cragun and Rick Phillips in Could I Vote for a Mormon for President? An Election-Year Guide to Mitt Romney’s Religion. The authors’ goal is to “demystify” Mormonism for the American public—finding that only Islam ranks lower in public opinion of religions, but that may be due in large part to unfamiliarity with the facts of the faith (the authors argue that any religion might seem wacky to anyone coming upon it for the first time). And the mainstream media has done little to enlighten us.
The authors are uniquely positioned to enter into this study. They come from Mormon backgrounds, and though “estranged” they are still strongly tied to the church through their families. But they are also sociologists who have brought a scholar’s eye to the examination of Mormon doctrine, teachings, and practices. They liken their position to observing a stained-glass window from within and without. From inside, it is a thing of beauty to behold as daylight illuminates the colors and design. From outside, it is the framework and how the panes of glass fit together that are more noticeable—“not so pretty but more informative.”
Cragun and Phillips divide their book into five parts and eighteen brief chapters plus a conclusion as they discuss what they consider to be some of the most blatant misstatements about Mormonism, presented by “the soundbite” and answered by “the details.” They encourage readers to check their work and do their own research in the “suggestions for further reading” section that ends each chapter.
In sections titled “The Basics,” “Practices,” “Theology,” “Social Issues,” and “Looking Ahead,” the authors discuss the religion’s history and beliefs (Is it a cult? Is it Christian?), polygamy, Mormon missionaries, dietary restrictions, attitudes toward abortion, homosexuality, women’s rights, racism, and even followers’ underwear. They analyze how these shaped Mitt Romney and how they might inform his decisions and actions as president. He has deep roots in Mormonism: his ancestors eft the United States for Mexico in the mid-1800s when the federal government began to impose sanctions on Mormon polygamists as Utah moved toward statehood. Romney’s father George was actually born in Mexico (his candidacy for the presidency in 1968 was hampered but not done in by this fact because his family had never relinquished their U.S. citizenship, although he did drop out of the race before a final ruling on the matter).
What would Mitt—a man who was taught that God resides near a star named Kolob, that men can become gods, that a woman’s place was in the home—do as president? Cragun and Phillips postulate that Romney is and will continue to be a politician who feels a greater pull from the Republican Party than the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints. And it is because of that—not Romney’s Mormonism—that these authors have made a personal choice not to vote for him.
The authors acknowledge that they got this book out “in a hurry” to fulfill its purpose as an election guide. Occasionally that shows, as when words contain hyphens that shouldn’t be there (“physician”)—evidence of former line breaks. But they can be forgiven, for they have produced an insightful, often humorous, and informative resource to aid our 2012 leadership selection.