Mormonism will affect Romney’s campaign, panelists say
Published: Thursday, March 15, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
The Boston College School of Theology and Ministry (STM) hosted the Inaugural Dean’s Colloquium on Religion and Public Culture Tuesday night at the Alumni Center on Brighton Campus. The event, titled “Are Mormons the New Catholics and Jews? Mitt Romney and the Political State of the Union,” featured two panelists: Stephen Prothero, Boston University professor of religion, and Kristine Haglund, editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. The panel was moderated by Alan Wolfe, a BC professor of political science.
Throughout the course of the discussion, the panel explored how Romney’s political views have not been greatly affected by his religion, and yet his Mormon faith is still going to be a major factor in his run for the nation’s highest office.
“He doesn’t grapple with Mormonism intellectually,” Haglund said. “Romney is a very practical, capable businessman, who likes Mormonism just in part because it works. It helped him raise his family. He likes the practical aspects of the church.”
Both Prothero and Haglund said that because Romney is not overly interested in Mormon theology, his political views are much more impacted by his experience as a businessman.
“Romney is consistent in being a pragmatist,” Prothero said. “He goes into companies and figures out how to make them work. That isn’t done ideologically. Sometimes you need to fire workers, sometimes you need better marketing, and sometimes you need a new CEO. Romney is able to change his views depending on the situation.”
Prothero described Romney as a “principled flip-flopper” on political issues, when many Americans would assume that he would be very conservative, based purely on the fact that the overwhelming majority of Mormons identify with the Republican Party.
Although Romney’s political views haven’t been strongly influenced by his faith, both panelists agreed that Romney’s campaign will be affected by his Mormon religion.
“About 20 percent of Americans will admit that they will not vote for a Mormon,” Prothero said.
The panelists believed that this figure reflects the alien nature of Mormonism to most of the U.S. They also stated that Romney’s religion would give him more trouble winning the primaries of certain states, such as Alabama and Mississippi, where the majority of voters are evangelical Christians.
“Southern Baptists probably won’t vote for Romney in the primaries,” Haglund said. “They still feel Mormonism is weird.”
Despite this obstacle to the Romney campaign, both panelists agreed that publicly discussing Mormon theology is not the proper political route to travel to eliminate anti-Mormon feeling in the U.S. They looked toward the process of Catholicism becoming a more accepted religion for U.S. politicians as an example of the route Mormonism should take.
“How does Catholicism get to the point where we can elect JFK and now to the point where we barely even notice that Santorum and Gingrich are Catholics?” Prothero said. “I don’t think that happens through a public discussion of theology. Once we’ve seen a certain group of people enough on our NBA teams and on Dancing With the Stars, then we will accept them.”
The panelists acknowledged that Romney has made the good political decision to largely avoid any public discussion of his religion thus far in his campaign. They both agreed that a time will come, however, when he will have to make some sort of speech about his religion, especially if he becomes the GOP nominee.
“Romney’s speech will probably be more about the culture side (of his religion) and frame him as a family values Republican,” Prothero said.
The panel also focused on what Romney’s current lead in the race for the GOP nomination means for the religious landscape of the U.S.
“I think if Romney were elected, it would be a sign, like Kennedy’s election, that this tradition has made it. It would also be good for America. It would show that this is a place where religious pluralism has gone far enough to elect someone like Romney.” n