It's Mormon in America

By Frum, David | Newsweek, June 18, 2012 | Go to article overview

It's Mormon in America


Frum, David, Newsweek


Byline: David Frum

Romney's religion just might be his greatest asset.

Voters are likely to know two things about Mitt Romney: that he's rich and that he's a Mormon. At the same time, more than one fifth of Americans tell pollsters they won't vote for a Mormon for president. Yet if Americans understood Mormonism a little better, they might begin to think of Romney's faith as a feature, not a bug, in the Romney candidacy. If anything, Romney's religion may be the best offset to the isolation from ordinary people imposed by his wealth.

It was Romney's faith that sent him knocking on doors as a missionary--even as his governor father campaigned for the presidency of the United States. It was Romney's position as a Mormon lay leader that had him sitting at kitchen tables doing family budgets during weekends away from Bain Capital. It was Romney's faith that led him and his sons to do chores together at home while his colleagues in the firm were buying themselves ostentatious toys.

Maybe the most isolating thing about being rich in today's America is the feeling of entitlement. Not since the 19th century have the wealthiest expressed so much certainty that they deserve what they have, even as their fellow citizens have less and less.

To be a Mormon, on the other hand, is to feel perpetually uncertain of your place in America. It's been a long time since the U.S. government waged war on the Mormons of the Utah Territory. Still, even today, Mormons are America's most mockable minority. It's hard to imagine a Broadway musical satirizing Jews, blacks, or gays. There is no Napoleon Dynamite about American Muslims.

This uncertainty about Mormonism's status in America no doubt contributes to the ferocious work ethic typical of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormons are taught to be "anxiously engaged in a good cause," in the words of Mormon scripture. Stephen Mansfield, the (non-Mormon) author of The Mormonizing of America, explains: "Mormons believe they are in life to pass tests set for them." The passage of repeated tests leads to self-improvement, ultimately to the point of perfection. In the words of early Mormon leader Lorenzo Snow: "As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may become." From the point of view of Christian orthodoxy, that idea may be unsettling; as a spur to effort, it's unrivaled.

Like their Calvinist forebears, Mormons are inclined to interpret economic success as an indicator of divine approval, a fulfillment of the Book of Mormon's promise that the faithful will "prosper in the land. …

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