Romney’s Mormonism Might Mitigate Muslim Myth about Obama

Romney and Obama have both been victimized by religious bigotry, the latter on false premise.

If former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney wins today’s Iowa caucus or proves to otherwise be the 2012 Republican presidential candidate, one element of his potential candidacy might prove a relief of at least one issue the Obama re-election campaign may find itself  having to dispose of again. Religion.

The President walking to church with his family.

For over two centuries now, distraction from the issues, dirty tricks and despicable tactics have marked presidential primary elections and then the general election. The factor which could very well undermine one of this year’s potential sideshows is that falsehood about one candidate’s true faith and fraudulent beliefs about the other’s religious beliefs may cancel one another out. It’s sort of like the old Eugene Field poem about the calico cat and the gingham dog which ate each other up and left no trace of one another.

Mitt Romney and boxer Muhammad Ali, who famously converted to Islam.

Those who adhere to the belief that Romney’s Mormon faith is a “cult,” rather than a genuine branch of Christianity and could thus never vote for him are also the same demographic which insists on believing the nonfactual claim that President Barack Obama is a secret Muslim. The unique dilemma may actually force many people to vote for a presidential candidate based on their view of the issues rather than their religion, pets or astrological sign.

A 19th century anti-Mormon cartoon focused on polygamy.

It is often an irrelevant grain of a fact that is extrapolated to its wildest possible interpretation which has served as the basis for a religiously bigoted political smear. Mitt Romney, his father and grandfather all lived within the tenets of their Mormon faith each with one wife, the faith’s practice of polygamy having been banned some three or four generations before the candidate. While it is true that the President’s paternal ancestors had migrated to Kenya as followers of Islam, drawing that sort of direct religious link to him would mean that Clinton, the Bushes, even George Washington could be similarly called non-Christian pagans like their ancient British Isles ancestors. But from anti-Quakerism to suggestions of Atheism to anti-Catholicism and even three cases of antisemitism based on false premises riddle the presidential pop culture history.

The title page of Jefferson's so-called "Bible."

Jefferson was a Deist.

Although the presidential election process was entirely different in 1800, there being less of a party infrastructure than simply a candidate’s declaration of his partisanship, attacks on individual candidates based on allegations about their true faith were already part of the landscape. That year, Federalists labeled anti-Federalist Thomas Jefferson as an “infidel,” and warned that if he were elected president, he would order that all Bibles be removed from not only public book collection like those in courthouses and educational institutions funded by taxpayer monies, but would go further to systemically have them taken from private homes. Elderly people were especially warned to hide their Bibles in tree stumps if he were elected.

All of it stemmed from Jefferson’s immutable belief that organized religion and the clerical class that managed all sects were essentially corrupt. He was, in fact, a Deist, believing in a Divine Creator. He won the election and no Bibles were seized or declared illegal.

After years of his own study into the life of Jesus Christ, Jefferson postulated his own interpretations of Scripture, portions of which he believed had been translated either incorrectly or with ill intent for political purpose. His resulting scholarship came to be called “The Jefferson Bible.”

Taft (center) about to enter Cincinnati's Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church.

A century later, when William Howard Taft was running for the 1908 presidential nomination and then in the general election, some of his fellow Republicans and the Democratic opposition questioned whether he was a “true Christian,” because he was a strict adherent to relatively abstract Unitarian faith. Some even pushed it to call him an atheist.  Rather boldly, he stated without apology, “I do not believe in the Divinity of Christ,” and angrily refused to “go into a dogmatic discussion of creed.”

Although the 2000 Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman was Jewish, and the 1964 Republican Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater had a Jewish father, no presidential candidate has been a member of the Jewish faith. Nonetheless in the mid-20th century, antisemitism was used against three successive candidates of both parties running for the presidency or for re-election.

Anti-Semitic Anti-Eisenhower propaganda.

The fact that Franklin D. Roosevelt had several Jewish advisers first led Adolph Hitler to suggest during the President’s controversial 1940 third-term candidacy that his “real” family name had been “Rosenfeld,” a charge circulated by Republicans opposing F.D.R.’s growing support of England in war against Third Reich Germany. Harry Truman’s support of the state of Israel during his 1948 campaign led to contorted allegation that his rarely-used middle initial of “S” actually stood for “Solomon.” Both isolationist Republicans during the primaries and then some segregationist Democrats in the general election, spread the rumor that the Jehovah’s Witness faith of Dwight Eisenhower‘s parents was not a legitimate Christian one and a mere cover for the fact that he was, in fact, Jewish. In no instance, however, did any of these false claims rise to the level of becoming serious campaign issues.

Anti-Catholic anti-Al Smith political cartoons from 1928.

Anti-Catholicism, long present in the American elective politics, especially in rural regions, hit the national level with the 1928 presidential candidacy of Democrat Al Smith. Protestants of both parties vigorously opposed him on the old fear that his first loyalty would not be to the Constitution or the United States, but the dictates of the Vatican and the Pope.

Quakers were ridiculed and feared for their early support of gender equity, reverence for all life, pacificism against war and rational explanation for Biblical mysteries. (Haverford College)


His Republican opponent Herbert Hoover was never known to encourage any religious bigotry, perhaps having felt a slight sting of it himself. Not only were he and his wife married by a Catholic priest, but his Quaker faith was one that orthodox evangelists found a bit too peaceful and forgiving, compared to fire-and-brimstone Protestantism.  Interestingly, there was no known controversy after an assistant attorney general who was a close friend of Herbert Hoover called his home one where “tolerance is reality….I have been there with Catholic, Jew and unbeliever.” In a rare coincidence, the 1928 election between a Catholic and a Quaker was relived 32 years later when Catholic John F. Kennedy faced Quaker Richard Nixon. By then, much of the fear that electing a Quaker to public office would mean enforced gender equality in all professions and leave a Quaker President refusing to engage the U.S. in any war, even for self-defense, had long since dissipated into rare bits of bigoted ridicule. Still, Hoover for one had been somewhat sensitive to those pondering the religious validity of his Quakerism. “Religion,” he said, “is a difficult matter to handle politically.”

John F. Kennedy (left) and Richard Nixon (right) flank Catholic Cardinal Spellman.

The 1960 campaign was, however, marked by the last great gasp of anti-Catholicism, a matter Kennedy dispensed with by a direct and plain-spoken repudiation of having any leaders of his personal faith influence his decisions as commander-in-chief. By the time Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, he had no need to diminish the fact that his father had been a faithful Catholic, while his mother had been a Protestant. Similarly, there was practically no religious bigotry issue faced by either 2004 Democratic candidate John Kerry, a Catholic with Jewish ancestors, or 1988 Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis, of the Greek Orthodox faith.

Jimmy Carter saying grace before his Oval Office lunch.

While it is the Republican Party candidates who are now saddled with a religious litmus test of sorts, it was the 1976 Democratic presidential candidate Jimmy Carter who ironically campaigned by proclaiming himself a “born-again Christian,” introducing religious terminology into the mainstream of national politics where it has remained more fixed in place than it was in the decade previous to that.

LBJ, smoking at the Ranch.

Not all Democratic presidential candidates were quite so eager to expound on their private beliefs. As Texan Lyndon Baines Johnson once privately yelled in exasperation to a 1964 campaign aide who transmitted a religious questionnaire for him to answer, “To hell with those goddamn Christers!”

Categories: Diversity, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Presidents, The Obamas

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5 replies »

  1. Mormanisn and Christianity are NOT even close to believing in the same basic tenents.
    1.. Christ and Lucifer ( the devil ) were born brothers
    2.. A person who is alive can be baptised for a person who is already dead
    3..Good works can get you into Gods acceptance of you.
    4 .. Mormans husband will call his wife ro heaven
    6…The Christian bible says, there iis to be no more to be added, to it.ii
    The Mormon revelation has had to keep changing black people could not attain the Mormos “highest” heaven until around 1948 , when i guess theysaid God changed His mind.
    I do not need to go into the theological differences, but suffice they have added onto verses like Ephesians 2:8-9

  2. Thank you so much for this insight. One’s religion should not play a role in elective politics although it always does – I wanted to share with you an incident I had yesterday with an elderly African American woman at the grocery store. We were waiting in line and she started talking about the election and through a series of conclusions she made about facts in African American history in the Baltimore area (I reside in nearby Annapolis), she concluded that President Obama was Islamic and so, of course, she changed her voter status to Republican after being a life long Democrat. This was very emotional for her and she was convinced she was correct –

    I cannot say I am surprised that this fallacy continues, but it was disturbing to me because it seemed to have no rational or intelligent basis (from what she told me) in history or current events. But then, this topic does not lend itself to rational thought for everyone.

    I am Catholic so I can honestly say I know that people can draw conclusions from erroneous information to justify their fear or hatred of someone else’s religion. My father was not Catholic – he and my mother grew up in rural Kansas – and he was the first non-Catholic my mother’s family ever encountered. He fared well with her family and far better than she (and Catholicism) did with his family although she was the first Catholic they had met. They did live happily ever after despite all of this.

    I had hoped – being a dreamer – that Kennedy’s election in 1960 and Joe Lieberman’s orthodoxy Judaism in 2000 would have removed one’s religion as a negative force in an election – at every level of government. I know that isn’t so – perhaps Catholicism and Orthodox Judaism are not the problems for candidates they once were, but the Islamic religion is – and I think it will take a long time to put it behind us as a nation.

    The real problem with Romney’s Mormonism is that too many of us (me included) do not know enough about it. His religion is no problem for me and I hope it does take some of the spotlight from those who think the President is anything but the Christian he thinks he is. The conversation about Obama’s race, religion and place of birth are distractions which others use against him for their own purposes and which much of the time have nothing do with why they do not want him re-elected.

    I think that for the moment, at least until we get through the next few days to the New Hampshire primary, the focus may be on Rick Santorum and his goal to bar any form of contraception from public funds – now THAT will be one interesting topic – and it might detract the focus from Romney’s religion.

    Thanks for your blog, Carl – also my new daughter-in-law just pilfered “As We Remember Her” from my bookshelf. Wonderful book –

    Barbara Roberts

  3. Equating what people think about Obama as Muslim and Romney as Mormon is an ill informed idea. Apples and oranges. In the case of Obama being Muslim, it is based on associations, circumstantial evidence and opinion….there are no facts that support that opinion.

    In the case of Romney, there are facts present. He was married in the temple. That requires having a temple recommend (or card). The requirements for temple recommend are facts. The secret rites in temple marriages are facts. The death oath to support the LDS belief system and prophets is a fact. He has been a missionary, bishop and ward official.. All which have facts associated. So in the case of Romney, the facts prove that he at least would have taken the oaths, participated in the secret ceremonies, and would have at least been required to state that he believed and would support the LDS prophets, doctrine etc as the primary authority in his life, above everything else. He would have had to do those things (and many others) in order to have been married in the Temple and hold the offices he did.

    There is no comparison between a set of easily verifiable facts regarding Mormonism and Romney and the “guilt by association” with Islam and Obama. To argue that, one would have to be uninformed about the workings and requirements of Mormonism.

    See book: “Can Mitt Romney Serve Two Masters? for detailed look at the issues based on LDS source documents. There are opinions in the book, but the factual data cannot be dismissed.

    • Actually we agree entirely – which is why I assert in the title of this article the word Myth in regard to the unfounded and false faith attributed to the President. I also think that you are correct in that further differentiation of one being fact and one being myth might ensure that someone unfamiliar with all of this will come away familiar with it; however, the reason I wrote it was to suggest that the majority of those orthodox Christians who would not vote for Romney simply because he is Mormon and yet also believe the falsity that the President was secretly Muslim and likewise not vote for him, may essentially mitigate the “anti” type vote because they felt they could not vote for either – even though one half of their religious bigotry would be based on an entirely false premise.

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