Gov. Mitt Romney is clearly a Mormon leader of great conviction. He says he would rather not be President than to yield on any of his religion's teachings or practices. I applaud his honesty and integrity and wish him well as he exits the Presidential race. Because that is precisely what he should but will not do.
In assessing his candidacy and today's speech in Texas before a hand-picked audience (he learns well from the Bushies), I feel I should be clear up front about my qualifications and my possible prejudices. I am a liberal Democrat. I am a leader in the interfaith movement. I am an active spiritual teacher propounding a path that is outside the American mainstream religious faith tradition while encompassing all of it. I believe that there is but one God, to whose presence or connection are many paths.
I am also a former Elder in the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City, excommunicated from that faith tradition at my request after a serious clash of principles with the church and its practices. My ex-wife and I were "sealed" in a secret ceremony at the Temple in Salt Lake City. I have studied deeply the Mormon faith, its historical roots, its claims of divinity, and found it wanting for my personal path. But I do not denigrate either the religion or its adherents. I find much to admire in the Mormon approach to caring for its own and its strong emphasis on family.
Against that background, let me explain why I believe that nobody of the Mormon faith should expect to receive the endorsement of the majority of Americans to hold national office.
Unless you've lived in Utah, you have no idea how pervasive the Mormon influence is on politics and government. Perhaps it cannot be more clearly stated than by the outgoing Democratic mayor of Salt Lake City, Rocky Anderson: "It's the only organization, I think, that seems to automatically get its way among most elected officials." That word "automatically" is important. If the President of the Church (most adherents use the shorthand "the Church" to mean their church in a way that is arrogantly presumptuous) issues an edict on some issue or another, members are not permitted to question, debate or disobey it. Period. He is, after all, revered by his followers as "prophet, seer and revelator."
For many decades, the Mormons believed that African-Americans could not hold the power of the priesthood (the basic leadership unit of the church). Why did they hold this bizarre view? Because their prophets through those years told them God had so dictated.
Suddenly, from the church's own Web site: "In June 1978, President Spencer W. Kimball received a revelation extending priesthood ordination to all worthy males of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Official Declaration 2). Before that time only worthy male members who were not of black African descent were ordained to the priesthood." Note carefully the wording here: Kimball "received a revelation". God changed his mind and told Kimball to reverse decades of illegal and unfounded discrimination.
If any Mormon leader had, prior to 1978, attempted to ordain a black to the priesthood, he'd have been thrown out of the church. Don't doubt that. But what is implied by that policy is the same mentality that kept America a slave-holding nation for the first 70+ years of its existence: the notion that African-Americans are somehow less than the rest of us.
There is nothing at all preventing the current prophet of the Mormons, whoever he may be at any point (oh, yes, the "he" is guaranteed; the priesthood is not open to women, at least not until another new 'revelation' happens), from claiming to receive a "revelation" that affects American policy. In such a case, if the President of the United States were a Mormon in good standing, he'd be faced with resigning the Presidency (and throwing the nation into a crisis of a different sort) or violating his religious beliefs and opposing the prophet's divine disclosure.
All of this is worrisome enough, but when you consider that the principal rites of the Mormons are performed behind closed doors in secret in a temple to which nobody who is not a Mormon in good standing is admitted, worry gets amplified by secrecy. (By the way, those who participate in the Temple rites are sworn to secrecy, agreeing to allow themselves to be subjected to horrific penalties for violating that oath.