Pondering the Mormon Question of Election 2016


As polling suggests Utah may not vote for the Republican for the first time in 52 years, many wonder why the reddest of states and its prominent socially conservative religious group are drifting away from the party. It’s tempting to chalk it up to a simple answer: last go around, they had one of their own at the top of the ticket and he was expected to assure the public and his party that he is against having multiple wives, but this time, the GOP nominee and party leaders take the position that multiple wives are dandy so long as they’re consecutive, not simultaneous. Glibness is fine for the screamers of cable news, but let’s strive for better. The Mormon question is a complex one. There are theological and cultural influences at play that deserve exploration.

Even among other devout Christians, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints–which from now on I will refer to as Mormons for the sake of clarity and brevity–is considered unusual. As religious belief wanes and socially liberal attitudes enjoy ever wider acceptance [1] Mormons and the religious right have found each other fighting the same enemies, but their alliance is not based on perfect harmony. Media coverage has unsurprisingly focused on the peculiar aspects of the religion, like sacred undergarments and the sinfulness of drinking coffee, while giving attention, that is at most cursory, to the doctrines that are significantly different from other Christian sects.

Mormons believe it is works, not faith that is ultimately the key to salvation which is ground shared with Catholics, but puts them at odds with most Evangelicals. Hell is not an eternal punishment, but a temporary state following death, after which the occupants are allowed into Heaven. The Mormon conception of Heaven is also idiosyncratic–it’s divided into three tiers to house souls according to righteousness. Those denied entrance into Heaven are a select few cast into Outer Darkness. Hell’s diminished role in Mormon theology is in stark contrast to other Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, but it is in line with a large amount of the American public. It is also characteristic of the Mormon disposition that eschews fury and condemnation. While the church belongs to the millennial tradition, the rhetoric of its officials can hardly be described as apocalyptic. Twice a year they broadcast speeches to their membership, which you can view online. You will notice the calmness of the delivery, the softness of the message, and nary a whiff of fire nor brimstone. Anodyne yes, but jeremiad no.

According to Mormon dogma God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost are three distinct beings. This non-believer can’t fathom why this is a sticking point, but it should be noted as many Christians view this as heretical. Even with regard to social issues, Mormonism isn’t completely aligned with the religious right. Though they were scapegoated for the passing of California’s Proposition 8, the church holds a moderate stance on gays, including support of allowing gays to adopt and anti-discrimination legislation. Aside from controversial statements from President of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, Boyd K. Packer, the rhetoric used regarding the issue is less than inflammatory and falls short of hateful. Officially the church is against abortion, but unlike the staunchest pro-lifers, allows exceptions for cases of rape and incest. For more information on the cultural differences between Mormons and Evangelicals, Razib Khan does a good job detailing Mormonism’s Puritan lineage.

Before jumping into the issue that I believe has been wholly ignored, let’s reflect on the circumstantial. This election follows the first in which a major party nominated a Mormon. People not on society’s margins may find it difficult to empathize with Mormon’s enthusiasm for Romney, like many couldn’t grok the significance JFK had to Catholics or even that of Obama to blacks, but identity politics is not sufficient an explanation. Harry Reid is unlikely to have received the same approval had he been the Democratic nominee. Though he hails from a liberal New England state, Romney has connections to Utah other than belonging to its predominant religion. His time as CEO of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games of 2002 was a major success, overcoming budget issues and a bribery scandal that many Utahns feared would cause great damage to the reputation of their state.

During the 2007 primaries and again in 2012, questions were raised about Romney’s religious beliefs and their amenability to the Republican base. So long as politicians profess their faith on the campaign trail, this is not unfair and it certainly doesn’t violate the prohibition of religious tests for public office contained in Article XI of the Constitution. Ultimately, concerns about Evangelical antipathy turned out to be overblown. There was no great exodus of Christians from the GOP. Conservative pundits and politicians rarely brought it up once Romney clinched the nomination and usually they did so to come to his defense, even if halfheartedly. However, from the Mormon perspective, it was a reminder of their outsider status. It is no surprise that there is resentment when four years ago Evangelicals questioned if Mormons are Christian, but now prominent Evangelicals are excusing and rationalizing the sexual misconduct of a man whose religious convictions reek of perfunctory affirmations that are required of anyone seeking office.

And that brings us to the main factor, Donald Trump himself. Mormons are not alone in finding Trump’s personal behavior distasteful, but they are especially repulsed. Family is central—raising children and maintaining a loving marriage are so important that according to church teachings family relationships continue eternally after death. A popular quote in the church is “No success can compensate for failure in the home.” People who take that to heart are not only unlikely to be persuaded that Trump’s affairs can be set aside because of his business experience, they find the argument immoral. But it’s deeper than that. Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich both have well publicized affairs, but it’s doubtful I’d be writing this were either of them the nominee. Trump has been in the public eye a long time, and his own statements clearly display an attitude toward his sexual conquests that is not just blasé but proud.

While it’s not mind-blowing that people notorious for their buttoned-down squareness and clean living are turned off by a vulgar media personality who boasts about his marital infidelities and was a frequent guest on Howard Stern, that’s not the entire story. The thing that doesn’t get commented on, is the Mormon view of women. It sounds strange to people who confuse mainstream Mormonism with the lecherous criminals of the FLDS and leftists who can’t comprehend traditional gender roles coexisting with respect for women, but women are highly regarded within the church.

A unique aspect of Mormon theology is belief in a Heavenly Mother. It is commonly believed among the membership, and indeed as a child I was taught, that Heavenly Mother is mentioned so infrequently to spare her from the blasphemies that are directed at Heavenly Father. This is not an official part of doctrine. The church provides little information about Heavenly Mother and no explanation why so little has been revealed about Her. [2] What is not shrouded in mystery is the church’s progressive history on the rights of women. Utah was the second territory to grant women the right to vote. Prior to Utah attaining statehood, its women were disenfranchised by the Edmunds-Tucker Act which was passed to stamp out polygamy. The bill succeeded in that respect, but the Utah constitution was amended to grant women the right to vote as well as hold office. Martha Hughes Cannon was the first woman state senator in the nation. Doubtless, these developments were not exclusively the result of a commitment to gender equality. Still, they are characteristic of a culture that values women. Outside the political sphere, Mormons hold the role of women in even higher esteem with a reverential opinion of motherhood. Many on the left scoff at the veneration of motherhood, assuming it to be disingenuous pretext for keeping women at home, but other social conservatives understand its sincerity. Cheating on the mother of your children who then suffers the additional humiliation of having it published in tabloids doesn’t win votes anywhere, but is particularly offensive to residents of the Beehive State.

Lastly, mention should be made of demographics. Utah has the youngest population of any state, largely because of Mormon fecundity. Even if adopting the conservative views of their parents, the promise to make America great again, doesn’t resonate with young voters. Neither are they likely to find appealing a baby boomer in his seventies. (The youthfulness of the state is also a plausible explanation why Bernie Sanders won the primary against his more conservative opponent.)

We’ll see soon enough how Utahns vote. While the polls indicate Republican support slipping, it behooves us not to overstate our case. If Trump loses Utah it will be just barely. Clinton isn’t a decent alternative for Mormons who see in her and Bill the same personal failings that Trump has, as well as an unacceptable political agenda. Evan McMullin is the only other option with a shot, but is hampered by low name recognition, little political experience and the common perception that third parties aren’t serious enough to warrant a vote. If Utah’s six electoral votes do not go to the Republican it should be viewed as a rejection of Trump, not conservatism. Bizarre as it has been, this election is not going to radically alter conservative Mormons into big government Clinton Democrats. As friendly as their reputation is, the average Mormon is still eats up the red meat served on talk radio and Fox News. After all this is the religion that produced anti-communist crusader and nutcase Cleon Skousen, who was a primary inspiration of fellow Mormon Glenn Beck when he was the most rabid voice in right-wing media.

There’s reason to fear that this group may not always feel welcome in the American right. With Lou Dobbs tweeting about the “Mormon mafia” and Trump supporters speaking about reprisals against those who don’t fall in line, already sour relations threaten to become worse. Lots has been said about reaching the conservatives who stayed home last election, appealing to the white working class and not neglecting regular citizens who are fed up with the elites of the Washington establishment and think-tank eggheads. The same people pushing that narrative may actually end up driving people out of the movement. That would be as some say, “Sad!”

[1] Even the much vaunted gains of the pro-life movement haven’t shifted public opinion dramatically with a slight majority thinking it should be legal, though not in all cases.

[2] Brigham Young University published an article on the subject which sheds some light on the subject, but which I think underlines the fact that the official teachings are much less than extensive. It is logical that members have come up with their own interpretations.

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  1. JLocked Inactive

    Again, I am kicking myself for the damn cynicism I prided myself on. I would have been pounding the pavement for McMullin instead of kvetching on Ricochet.

    • #61
  2. (((Cat III))) Member
    (((Cat III)))

    Knotwise the Poet:

    Honestly, the biggest reason was probably that, as much as we loathe Obama around these parts, he’s still a pretty popular dude among much of the country.

    Looks like in 2011 and 2012 his approval rating was consistently in the mid 40s to low 50s which seems to indicate a roughly partisan divide. I think it’s more a case of him not being wildly unpopular. Outside of right-wing circles, his presidency is viewed as more or less scandal-free. Even voters who were dissatisfied probably thought the status quo was tolerable enough not to take a chance on someone new. Your point is a good one.

    • #62
  3. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko

    Jason Rudert: Mormons also place a lot of value on Free Agency.

    Have to disagree with you there: free agency ruined baseball.  As an old-school conservative, I say “bring back the reserve clause!”


    • #63
  4. Hoyacon Member

    Joseph Stanko:

    Hoyacon:Regarding abortion, is it fair to say that McMullin/Mormon=Kaine/Catholic?

    Based on the conversation so far I would say no, definitely not fair.

    The Catholic Church teaches that the inalienable right to life begins at conception and should be protected by law (see Catechism #2273). Kaine’s views clearly conflict with his church’s teaching on that point.

    In comment #40 McMullin sounds pretty strongly pro-life, however even if based solely on his web site you concluded he believed that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare,” it’s still not clear as per #50 and #52 that he would be in violation of LDS teaching.

    I agree–at least in part because the positions of their Churches are not comparable–and I think the discussion has been helpful.  I’m probably less willing to give McMullin the benefit of the doubt on his own views, however (see below).


    • #64
  5. Snirtler Inactive

    Jason Rudert:Where is @catiii and what have you done with her?

    Seriously, though, this was excellent.


    The only thing missing was a metal reference or whatever you call that noisy music you listen to.

    • #65
  6. Hoyacon Member

    CandE:“I am pro-life, and I would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned. I would appoint Supreme Court Justices who are originalists, like Justice Scalia. But I don’t think we can just oppose Roe v. Wade and declare ourselves pro-life. I think we need look at ways to reduce unwanted pregnancies because that will decrease the number of people even seeking abortions. I also think that our poverty assistance programs are failing, which causes many women to seed abortions out of economic need. We need anti-poverty measures that help lift people out of poverty and help them take care of their children.”

    This is helpful, but doesn’t really close the door.  A post from Reddit is to be compared to a statement on his own campaign’s website.  Why must we determine which is the “real” McMullin and why, if we were to pick one, would we not select the presumably well vetted material on the website, which is far from conclusive?  As an aside, note that the linked NPR piece in the first article does not contain a direct quote from McMullin saying what the reporter alleges that he said.  The conclusion that I would draw is that McMullin may be pro-life but isn’t all that interested in publicizing it unless he has to.


    • #66
  7. (((Cat III))) Member
    (((Cat III)))

    Richard Young:Being Mormon since I was eight, now ordained a High Priest (which isn’t as exclusive as it may sound), called as my congregation’s gospel doctrine teacher, having served as a missionary for two years, having left the church (entirely) and having subsequently returned, I think I have a unique and qualified perspective to offer. There’s very little I have to disagree with in this post except the following: Mormons don’t believe that it is works and not faith that save us. I think the better encapsulation of our belief is that it is Christ that saves us after all that we can do. One of the New Testament chapters that I find most illuminating on this subject is Matthew chapter 25, the parables of which explain we must actually try to follow the example of our Savior, always realizing we will fall short of the goal, and continually repenting when we do.

    Thanks for the insight. @cande also corrected the statement in the OP and further clarified the official doctrine.

    • #67
  8. (((Cat III))) Member
    (((Cat III)))

    Richard Young:

    Secondly, Cleon Skousen was not a “nutcase.” He certainly had some unusual and perhaps completely off-base political ideas but he was a good and committed Christian. I met the man as a young boy when my father was trying to sell some of his books. Many of his books which I read as an adult, particularly those on gospel subjects, I found to be extremely insightful, even while they were suggesting ideas that were not “official” doctrine of the church.

    Ricochet’s own Mark Hemingway wrote about Skousen years ago:

    Skousen’s writings on original intent and the U.S. Constitution in The Making of America are compellingly argued, and to this day are often cited by conservatives unaware of Skousen’s more checkered writings. Further, Skousen’s scriptural commentaries are still very popular well-regarded within the relatively unradical world of mainstream Mormonism, insofar as Mormon theology can be considered unradical.

    His relation to the John Birch Society is what prompts me to classify his political views as nutty. While they never went as far as excommunication, the church leadership did eventually distance themselves from his political output. To my knowledge, his writing on religious matters never ventured outside of what the church considers acceptable.

    • #68
  9. Spin Inactive

    Knotwise the Poet: The reason why my hackles raise a little at being told I’m not Christian is that it feels incredibly presumptuous to me

    That’s understandable.

    But unlike the differences between Christian denominations, which are largely secondary issues, the differences between historic Christianity and Mormon theology are primary issues related to the nature of Christ and God.

    Look, I don’t mean to offend you, though I understand it is nearly impossible to not be offended if you believe you are a Christian and someone tells you that you are not. Even so, I won’t shy away from speaking the truth as I understand it.

    • #69
  10. (((Cat III))) Member
    (((Cat III)))


    Jason Rudert:Where is catiii and what have you done with her?

    Seriously, though, this was excellent.


    The only thing missing was a metal reference or whatever you call that noisy music you listen to.

    Well, there is the Filipino black metal band Korihor named after an anti-christ from the Book of Mormon.

    • #70
  11. dukenaltum Inactive

    I have no insights into the apparent lack of support by Mormons for Trump or the enthusiastic support of many evangelicals or even the broad support for him by other Religious people but there is too much “theology” interjected into this conversation that is reminiscent of the 2012 election where many Mormons apologists insisted following Romney’s lead that they had the right and obligation to declare that they are Christians.

    No Church from the Apostolic Age or ecclesial community from the Reformation who profess the Nicene Creed holds that claim to be true and view Mormon Mythology as crude blasphemy.

    To be clear Mythology is a story about a belief in something that never existed such as Nephites, Lamanites, Jaredites, and Mulekites civilizations. These myths were created by a man who when being tested with a Greek Psalter claimed it was Ancient Egyptian and proceeded to translate it in the same florid manner as he wrote the Book of Mormon.

    In a pluralistic society, you’re entitled to believe anything you wish but you can not compel Christians to acknowledge what you believe as worthy to be called Christian this also applies to Jehovah Witnesses.

    • #71
  12. Spin Inactive


    Knotwise the Poet:

    Spin:I don’t know what heterodox means. If it means “not Christian” then I agree. Here is just one example of why Mormon theology puts itself squarely outside of Christianity.

    The reason why my hackles raise a little at being told I’m not Christian

    It has been my experience that we American Christians judge most when we feel inadequate. The Mormon Missionaries experience is robust and exemplary of immense kindness.

    I’m not judging anyone.  I’m merely stating my theological opinion.  If you want me to judge Knotwise the Poet, I will:  he’s a sinner in need of grace.  Oh, wait, so am I.

    • #72
  13. CandE Inactive

    Hoyacon: Why must we determine which is the “real” McMullin and why, if we were to pick one, would we not select the presumably well vetted material on the website, which is far from conclusive?

    This strikes me as setting up a false dilemma; what makes you think that we have to pick between the two statements?  They don’t contradict each other and have a lot in common.  A better approach would be to accept both statements, in which case the reddit comment becomes clarifying.

    Hoyacon: The conclusion that I would draw is that McMullin may be pro-life but isn’t all that interested in publicizing it unless he has to.

    There may be some truth to that.  I would have like to see stronger, more frequent pro-life statements.  It’s possible that he wants to project a less strident pro-life position that takes into consideration arguments from the other side (poverty, privacy, etc.) in order to reach out to them.  OTOH, a great deal of his campaigning is not covered by the media.  He has done lots of town halls and answered many questions, so it’s not unreasonable to suppose that he’s addressed it a lot more than is reported.  He’s also only been campaigning for a couple months, so should we really expect a lot of redundant statements on single issues?


    • #73
  14. Knotwise the Poet Member
    Knotwise the Poet


    In a pluralistic society, you’re entitled to believe anything you wish but you can not compel Christians to acknowledge what you believe as worthy of be called Christian this also applies to Jehovah Witnesses.

    I don’t mean to compel anybody to acknowledge me as Christian, but I did want to state my own feelings on the matter.

    I do find it funny, though, when I’m told how ridiculous my beliefs are when compared to mainstream Christianity.  Certainly there is much more clear-cut proof of the existence of the civilizations described in the Old and New Testament, but mainstream Christianity is still based on many claims that cannot be objectively proven and sound absurd to any non-believer.

    • #74
  15. CandE Inactive

    Knotwise the Poet: Certainly there is much more clear-cut proof of the existence of the civilizations described in the Old and New Testament, but mainstream Christianity is still based on many claims that cannot be objectively proven and sound absurd to any non-believer.

    An angel delivering a gold book is obviously absurd.  Everyone knows that God engraved stone tablets with his finger on the top of a mountain.


    • #75
  16. tabula rasa Inactive
    tabula rasa

    Cat III:

    Thoughtful post.  I’m a Utah Mormon.

    I could quibble with some details, but I won’t.  Your conclusion that if Utah goes for McMullin it will not have rejected conservatism is correct.  I consider myself a traditional Burkean, William F. Buckley, Ronald Reagan conservative.

    Despite all the rational reasons why Trump is better than Clinton, I just couldn’t vote for him.  Two reasons:  he’s a louse and his policy views are incomprehensible (not that Hillary’s are any better).

    This year, the party of Lincoln went a bit insane and nominated a candidate who is not any kind of conservative.

    Mormons tend to place a  high value on moral character in their leaders, which is why we  support men like Reagan, the Bushes, and Mitt.  I don’t think Mormons are unique in their conservatism or their desire for moral rectitude in leaders (millions of Catholics, Evangelicals, atheists and others share the same view of the value of character).  But because Mormons are highly concentrated in Utah, our tendencies stand out.

    I’m proud to be a Mormon. We have a distinct theology.  But, in terms of a general worldview, we fit nicely into the traditional conservative tradition, a view we share with many other Americans.



    • #76
  17. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko

    CandE: An angel delivering a gold book is obviously absurd. Everyone knows that God engraved stone tablets with his finger on the top of a mountain.

    • #77
  18. (((Cat III))) Member
    (((Cat III)))

    Douglas:Trump’s supposed Mormon Problem will turn out to be the Y2K of electoral issues; a big nothingburger. He’ll win Utah comfortably.

    The results are in and there was a significant effect: Trump got 46.8% of the vote, compared to Romney’s 72.8% in ’12McCain’s 62.3% in ’08,  and Bush’s 71.5% in ’04. That’s a 15.5-26% difference, in a year when the Democratic nominee was wildly unpopular (Clinton performed slightly better than Obama in ’12 but worse than he did in ’08). It did not change the electoral votes which still went to the GOP and even without them, Trump would have squeaked by. McMullin got 20.4% accounting for most of the difference (impressive for a guy no one had ever heard of) and Johnson pulled in 2% more.

    Looks like I was right to caution against overstating the situation (paragraph 11 of the OP). It may well turn out to be nothing more than an aberration–a footnote in a strange election. Depends how the next four years play out, but the Republican wins haven’t eliminated the tensions within the movement.

    • #78
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