Rupert Cornwell: Time to tell the story of Mitt the Mormon

Out of America: One of the oddest aspects of the Republican race is how little mention there is of the favourite's faith

Share
Related Topics

Another odd thing is happening, or rather not happening, in this already curious contest for the Republican presidential nomination. Controversy rages over Mitt Romney's record at Bain Capital, the private equity firm which he founded and where he made his fortune, plunging the party of free enterprise and unfettered markets into civil war over the very principles of capitalism. But over the little-loved frontrunner's religion – which many Americans regard as a weird and sinister cult – barely a word. Thus far, at least, the Mormon dog has failed to bark.

The beast, it should be said, may soon do so. A new book entitled The Real Romney claims that back in the 1980s, the candidate, then a Mormon bishop in Boston, advised an unmarried mother-to-be who was a member of the church to have the child adopted. His message was clear, she told the authors of the book, excerpts of which appear in the latest issue of Vanity Fair: either give up her son, or face excommunication. Romney flatly denies the woman's version of events. But the revelation appears at a delicate moment.

If ever the Mormon issue is to be used against Romney it is surely now, ahead of Saturday's critical primary in South Carolina. Victory there would all but wrap up the nomination. For virtually all his opponents the primary is a last stand; the hyperbolic Newt Gingrich even talks of "Armageddon". Equally pertinently, the state is a stronghold of evangelical Christians suspicious of Mormonism and all its work, with a dark political culture that offers ideal terrain for an anti-Mormon offensive.

In fact, electoral attack dogs don't bark in South Carolina. Rather, they pass around scurrilous whispers, such as the rumours that John McCain had fathered an illegitimate black child and that his wife was a drug addict, that sent him to defeat in the primary against George W Bush 12 years ago and also effectively decided the nomination. Why not a smear campaign against the cabalistic rites of Mormonism now?

This time, however, Romney's membership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints hasn't been a factor so far. How different from his first campaign in 2008, when he gave a major speech to allay fears about his faith, much as John Kennedy addressed Protestant ministers in 1960 to assure them that a Roman Catholic could be entrusted with the White House.

Four years ago, Romney never once looked like winning the nomination, yet column acres were filled with speculation about a Mormon president. This time he's the firm favourite to face Barack Obama in November, and his rivals' every gun is trained against him. But scarcely a word so far about his religion. Why?

There are several possible explanations. Maybe it's precisely because the issue was so extensively aired in 2008. Maybe Americans are growing used to Mormons in pursuit of high office, what with both Romney and Jon Huntsman as presidential contenders, and Nevada's Harry Reid as Senate majority leader, the most powerful Democrat on Capitol Hill. Or maybe after the novelty of a black president, born of a foreign father, a Mormon in the job is simply no big deal.

The entertainment industry may indirectly be playing a part, too. Four years ago, there were television shows such as Big Love starring polygamous families belonging to Mormon sects – even though a vast majority of Mormons believe that polygamy is wrong, and the official church banned the practice as long ago as 1890.

Nor was Romney's cause helped then by a movie called September Dawn, about an 1857 massacre in Utah of settlers on their way to California, carried out by local Mormons and possibly on the orders of Brigham Young, the then president of the church. This time, all is laughter, in the shape of the riotously profane yet deeply affectionate musical The Book of Mormon, a smash Broadway hit recounting the adventures of two Mormon missionaries in Africa, and described by one of its authors as "an atheist's love letter to religion". The church has taken the jesting in good part, as it should. Whatever else, the show is a PR coup.

And perhaps Mormons are starting to relax a little – as well they also might. Their faith has been described as "the ultimate American religion", revealed by an early 19th-century American prophet called Joseph Smith, who wanted to build a new Jerusalem near Kansas City. Smith's original six followers have grown to six million today in the US alone, a phenomenal success story by any standards.

A fascinating study published last week tends to confirm this impression. Yes, Mormons are still edgy: a large majority, according to a survey of 1,000 members of the LDS Church interviewed by the Pew Forum for Religion, feel they are still strangers in their own land, convinced that most other Americans know little, and understand less, about their faith. Although 97 per cent of Mormons consider themselves Christians, barely 50 per cent of the remaining population share that view. More than half of all Mormons are worried by discrimination. And yet for the first time, a clear majority believes that the US is now ready to elect a Mormon president.

No less striking in this age of American angst and declinism, nine out of 10 Mormons say they are happy, and that their communities are fine places to live in. Nor do they want to abandon the differences between their religion's teachings and standard Christianity – the belief, for instance, that their church's president is a prophet of God, or that the Book of Mormon, as revealed to Joseph Smith, was written by ancient prophets.

Strangest of all, perhaps, Mormons exhibit many of the qualities most esteemed by the evangelical Christians who are most hostile to them. Mormons are overwhelmingly Republican and conservative. They attend religious services more regularly than other denominations; they believe more profoundly in the sanctity of the family, and most contribute money to the church. All of which makes one wonder: maybe there's a market for Romney in South Carolina after all.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: PA

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A PA is required to join a leading provider of...

Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - Franchised Main Dealer

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - London - £43,000

£35000 - £43000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior IT Support Analyst...

Recruitment Genius: Technical SEO Specialist

£24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The digital world is incredible – but it’s human bonds that make us who we are

Joanna Shields
A mother and her child  

50 signs that we need to stop spreading the myth of the 'ideal mother'

Victoria Richards
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness