Should we elect a Mormon president? One writer says NO (Part I)

Review of “Can Mitt Romney Serve Two Masters”
Part I: Influence of the church on daily life

Conservative strategist Tricia Erickson does not believe that the American people should elect a Mormon president, and by extension, Mitt Romney. She makes this emphatically clear in her new book: “Can Mitt Romney Serve Two Masters?”

She puts fourth the idea that the Latter Day Saint movement has been systematically working to get Mormons in places of political and cultural significance. For the author, a former Mormon herself, she sees this as problematic.

I think that this book is an interesting read, and I do sincerely agree with one of Erickson’s primary theses: the Mormon Church has done a very effective job of depicting itself as being mainstream and just another Christian denomination. But this isn’t comparing Presbyterians to Methodists. Mormonism has a lot of beliefs that are radically different from the rest of evangelical Christianity (which will be discussed in a later post)

I think Erickson generally presents well reasoned arguments, however her language can come across as inflammatory. Numerous times throughout the book, her writing has undertones of, “Seriously, how can these people actually believe this garbage?!”

Here is one example towards the end of the book:
“There are so many lies, distortions, and secrets in the Mormon Church that it boggles the mind as to why they have any followers at all.

I think that Erickson’s writing style will fail in changing views. For those who are already weary of Mormonism, this book will be preaching to the choir. For those who may want to learn, the abrasive rhetoric will just force people to become galvanized in whatever their prejudices of Mormonism were prior to reading the book, and have opinions which are largely unaltered.

Erickson does raise several interesting points pertaining to Mormon doctrines, especially pertaining to the loyalty Mormons are commanded to have to the church’s leadership in Utah. Her line of reasoning seems to be based around the fact that Romney has had significant positions of authority within the church, most notably as a “Stake President” which is essentially the Mormon equivalent of being an archbishop. She argues that it wouldn’t make sense for a person to be placed in such positions if he were not a loyal and obedient member of the faith community. In other words, he is someone who sincerely believes Mormon teachings.

The Mormon Church is lead by a president, two counselors, and twelve apostles. These men are considered prophets within the church and have significant power and influence over the religion. Given that their theological proclamations are considered prophecy, Erickson is concerned that Romney will be beholden to the whims of the church which would be bad for America.

In the 1960 presidential election, many people were concerned in the potential of a catholic president as John F. Kennedy pursued the White House. Far fetched fears existed of how the Vatican would be running the country.

Could this just be the same thing?

No. Erickson says that Romney’s Mormonism is very different from Kennedy’s Catholicism, and Salt Lake City would have a much bigger impact than Rome.

Certainly a relationship where the church says “jump” and Romney says, “how high?” would be deleterious.

But is it really that simple? Is Romney just a helpless political shill?

The author argues that Romney cannot go against the council of the church lest he be subject to penalties which could have negative effects on his eternal security, something which Romney surely would not want.

I cannot help but think that the idea that Romney would have to follow every arbitrary whim is a stretch. If the church were to ever consider him as an apostate, how bad would that make Mormonism look to outsiders? For that reason, I think that Romney is not without power, especially given the public backlash which would follow from removing the church’s most high profile figure.

I will have more to say about this book in additional blog posts later in the week. I didn’t want to make one blog post that was several thousand words.