I am not well-versed in politics.
I understand the basics of how the US Government is constructed, and I have my opinions about what I want in a President and what kinds of things I want my representatives to consider priorities. But I'm not intimately familiar with the bureaucracy or the details of certain bills and I couldn't really tell you how the nominees stand on various issues.
But I do like to think that I'm well-versed in how the Mormon church operates and that I have a pretty good handle on human nature. And that's why I give credence to my own opinion that Mitt Romney is not good for the church. At all.
It all comes down to the amount of public attention Romney's candidacy generates. Even though, as far as I can tell, Romney tends to deftly sidestep any kind of references to church doctrines in his public appearances. But even though he can choose not to address the possible problems with being a Mormon President, that doesn't stop anyone else from talking about it.
And people are definitely talking about it.
When John F. Kennedy ran for President, his detractors warned the nation about the horror of having a Catholic leader--it would be like the Pope running the country. A similar situation is happening now, I believe. I would argue that Catholicism is a religion and Mormonism is a cult--which means that the Mormon Prophet would have a much greater influence over a Mormon politician than the Catholic Pope would have over a Catholic politician. But I've lived in the church. The majority of our electorate has not.
A key difference between Kennedy's situation and Romney's is the statistical presence of the religion to which each belongs. In Kennedy's day, heading into the Presidential election of 1960, Catholicism was just reaching the neighborhood of 25% of the country's population. By dramatic contrast, Mormonism as of 2008 constituted an approximate 1.4% of the population. This is a hugely significant difference.
In 1960, with one in four people in the country professing to be Catholic, information about Catholicism or examples of what kind of people Catholics are was readily available. But today, with the Mormon population skewed heavily toward the Mormon Corridor and with more than half of the US states containing a Mormon population under 1%, firsthand information about Mormonism and Mormons is not quite so easy to get. When coworkers or friends find out I was raised Mormon, a lot of them will display surprise, saying they've never known any Mormons before.
People don't know about the church. And there are enough rumors floating around (polygamy! cults! racism! non-Christian!) that people want to know before they vote. And when they go online to find things out, they won't necessarily find what the church wants them to find. Sure, LDS.org and Mormon.org are advertised as the best place to find accurate information about the church (something the average American may not realize is a lie anyway), but those sites aren't a well-known, trusted and easy way of getting information.
How funny would it be if Wikipedia became the downfall of the Mormon Cult?
It's reasonable to say that it could contribute, though. Wikipedia is the first result when you Google "Mormonism." A quick scan of the page reveals a few things Mormons would prefer you didn't hear about just yet--fundamentalist offshoots, baptism for the dead (including controversy surrounding Holocaust victims), and links to pages entitled "Black People and early Mormonism" and "Criticism of the Latter-Day Saint Movement." Click on that last one and you get a whole bunch of crap that the Mormon leadership would prefer you don't know about until you're already indoctrinated enough to ignore it.
In just a few clicks, people that are curious about the true values and beliefs of someone they're considering voting for will be learning about polygamy, polyandry, racism, sexism, homophobia, editing the Book of Mormon, similarities between temple rituals and Masonic rituals, financial secrecy, scientific evidence against the Book of Mormon, and plenty of other juicy details. The church can't control this. They can't even direct it. Even if Mitt Romney gave a press conference and tried to give church-approved answers to lay doubts to rest the church couldn't stop people's curiosity from leading them to the internet.
Mormonism, until this point, has been a mostly underground religion conducted infiltration-style. They send out their missionaries and conquer one family at a time, training their investigators to trust in the good feelings the doctrines give them. It's easier to control the source and flow of information this way. But when a Mormon politician steps into the national spotlight, that strategy goes straight out the window. It piques the curiosity of millions who don't have a pair of missionaries working with them to arrive at the desired conclusions.
If the church truly had nothing to hide, Romney would be a hero. He would bring countless new members into the waters of baptism by raising the national profile of the religion. But instead, he'll breed countless new skeptics. Armed with this information, those skeptics will discuss politics (and maybe religion) with members of the church who may not even know about some of the dark spots on the church's record. This could sow seeds of doubt for a few faithful Mormons. Missionary work will become more difficult and the the membership will spring a few more leaks.
Romney's bid for the presidency is horrible for the LDS church. And I can't wait to see what happens as we get closer and closer to Election Day.
Where's my popcorn?